Postgraduate Spotlight: Lasse Andersen

Lasse Andersen is a second year PhD student of Modern History. In this post he shares about his unlikely journey to his love of history and more about his current research.

The fact that Lasse Andersen is now a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews would have seemed very unlikely had you met him little over a decade ago when he was practicing his bread baking skills in a small-town family bakery in rural Jutland. His father had been a great baker, so it seemed like a natural career choice to simply stay in town and do the same. But things were not to be so simple. The state intervened on behalf of the Queen, and Lasse was conscripted to the Royal Danish Navy where he was to aide in the defence of her Realm against all enemies and trespassers, especially in that vast arctic appendage to it that is Greenland. In reality, however, this mostly just involved him baking more bread, but with the added challenge of being at sea.

It was while he was at sea watching out for those trespassers (and waiting for the bread to prove) that he acquired an obsessive interest in reading. At first, he read histories of naval warfare and seafaring peoples, but one day during a particularly bad storm in the North Sea he suddenly developed an acute interest in land and all things attached to it. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of Aarhus, where he was taught Foucault and Marx, but mostly just read about the Scottish Enlightenment. After writing his BA dissertation on Montesquieu and Adam Smith (and land), he briefly boarded yet another ship and eventually acquired the means to settle in St Andrews. He finished an MLitt in Intellectual History in 2018 with a dissertation on the changing idea of an Agrarian Law in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland.

His current research takes the question of land distribution into the nineteenth century, being a project about the movement for land reform in Britain in the period 1865-1875. It focuses on radical ideas about the tenure, transfer, and taxation of land within political economy and jurisprudence, especially as these came to prominence with the formation of the Land Tenure Reform Association, a pressure group headed by John Stuart Mill from 1869 to 1873. By 1873, the year of Mill’s death, more than 30 prominent radicals had signed up as members of this association, and the ideas that informed its programme reflected their anti-aristocratic liberalism and their collective experience with different systems of land tenure in places such as Ireland, India, France and North America. The essential idea behind their desire to ‘emancipate the soil’ from the confines of feudalism – from the dead hand of primogeniture and entails – was that the free and easy transfer of land would enable a much wider distribution of land, generating a numerous class of peasant proprietors whose direct interest in the produce of the soil would make agriculture more productive and give previously landless labourers an interest in the prosperity of society and the preservation of property.

Aside from John Stuart Mill, Lasse’s research focuses on many lesser-known individuals such as John Eliot Cairnes, James E. Thorold Rogers, and Thomas E. Cliffe Leslie, all of whom were members of the Land Tenure Reform Association, as well as on Louis Mallet and the 8th Duke of Argyll, the association’s primary and most vocal detractors.

One question that Lasse is particularly interested in researching is the relation between these radical land reformers and laissez-faire liberalism, a question that is intimately connected to the advent of marginalism in British political economy as well as to the debate about Richard Cobden’s legacy in the decade after his death in 1865.

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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