Postgraduate Spotlight: James Earnshaw

James Earnshaw is a third-year PhD student. His research focuses on gender and ‘Englishness’ from 1850 to 1914, examining these ideas in the context of Anglo-German relations during this period. His thesis examines how concerns over English masculinity shaped perceptions of Germany and responses to German foreign policy. 

James Earnshaw

Born and raised in ‘the city of dreaming spires’, James was encouraged to apply to St Andrews on the basis that ‘it’s just like Oxford, except it has three beaches and you can walk on the quad.’ Perhaps placing an inadvisable degree of faith in these incentives, James arrived in September 2013 as an undergraduate to read history having never visited the town. Fortunately, the recommendation was well-founded: this is his eighth academic year in the town having completed an M.Litt in Modern History in 2018 before starting his PhD! 

Despite the efforts of his classicist father to guide him to Ancient History at a young age (including illicit showings of Gladiator, Alexander, and Troy), James finally allied himself to the nineteenth century after reading Richard Aldous’s The Lion and the Unicorn for an A-S history module. At honours he continued this interest by taking modules on British and German foreign policies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the former, he was introduced to The Battle of Dorking: Reminisces of a Volunteer (1871), a short story written by George Chesney which imagines a successful German invasion of Britain. A gripping tale which shifts effortlessly from pulsating military action to moments of tenderness, James was fascinated by the sensation caused by the story and sought to unravel its popularity. Under the supervision of Professor Aileen Fyfe, James explored how the story exhibits and exacerbates anxieties over the condition of English masculinity in ‘The Battle of Dorking: A Re-Examination Through Gender’, which was awarded the Alan Robertson Memorial Prize for best undergraduate dissertation in Modern History.

The Battle of Dorking. Reminiscences of a Volunteer, 1871

After holidaying from the nineteenth century during his master’s dissertation, which analysed British army chaplains’ responses to regulated maison tolérées on the Western Front, James returned to more familiar territory with his PhD project. Drawing on the concept of ‘gender damage’, his thesis explores how recurrent concerns expressed over English masculinity between 1850 to 1914 illuminate contemporaries’ sensitivities to the social construction of binary gender categories. Examining English press articles, public speeches and popular cultural works, James explores how these mediums encouraged contemporaries to fear non-conformity to prescribed gender roles. James applies this theoretical framework to Anglo-German relations in the period to illustrate how these sensitivities underpinned interpretations of German foreign policy and influenced ensuing political, social and cultural responses. Beyond his thesis, James also researches the histories of sexuality and emotion in the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Outside of academia, James can be found playing cricket for both the university and staff sides. Elected captain of the latter prior the pandemic, he hopes to be able to lead the team this coming season to avoid the ignominy of being the only captain in the club’s history never to win a game. In the winter months James plays six-a-side football, martyring himself for the team as goalkeeper in the freezing conditions. Like many during the pandemic, James has become well-acquainted with Strava (other fitness apps are available) and now enjoys long walks and runs with greater enthusiasm. When travel restrictions end, James intends to complete an academic pilgrimage to Dorking and trace the Volunteer narrator’s footsteps like an ambling Michael Portillo. Hopefully the excursion will end in a less calamitous fashion.

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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