Postgraduate Spotlight: Chelsea Reutcke

Chelsea is a final year PhD student in Reformation Studies. In this blog she shares what draws her to studying ‘overlooked figures in history’.

Raised in Cincinnati and Chicago on a steady diet of Agatha Christie and history documentaries, Chelsea dreamed of someday living in the UK. Her love for mysteries extended beyond the realm of fiction, and from age twelve she became fixated on figuring out and understanding the past. After deciding that forensic anthropology required too many biology classes, she fixed her sights on history. 

During her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she was drawn to overlooked figures in history as well as those whose stories had been overwritten by a popular narrative. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on the ‘afterlives’ of Anne Boleyn in Protestant and Catholic polemics. This in turn led to a fascination with the under-recognized Catholic priest and vitriolic writer, Nicholas Sander, and his scandalous history of the English Reformation. This became the subject of her 2014 MLitt dissertation, undertaken at St Andrews under the supervision of Dr Jacqueline Rose. When Chelsea returned to St Andrews for her PhD in 2016, she found the perfect continuation of this work in a thesis on the production and circulation of Catholic books in England. 

Chelsea is now in the final year of her doctoral studies on Catholic texts in Restoration England, again under the supervision of Dr Rose. As in her earlier studies, the themes of hidden figures and mysterious queens (in this case, Catherine of Braganza) feature heavily in her work. She continues to focus on historical networks and lived experiences, particularly of the obscure printers and booksellers in London who produced Catholic books. Her favourite is a Catholic bookseller by the name of Matthew Turner. Despite selling over a hundred different titles and being described by contemporaries as ‘that notorious popish bookseller’, little is known about Turner compared to many of his Protestant counterparts, making every detail about him an exciting discovery.

Chelsea loves bringing new life to a topic deemed uninfluential in the wider historiography and giving agency to a group usually discussed in terms of outside fear through her research. Even in the final stretch, her love for her topic has not wavered, and the many avenues for further investigation it yields has already resulted in two upcoming publications: one on the private interests of the enforcers of the 1662 Licensing Act, and the other on the patronage networks surrounding Catherine of Braganza. 

Meanwhile, she’s exploring new approaches to history and public outreach through her participation in the Bibliography for British and Irish History and the ongoing ‘St Andrews 1559’ project by Open Virtual Worlds, supervised by Dr Bess Rhodes. This year, the project produced a digital reconstruction of Holy Trinity parish church, of which Chelsea’s favourite detail is the little set up steps on the side of the main entrance.

Now living her childhood dream, Chelsea tries to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities offered by life in Scotland. She has danced in a Regency ball, shot arrows in a medieval castle, and even travelled to Stockholm on a cheap flight to see a live podcast about murder. Her bookshelves continue to be filled with history texts and murder mysteries, and she looks forward to the day those books will feature her name. 

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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