ISHR Reading Weekend 2019

Blog post written by Sarah Leith

The Burn
Photo Credit: The Burn Scotland

The second weekend in April is always hotly anticipated by members of the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Scottish Historical Research (ISHR). Every year, a group of staff, students and guests descends upon The Burn, which is a country house situated on the outskirts of Edzell, a Georgian planned town straddling the border between Angus and Aberdeenshire. What they have been eagerly awaiting all year is ISHR’s annual reading weekend, the main event in the calendars of every University of St Andrews Scottish historian and historian-in-training. Always full of fascinating papers covering all aspects of Scottish historical studies, this year’s reading weekend was no exception. The ISHR reading weekend provides the perfect opportunity for PhD students to present their research in front of their peers and lecturers in a comfortable and informal setting. It also allows these students to listen to and to engage with the research currently being conducted by members of staff within the School of History. So, what happened this year?

On Friday evening, the attendees having devoured The Burn’s supply of scones alongside very welcome cups of tea and coffee, the proceedings of ISHR’s reading weekend enjoyed a propitious start in the form of Dr Derek Patrick’s introductory lecture. In his paper entitled ‘‘Probably at no time in its history has the popularity of the regiment been so emphatically demonstrated’: The Black Watch and Kitchener’s New Army, 1914-15’, Dr Patrick provided his audience with an extremely interesting account of the Black Watch’s volunteers at the beginning of the First World War. The talk was followed by lively discussion and questions abounded. For the rest of the night, The Burn’s guests settled in front of the roaring coal fire to catch up with each other, as well as to listen to Masters research student Jack Abernethy’s beautiful renditions of traditional fiddle music. Many thanks to Jack for bringing along his fiddle!

Dr Derek Patrick giving the 2019 reading weekend introductory lecture
Photo credit Sarah Leith

The next morning guests were up bright and early for the first panel, ‘Trade and Economics’. Our first speaker was Matt Ylitalo with a paper entitled ‘A walrus, a polar bear, and a humpback whale: Dundee’s nineteenth-century trade in Arctic animals’. Who knew that a polar bear was once loose in the centre of Dundee?! We then welcomed Dr Andrew McDiarmid from the University of Dundee who spoke on ‘Exiled Economics: a model for understanding the Scottish Financial Revolution’. Following a short break for refreshments, the next panel, ‘The Scottish Soldier at Home and Abraod’ began swiftly; two of Professor Steve Murdoch’s first year PhD students, Xiaoping Qi and Callum Woolsey, presented papers respectively upon the subjects of ‘Scottish Regiments in France, 1633-1659’ and ‘The Tartan Army: Home and Away in the 1640s’. For our third panel, we welcomed two guests from the University of Kent. In January we welcomed Dr Amy Blakeway as the newest member of ISHR, and so we invited her two PhD students, Graeme Millen and Anna Turnham, to join us for the Reading Weekend. Graeme and Anna both kindly presented papers on Saturday, too, with Graeme telling us about ‘A real distaste of the country and the service’: Major-General Hugh Mackay’s Memoirs, the Scots-Dutch Brigade and Identity during the Highland War, 1689-1692’ and Anna presenting a paper entitled ‘Between Berwick and Scotland: the correspondence of Ralph Sadler and James Croft with the Lords of the Congregation, 1559’.

After lunch, the group embarked on an outing to the Grassic Gibbon Centre, located near Arbuthnott. The Grassic Gibbon Centre celebrates the life of the twentieth-century Scottish writer James Leslie Mitchell, better known by his penname Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His most famous work, Sunset Song, the first part of his trilogy A Scots Quair, is widely regarded as the finest Scottish novel ever written. Having enjoyed this excursion, the group then returned to The Burn ready to listen to the next panel. Before dinner, we enjoyed the contributions of Daniel Leaver and Carol McKinven, who presented papers entitled ‘Revisiting ‘The New Commanding Height’: The North Sea and the Wilson Governments, 1964-70’ and ‘The master of the house?: Obligations and reciprocity in Scottish working-class marriage’. The day ended with a Quiz Night, which was won by Team Sofa So Good.

The last day began with a panel about Scotland’s twentieth century. James Inglis presented his paper ”Don’t write in the dark’: The commercialisation of the visible typewriter in Scotland’, complete with typewriter prop! This was followed by a paper given by Paul Malgrati entitled ”See yonder poor’: Robert Burns and the Welfare State (1940-1950)’. For the last panel of the weekend, we were given insight into the new ‘After the Enlightenment Project’ being conducted at the University of St Andrews. Dr Bill Jenkins and Dr Felicity Loughlin gave two papers about ‘The identities of David Brewster: The self-fashioning of a Scottish man of science, 1802–1838’ and ‘Scotland’s Infidels: Freethinkers’ Societies, c.1820-c.1850′. This was a great ending to a brilliant reading weekend. Many thanks to everyone who contributed papers, and to those who came along to listen and to enjoy the weekend. See you at The Burn again next year!

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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