Postgraduate Spotlight: John Condren
December 16, 2014 Leave a comment
John’s addiction to history began around the age of six, when he disappeared while on a family visit to his aunt’s house and was eventually discovered three hours later, blissfully engrossed in Treasure Island under the dining-room table. Shortly afterwards, he struggled to identify his favourite work of historical fiction from among Kidnapped, Lorna Doone, The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers, and Liam O’Flaherty’s little-known magnum opus, Famine. John’s somewhat precocious reading career ended abruptly when he began an undergraduate degree in law (2005-09) at the University of Limerick, but he quickly decided that the soul-sapping ennui of a legal career was not for him. The inspired choices of history and French as minor subjects kept him sane throughout these four years.
Happier times ensued when John took the sound advice of his Early Modern History tutor at Limerick, St Andrews graduate Dr Alistair Malcolm. He came to the School of History at St Andrews in September 2009, enrolling upon the MLitt in Reformation Studies (2009-10). He was immediately struck by the generosity and supportiveness of staff and fellow students, and the beauty of the town and its environs.
After a year away, to recharge his batteries and to begin learning Italian, he returned in 2011 to commence a PhD under the supervision of Dr Guy Rowlands. John’s research examines the diplomatic, political, and military connections between Louis XIV’s France and the small states of northern Italy, in a period of general peace on the peninsula, 1659 to 1689. This was a state of affairs which Louis ostensibly wished to preserve, but which, in reality, he, his ministers and diplomats managed to undermine. John spent his second year of doctoral study (2012-13) researching in French and Italian archives, enjoying himself immensely outwith the hours of 8am to 6pm every working day, when he was busily reading and photographing stacks of documents for his thesis. During that year, he also had an attachment to the Centre Roland Mousnier at Paris-Sorbonne IV, and filled an ERASMUS exchange from St Andrews to the EUI in Florence in the spring of 2013. He would strongly advise and encourage newer PhD students to avail themselves of this wonderful exchange opportunity, if they possibly can. John also tutored on the sub-honours module MO1007, The Early Modern Western World, in the first semester of his third year (2013-14) and again in the first semester of fourth year.
John’s immaculate sense of timing led him into an Italian archive for the very first time during the same ten days in May 2012 when not one, but two dreadful earthquakes tore through Emilia-Romagna. John describes waking up in his hotel room in Modena at 4am during the first quake as the most terrifying experience of his life, apart from a bungee-jump in Queenstown, New Zealand, when aged 19. The experience fortunately did not deter him from researching in Italy, however.
Outside academia, John enjoys playing touch rugby with the St Andrews university club, being unfortunately far too short and slight of build to play proper rugby union. He notes ruefully that March is his most professionally unproductive month of the year, when, like any self-respecting Irishman, he is distracted by the Six Nations (rugby) and the Cheltenham Festival (horse-racing). He is, to his supervisor’s surprise, not a gambler. Indeed, John rather piously wishes that an important figure in his thesis, Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga (duke of Mantua from 1665 to 1707), could have exercised the same personal restraint, for the good of his state, his soul, and his pocket. John himself has been a keen equestrian in the past, joining his brother and sister in competing in shows, hunter trials, and one-day-events until his mid-teens. He now greatly prefers to occupy a watching brief, having far more of a care for his neck than he had in his rash youth. John can usually be found in the postgraduate office in the basement of St Katharine’s Lodge (the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”). If not there, he will probably be ambling along West Sands, or downing an espresso in the Cottage Kitchen café on many a long winter afternoon, and some summer ones, too.