Institute of Scottish Historical Research Reading Weekend, 27th- 29th March 2015

PhD student Sean Murphy recently attended the Institute of Scottish Historical Research‘s reading weekend. Below, he reports on the trip and the stimulating discussions it provoked amongst staff and postgraduates. 

On a fairly sunny Friday afternoon in late March a coterie of staff and students from the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research (abbreviated under the affectionately-pronounced acronym of “ISHR”) made their way to The Burn near Edzell for the eagerly-anticipated annual reading weekend. The gang, comprising predominantly of university staff and Mlitt and PhD students was accompanied by several honorary ISHR-ites including St Andrews alumnus Dr Mark Towsey of the University of Liverpool and Professor Paul Pickering, visiting fellow from the Australian National University in Canberra. The reading weekend was made possible by the diligent organisational skills of Piotr Potocki, PhD student and ISHR administrative intern, who deserves special mention.

Photo attr. Darren Layne

Photo attr. Darren Layne

Upon arrival at The Burn, a stunning south Aberdeenshire estate with roots in the late eighteenth century, the group was treated to a leisurely, gong-summoned dinner and a few trips to the retreat’s impressively-stocked bar, before the introductory panel of Mlitt students assembled at around 8pm. The five masters students provided an excellent opening to the reading weekend, offering overviews of an intriguing array of dissertation topics ranging from medieval midwifery and Scottish Templar myth-busting to the “federal ideas” and ideals of late nineteenth-century Scottish political thought.

Following a somewhat late night of historical chatter and setting the world to rights, the majority of the group were up bright and early for the first series of papers, in which PhD candidates Morvern French, Lauren Young and Kimberly Sherman outlined aspects of their research projects dealing, respectively, with the significance of tapestries in early modern Scottish material culture, the monarchical advice-literature available in Renaissance Scotland, and the family networks of Scottish emigrants in North Carolina. After a quick lunch, the group then paid a visit to the majestic Inglis Memorial Hall in nearby Edzell, a former lending library built in 1898 and home to one of the few remaining fully-functional Cotgreave Indicators, typical of the late Victorian closed cataloguing system.

Photo attr. Darren Layne

In the Hall’s beautifully-panelled reading room, Dr Towsey delivered a fascinating and highly-relevant presentation on his current project on the cultural history of libraries, detailing his extensive data-basing of nineteenth-century library catalogues and borrowing records and offering insight on the “ideal space” of the library within the developing civic and social “imagined communities” of the nineteenth-century. Hightailing it back to The Burn for the next round of papers, the group then heard from Dr Cynthia Fry and Dr Elizabeth Rhodes on post-PhD life; with Cynthia providing an insightful guide to post-doctoral research and Bess giving details of her recent work within the interactive world of the St Andrews Medieval App and the Virtual Histories Project at the Eyemouth Fort. The evening was then concluded with the customary “prescribed fun” of the ISHR pub quiz, conducted with magisterial authority by Amy Eberlin.

Four more papers were in store for the group on the Sunday morning, with 2nd year PhD candidates Sean Murphy and Jonathan Paquette kicking things off with discussions of the significance of Lowland Scottish language in the projection and perception of post-union female Scottish voices, and the “Unionist management” within the political thought of Walter Eliot. The reading weekend was then deftly rounded off with the slick presentations of Darren Layne, contesting some traditional assumptions of Jacobite confessional inclinations with some fascinating material gleaned from the extensive compiling within his database of sources from the 1745 rising, and Dr Kelsey Jackson-Williams, post-doctoral fellow of the British Academy, providing a thorough and thought-provoking overview of his innovative concept of an Scottish “antiquarian enlightenment.”

By 2pm people were gearing up for the short trip southwards to St Andrews, anticipating a drive with much to mull over, and a slightly more restful Sunday afternoon, reflecting on yet another highly successful ISHR reading weekend.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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