Publication Spotlight: The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

Blog written by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker. Dr Firnhaber-Baker is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History. Her research focuses on France between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker

My latest book, The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt, was published by Oxford University Press in the UK on 28 April and in the US on 28 May. The latter date—and I am sure this was a coincidence, not a clever marketing ploy—was the 663rd anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that the book is about. On that long-ago day, hundreds of peasants converged on a village north of Paris and killed nine noblemen, sparking the largest rural revolt that France had ever experienced. Over the next two months, villagers from regions stretching from Normandy to Champagne destroyed the castles and houses of local nobles, robbed them of their contents, and murdered some noblemen and their families. The cities of northern France became involved in the revolt, sheltering rebels, giving them food and supplies, and using the uprising to carry out their own operations against strategic targets or irritating neighbours. But by the middle of June, the nobles recovered the initiative and destroyed massive rebel armies at pitched battles to the north and east of Paris, setting in motion a ‘Counter-Jacquerie’ that would prove far bloodier and more destructive than the revolt itself. 

Although the Jacquerie was relatively brief, it has become a famous episode in medieval history, appearing in specialist works, textbooks, and historical fiction alike. I first read about it in my Advanced Placement European history class in 1993. I suppose I must always have had it in the back of my mind somewhere as an interesting story, but it wasn’t until I came across it again as part of my PhD research that I realized how little historians actually know about the Jacquerie. Just one book, originally published in 1859, had ever been written about it, and only a handful of articles had appeared in the century and a half since. None of this work seemed satisfactory to me, so once I finished my first book, I applied for and won a fellowship from the AHRC to support my own study of the Jacquerie alongside a comparative and collaborative project on medieval revolts that resulted in The Routledge History Handbook of Medieval Revolt, published in 2017.

Because the Jacquerie had been much discussed but little studied, much of what we ‘knew’ about it was actually just speculation. Through years of archival and manuscript research in France, I was able to build a robust picture of the rebels and their victims in their historical context that lays to rest many of the questions and mistaken assumptions that had proliferated. Probably the most important issue my book addresses is the question of why the revolt happened in the first place. Everyone who had ever written about the revolt struggled with this question, inevitably either characterizing it as spontaneous, irrational, and entirely rural, or as carefully planned, politically motivated, and orchestrated by anti-royal rebels in Paris. 

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

The evidence is more convincing for the second hypothesis—much of the revolt was well organized and many incidents, including the revolt’s inception, clearly served Parisian interests—but I came to realise that the revolt could not be reduced to a single cause or objective. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people participated in the uprising, each driven by their own interests and experiences. While Parisian objectives and actions played a central role in the revolt, other contributing factors include local and personal relationships, commoners’ resentment toward nobles’ wealth and status in the wake of the Black Death and French defeats during the Hundred Years War, threats from other rebels, and garden-variety greed and aggression.

Perhaps even more important for interpretation than the range of rebels’ interests and experiences is the way that those interests and experiences changed over time as the revolt unfolded in June and July and afterward in the years and decades that followed the revolt when people told the stories that made the sources historians use for their research. One of my book’s main arguments is that the revolt was not a discrete event so much as it was a process that developed over time in messy and unpredictable ways. That process didn’t end with the revolt but continued in the way that people chose to remember—or to forget—it months and years later. What the revolt meant to someone on 28 May 1358 may not have been what she thought about it three weeks later or in 1372, nor would she necessarily have told the story the same way every time and to every person.

A striking thing about the sources for the Jacquerie, which are mostly prosecutions against and pardons for the revolt’s participants, is the way that individual stories about the revolt kept multiplying despite the royal government’s efforts to impose its own standardized version of events. Of course, in writing a book like this, I, too, had to impose my own narrative on what would otherwise have been an unmanageable cacophony of individual accounts. I did make room for conflicting information and alternative interpretations—gargantuan footnotes are a scholar’s best friend in this regard—but I have a keen awareness that one’s own historical moment inescapably shapes analysis. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians who wrote about the Jacquerie were demonstrably influenced by their own experiences of revolution and social conflict, perhaps in ways they may not have realised at the time. Having sent the book to press in August 2020, I do wonder what role future historians will think plague, politics, and populism played in my story.

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt is available from Oxford University Press at a 30% discount using code AAFLYG6 at https://tinyurl.com/y2buob3j.

Postgraduate Spotlight: James Howe

Blog written by first-year PhD student James Howe. You can follow him on Twitter @JHowe1996.

James was born in London and spent most of his childhood living in Liverpool. From an early age, James was interested in history from the perspective of ordinary people and marginalised groups. This interest was nurtured by weekly visits to the city’s museums dedicated to maritime and military history as well as the transatlantic slave trade. He has tried to study and research history from this perspective throughout his academic career so far.

James first came to St Andrews to study for a BA (Hons) in Modern History in 2015. It was during this degree that he began to explore academic history from below. Through his optional courses, James became interested in the history of travel and tourism, which would inspire much of his later postgraduate work. His undergraduate dissertation used the war memoirs of ordinary working-class soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, analysing their impressions of the countries they travelled through after leaving their birthplaces for the first time in their lives. During this time, he also spent time studying the history (and lived experience) of dictatorship, in particular the Spanish Franco Regime and the Soviet Union. After graduating from St Andrews, he completed an MPhil in Modern European History at Cambridge, submitting a thesis entitled ‘The Experience of British Travellers to the Soviet Union, 1953-1964’. This research explored British travel literature on the Soviet Union, establishing travellers’ impressions of Soviet bureaucracy and propaganda. These books represented both a part of the discourse on Anglo-Soviet relations within Britain as well as historic Western European perceptions of Russia and Eastern Europe.

James couldn’t stay away from St Andrews for long and returned to begin a PhD in 2020. His project is supervised by Dr Kate Ferris and Dr Gillian Mitchell and focuses on the experience of British people who travelled to the dictatorships of Spain and Portugal prior to their respective transitions to democracy. Spain was ruled by General Francisco Franco from his 1939 victory in the Civil War until his death in 1975. The Portuguese Estado Novo (New State) was established in 1933 and lasted until the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which for the majority of this time was administered by António de Oliveira Salazar. British people travelled to these nations for a wide variety of reasons, on coach tours, new package holidays, as well as to work or study as part of university or government exchange programmes. The project is centred on oral history interviews which James hopes to begin conducting over the coming months. His PhD examines the presentation of Spain and Portugal as travel destinations to British people by both commercial and state-operated agencies. The material produced by these entities will be used as the project’s printed primary source base to be compared with the oral testimonies. Ultimately, his project contributes to the discourse on ordinary life during the late period of the Iberian dictatorships, as well as the ways in which travel and tourism were used by these regimes to reward and ensure the loyalty of their citizens, whilst improving their nations’ international reputations.

Outside of academia, James enjoys cycling and can often to be found dodging potholes on the back roads of Fife. He plans to ride the North Coast 500 before he finishes his PhD. James used the lockdown to improve his language skills by taking an online Spanish course and also took a deep dive into Russian literature because the last year hadn’t been bleak enough. James has played the guitar since he was young but remains a terrible musician. He is keenly waiting for life to get back to normal so he can resume visiting museums and exhibitions and finally talk about history in person again.

Gender and the Book Trades: 2021 USTC History of the Book Conference

Blog written by Jessica Farrell-Jobst. Jessica recently completed her PhD at the Reformation Studies Institute in the University of St Andrews. Her thesis work, entitled ‘Women as Book Producers: the Case of Nuremberg’ explores early modern women’s participation in the German book trade, focusing on the imperial free city of Nuremberg.

Last month the Universal Short Title Catalogue hosted the 13th annual History of the Book conference, concerning ‘Gender and the Book Trades’. In light of continued concerns regarding global travel, this year’s event was the first virtual USTC conference held through Microsoft Teams. The virtual format presented new benefits as attendance was open to more participants from further afield than ever before. For four days, participants and guests from six continents engaged in discussions on gender constructions, book history and inclusive bibliography. The conference was organised by Elise Watson, Jessica Farrell-Jobst and Nora Epstein, PhD students and USTC student researchers at the University of St Andrews.

The virtual format of the conference also brought changes to the presentation style. This year all speakers pre-circulated their papers, and presentations were centred on discussion between panelist and guests, highlighting thematic relationships and connections between the papers. We had 53 speakers presenting their latest research on diverse geographical and temporal contexts. Furthermore, we were able to offer fascinating lunchtime events each day for our guests, showcasing rare book collections and recent work by the USTC.       

The first day of our conference had four panels looking at book collecting, gendered acquisitions, identity in text, and materiality respectively. Presentations and subsequent conversation centered on how ideas about gender impacted the books men and women collected or purchased, how gendered identities were expressed through text and how the physicality of the book could be understood as a gendered item. Guests were treated to presentations from the constructed personality of Belle da Costa Greene, to the value of books for women in seventeenth century Navarre, to storytelling in nineteenth century Bengal amongst others. Our lunch sessions kicked off with a preview and open discussion on the new Gender Metadata for the USTC, held by Dr Graeme Kemp. The day closed with an entertaining student social, for both undergraduates and postgraduates, hosted by University of St Andrews’ PhD student Jacob Baxter. 

Our second day looked at women’s changing role in the marketplace, the editing and transmission of texts as a gendered act, and the construction of masculinity. Again, the conversation brought rather diverse subjects and contexts together calling out absences in historiography, visibility in archives, and the need to combat gendered assumptions. We heard about street vendors of Colonial Calcutta, women’s wills in early modern England, and ostensible masculinity in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, amongst other fascinating subjects.  For the Lunch time special event, Dr Briony Harding and Rachel Hart presented a virtual showcase of rare books housed in the libraries and museums collections at the University of St Andrews.

Slide showing the ‘Pricking and Pouncing’ technique from Georgianna Ziegler’s (Folger Library) presentation Lace, Letters, and the Calligraphic Manuscripts of Esther Inglis (c. 1570-1624).

The following day likewise hosted a fascinating conversation on family dynamics within the print trades, women’s work, and the clandestine operations of print. Again, similarities between the papers were brought to light, focusing on the importance of inheritance practices and the local laws impacting the book trades in a given region or time. From Germany to Peru to England, themes of interaction with authoritative structures and relationships between genders were prevalent. The lunch event was a student poster session presented by USTC summer volunteers, Sara D’Amico, Zaynah Akeel, and Claire Macleod. Each created a poster communicating their recent research for display at our event, where they hosted discussions and took questions from our guests. The day ended with our virtual social.

The last day of the conference looked at publishing, the use of paratext, and transformative bibliography, where guests were presented with nine fantastic papers covering a wide range of research, from South African publishers to communities of Dutch women to queer zines. Papers examined the intersectional role of race and gender in the publishing industry, text and books as a means of community building, and the historic biases ingrained in bibliography. The following discussions stressed the need for inclusivity and intersectionality in both the study of gender and the book and the development of bibliography. For the final day of the conference our guests engaged with a special presentation by Dr Earle Havens of Johns Hopkins University. Havens gave a visual journey through the ‘Women of the Book’ collection, showcasing some fascinating works by and for women housed in the Johns Hopkins’ Rare book collection.

Between the new virtual format and the presentation organization, this year’s USTC conference was a unique and rewarding experience. Conversations brought people from around the world together despite geographical distance. We are grateful to all our speakers, guests, and participants who joined in the discussion and events, contributing insightful studies and stimulating questions.   

Staff Spotlight: Derek Patrick

Blog written by Dr Derek Patrick. Dr Patrick joined the School of History as an Associate Lecturer in 2018.

Derek joined the School of History in January 2018 although he was already familiar with St Andrews and several of his new colleagues. He had completed his MA at St Andrews back in 1997 and, as a member of the Scottish Parliament Project, a PhD in 2002. His research focussed on the period c.1689-1702 with an emphasis on party politics and the membership of the old Scots parliament during the reign of William and Mary. Before returning to St Andrews, Derek spent 15 years at Dundee where he initially worked with Professor Chris Whatley on his 2006 book, The Scots and the Union.

While he spent most of his time at Dundee as a lecturer in Scottish history, Derek also worked in recruitment with UK-based international students and held a number of administrative posts. In 2017 he left academia for a brief period when he joined the veterans’ charity Poppyscotland, where he was part of a small team tasked with obtaining a large Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a mobile education outreach unit. This became Poppy Bud, an 18-tonne truck that becomes an interactive learning space visiting schools across Scotland with the purpose of exploring a contemporary understanding of remembrance. This was an especially rewarding post, but when Derek became aware of an opportunity to return to his alma mater he did not need any persuasion.

Derek serves as Deputy Director of Teaching and the School’s Academic Support Officer (a position that is unique to History). While he still lectures at sub-honours and contributes to several taught postgraduate courses, his role includes a number of administrative responsibilities. He is responsible for History Honours advising, is the School’s study abroad officer, coordinates our joint degree programme with William and Mary, is examination officer, is responsible for curriculum change, and acts as disabilities and wellbeing officer (with one or two additional School and University roles for added measure). He is based in St Katharine’s Lodge and is always contactable at asohist@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Derek enjoys the variety of the role which offers ample opportunities for research and public engagement. In recent years this has been more focussed on the Great War than the Convention Parliament, although in terms of First World War history he would consider himself very much an enthusiastic amateur. Since a high school visit to the battlefields he has had a longstanding interest in the War and a passion for the history of our local regiment, The Black Watch. He is co-founder of the Great War Dundee Commemorative Project, was a historical consultant for the BBC’s World War One at Home initiative, and has written a number of articles on the war which have appeared in various places, including Tayside at War (Dundee, 2018), co-edited with friend and former colleague, Dr Billy Kenefick.

His most recent work, The Black Watch in the Great War: Rediscovered Histories from the Regimental Family (Tippermuir Books, Perth, 2020), was published in December last year. This is a 400-page collection, written in conjunction with The Black Watch Association, which includes contributions by a number of veterans and their immediate families. This project was a unique opportunity for the wider regimental family to make a lasting contribution to the regiment’s history and heritage.

Outside academia, Derek has a number of interests and hobbies which he pursues with varying levels of enthusiasm. However, the one constant is football. He is a director of his local club, Lochgelly Albert F.C. (a name he’s sure you are not familiar with), who compete in the first division (Conference B) of the East of Scotland League. During the season, Derek can usually be found traversing the country, camera in hand, optimistically following the fortunes of the team.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Áron Kecskés

Blog written by third-year PhD candidate Áron Kecskés. Áron’s research focuses on Norman lordships in early twelfth-century Southern Italy. You can follow him on Twitter @aron.kecskes.

Áron’s research, supervised by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker and Professor Frances Andrews, looks at how the society of the eastern Campania deployed organic and localised responses to great political and societal turmoil in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The eastern part of Campania, a part of southern Italy, underwent enormous changes over the course of the eleventh century. Notably, the Lombard Principality of Benevento, which formerly ruled the whole territory, was replaced by a set of lordships ruled by an immigrant Norman aristocracy. These lordships form the principal subject of Áron’s thesis. Otto Brunner defined lordship as a conceptual category encompassing economic, social, and political aspects linked to both land and the household of the lord. An entirely alien phenomenon to our post-Enlightenment separation of economic, judicial, and military affairs, lordship was a principal ordering force of medieval politics and society. This does not mean that lordship was present in all medieval societies or that it was equally important in each. Áron’s thesis looks at a period when lordship became one of the central ordering principles in southern Italian society and politics, seeking to explore the reasons for this and the forms this process took. In particular, the thesis focuses on the documents lords produced (seigneurial diplomatic), the place of lordship in local society, and interactions between lords and seigneuries in extra-local contexts.

A stranger in foreign parts like the Norman lords he studies, Áron has lived in the UK for almost a decade now. His long-held fascination with medieval history turned into academic interest during an undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. While the intellectual history of the War of the Three Kingdoms almost seduced him, in the end he stayed loyal to his chosen period and came to St Andrews for an MLitt In Medieval History. This led naturally to his current PhD at SAIMS. Over the course of the last decade or so, Áron has worked in warehouses and shops, on petrol stations and assembly lines, rode bicycles and driven forklift trucks, and baked bread and assembled bouquets of flowers for a living. This has been just as much a formative experience as university education, instilling a deep interest in the systems and structures that order society.

Áron has been accused of being ‘overly invested’ in the Beastie Boys and of ‘quoting too much from their songs’ by his office-mates. This is actually an oversimplification: music, especially new wave, punk, and early hip-hop, plays a huge role in Áron’s life. His chief artistic interest, however, lies in literature, especially nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels. He considers Bolaño’s 2666 to be the best novel he’s read in the last few years. Áron is also an enthusiastic kickboxer. Originally introduced to Muay Thai by the Glasgow Uni MT Club, he has taken every opportunity to train ever since. Lockdown finally let him fully embrace the dark side, permitting him to grow a man-bun, put up a heavy punchbag in his living room, and ride a red fixie everywhere.

Áron is very much looking forward to returning to Italy to continue his research, but until then he is always keen on meeting people interested in chatting about Normans, music or literature, kickboxing, or cycling.

David Brewster and the culture of science in post-Enlightenment Scotland

Blog written by Dr Bill Jenkins. Dr Jenkins is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of History, working on the Leverhulme-funded project ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. He is the author of Evolution before Darwin: Theories of the Transmutation of Species in Edinburgh, 1804–1834, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2019. If you want to learn more, you can follow him on Twitter (@BillHWJenkins) or view his personal website.

Dr Bill Jenkins

I first made the acquaintance of David Brewster (1781–1868) when I was working on my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Today, Brewster is best known as the inventor of the kaleidoscope and for his work in optics, but he was also an important author and editor of scientific books and journals. It was in the latter capacity that I first encountered him while working on my doctoral research on pre-Darwinian theories of evolution in the Edinburgh of the 1820s and 1830s. The central figure in my thesis was Robert Jameson, Edinburgh’s professor of natural history. Jameson had co-edited a journal entitled the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal with Brewster between 1819 and 1824. Both men were big personalities with a habit of making enemies, so it wasn’t long before they had made enemies of each other. After parting company, Brewster went off to found his own Edinburgh Journal of Science, while Jameson stayed at the helm of the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. I was intrigued enough by Brewster to read a number of the popular books he wrote on scientific subjects, which are notable for their lively literary style and dramatic leaps of the imagination. I was immediately hooked.

Image: Chalk drawing of David Brewster by William Bewick, 1824 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Given my existing interest in Brewster, I was delighted to learn in Spring 2018 that the School of History at St Andrews was looking for a postdoc to work on Brewster and Scottish natural philosophy for  a project entitled ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. I was fortunate to be the successful candidate, and soon found myself working alongside fellow postdocs Felicity Loughlin and Lina Weber. We are also lucky enough have an eminent group of senior academics in the form of Professors Aileen Fyfe, Knud Haakonssen, Colin Kidd and Richard Whatmore on the project team.

Brewster was a multi-faceted character, and I’ve chosen six aspects of his life and work to focus on for the monograph I’m writing for the project. This will explore not only his own career, but through him will shed light on post-Enlightenment science in Scotland more generally. These six topics fall into two broad sections. The first section focuses on the contexts and institutions within which Brewster operated and which he helped shape. Firstly, Brewster has a great deal to tell us about the immediate contexts for scientific practice in early nineteenth century Scotland. This includes scientific networks and the exchange of ideas, instruments, and specimens. Secondly, he was a prolific writer and editor of scientific books and journals. This makes him the perfect vehicle for studying the communication of science. Thirdly, Brewster was deeply involved with a number of key Scottish and British scientific societies: he was secretary, vice-president, and finally president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the first director of the Society of Arts for Scotland, to name just three of his roles.

Image: Title page of Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic (1832), one of his popular science books, in which he gave scientific explanations for optical illusions and other magic tricks

The second section of my study looks at natural philosophy in the light of the political, religious, and intellectual cultures of Scotland. The fourth topic deals with Brewster’s involvement with the political life of the country. Brewster was a life-long reform Whig, who relied to a considerable extent on the patronage of fellow Whigs, and in particular the influential politician Henry Brougham, who shared Brewster’s scientific interests. The period between the French Revolution and the First Reform Bill was a particularly turbulent era in the political life of Scotland, and Brewster’s career was deeply marked by the times in which he lived.  Fifthly, like many men of science of his time, Brewster was deeply religious. He was a passionate champion of the Evangelical Party of the Church of Scotland and, like most members of that Party, left the established church to join the Free Church at the Disruption of 1843. The compatibility of the book of nature with the book of revelation was an abiding concern for Brewster and often shaped his scientific views in surprising ways. Sixthly and finally, Brewster wrote a great deal regarding the history and philosophy of science. He was a fervent champion of the power of the scientific imagination, which he saw as closely akin to ‘poetic fancy’.

The overarching question which runs throughout my work is: Can a distinct Scottish style of science be discerned in the decades following the Scottish Enlightenment? My answer to this is a clear ‘yes’. This scientific style emerged from two principal sources. Firstly, the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment had taken a deep interest in scientific methodology and the type of questions it was reasonable for natural philosophers to ask. Their views profoundly shaped the thought and practice of generations of Scottish men of science into the middle of the nineteenth century and beyond. Secondly, the Presbyterian worldview influenced even those natural philosophers who rejected some of its harsher Calvinist doctrines. They were unlikely to share the optimistic worldview of many earlier Anglican natural theologians, who had seen God’s goodness reflected in every sunbeam and blade of grass. Instead, the Scots were haunted by a darker vision of a fallen universe declining towards final dissolution that was to have a profound influence on physics and cosmology to this day.

Staff Spotlight: Professor Aileen Fyfe

Blog written by Professor Aileen Fyfe. Professor Fyfe is a Professor of Modern History. Her research focuses upon the history of science and technology, particularly the communication of science, and the technologies which made that possible. She is currently investigating the history of academic publishing from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Prof Aileen Fyfe At the launch of ‘Academic Women Here’, 2018 (with Sharon Ashbrook)

I joined the School of History at St Andrews in January 2011, after ten years working at the National University of Ireland, Galway (where I learned much less Irish than you might imagine). I was born and brought up in Glasgow, so, thanks to those years in west-coast cities, I find myself still pleasantly surprised by how dry and sunny it usually is in St Andrews. I’m not so keen on the haar, though!

I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where I discovered a subject called ‘History and Philosophy of Science’. I haven’t done much philosophy since then, but that training continues to inform my research. I’m interested in knowledge – especially knowledge about the natural world, which we nowadays call ‘science’ – and I’m interested in the social practices that affect how knowledge is constructed, organised, and communicated. What determines who can claim to have knowledge? Or what forms of knowledge come to be regarded as trustworthy? And who decides who gets access to what knowledge? You could phrase those as philosophical or sociological questions, but I’m interested in them historically.

I pursue these questions in a variety of different contexts, which means I end up knowing about all sorts of things that might not be obvious from the label ‘historian of science’. A lot of it is to do with the history of publishing, since that has historically been one of the most effective ways for knowledge to circulate, but I’ve also written about museums and tourism. I wrote my PhD and first book on the popular science books published by the Religious Tract Society, a Protestant evangelical missionary organisation in nineteenth-century Britain – but I’ve also written about Enlightenment children’s literature, university set texts, and instructive penny periodicals. I’m particularly proud of my 2012 book, Steam-Powered Knowledge, which started off as a study of an Edinburgh educational publisher but turned into an investigation of the adoption of steam-powered technologies (including railways and steamships, as well as printing machines).

A few years after arriving at St Andrews, I won a large grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council to enable me—in partnership with the Royal Society—to lead a team of researchers to investigate the 350-year history of scientific journals, and specifically, the Philosophical Transactions, founded in 1665. It has a good claim to be the world’s longest-running scientific journal and some claim to be the first scientific journal (but colleagues in France and Germany may disagree). It is about as far from ‘popular’ science as one can get, but I have found myself becoming fascinated with editorial practices, peer review, and journal finances. We have a co-authored book going through the press at the moment.

(from left to right) Professor Marmaduke Salt of the Royal Panopticon of Science (Iwan Morus); Miss Ann Veronica Stanley, learned scientific gentlewoman (Aileen Fyfe); and Mr George Wells, inventor and brother of H.G. (Katy Price). Credit: https://www.oliverlodge.org/2013/09/

The Philosophical Transactions project transformed the sort of researcher I am in ways I did not anticipate. I used to focus on the period from about 1790-1860, but now I range from the 1660s to the current day, and the last paper I published dealt with the 1950s. My medievalist colleagues may think this chronological range is normal, but to me, it seems pretty long! This longer durée allows us to ask different sorts of historical questions, especially about change over time. This has turned out to be really useful, because the other effect of the project has been to involve me in contemporary debates about research evaluation, the fairness of peer review, and the campaigns for open access publishing. Over the past five years, I’ve spoken at gatherings of publishing industry representatives and policy makers as much, if not more often, than at academic history conferences. And in those contexts, being willing and able to talk about the ‘big picture’—and to connect the past to the present day—is essential. My briefing paper, Untangling Academic Publishing (2017), has been read by far more people—and far more widely—than any of my regular academic writings.

The nature of my research encourages reflection on my own experiences as an academic, whether I’m undertaking public engagement (usually about the Victorians and their technologies) or exploring evidence for gender bias in the research communities of the past. I personally have found academia to offer a great deal of flexibility and personal autonomy, which is very useful to a woman with children in a dual-career household; but I know that this was not true historically, nor is it true for everyone today. That’s why I’ve been involved in various projects to support women academics (such as Academic Women Now! and Academic Women Here!), and why I’m currently working with colleagues and students to investigate the historical experiences of the women who studied, researched, and taught History in our own university. It’s still in the early stages, but we look forward to sharing some of the findings next year!

Spatialising the Modern: The Frankfurt Kitchen and its Gendered Work Politics

Blog written by Dr Claudia Kreklau. Dr Kreklau is an Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests include Food History, Modern Germany, and Women/Gender/Sexuality.

Dr Claudia Kreklau

In 1924, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) designed the modern kitchen. This kitchen was a single room designed for a worker, presumably a woman. As one of few well-explored early-twentieth-century woman architects, Schütte-Lihotzky’s work, politics, and feminism have attracted a good deal of attention, usually of a rather critical nature. She has been accused of relegating the female worker into domestic cooking spaces and enabling their Tayloresque exploitation, having no knowledge of housework, and not being enough of a feminist. A spatial analysis of Schütte-Lihotzky’s design with attention to the prehistory of the kitchen in central Europe in my most recent article suggests, however, that while the Viennese designer could by no means remedy the dominating middle-class gender ideals of her time, her design of the ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ reflects her aim to spatially streamline the labor of the woman worker in the context of the deteriorating political and economic climate of post-war central Europe.

Schütte-Lihotzky was the only woman to join the city of Frankfurt’s design programme ‘The New Frankfurt’, which was tasked with remedying the post-war living-space squalor of Weimar Germany. Her contribution—the kitchen—achieved two things: one, it guaranteed a minimum of sanitation, hygiene, and air quality as well as ventilation and lower humidity for the lower strata of society; two, it provided women working domestically with a room of their own.

Figures 1, 2, 3: Three views of Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

Schütte-Lihotzky’s design changes were small but significant. The architect built a desk and chair into the centre of the kitchen under the kitchen’s window, allowing the working woman to sit or rest. Until that point, central European kitchens had been largely devoid of permanent seating areas, forcing workers to remain standing. When a worker in a kitchen sat down in nineteenth-century depictions, they did so on a temporary stool for such purposes as plucking a chicken, not to write, read, or rest. She included plumbing, a metal sink with two compartments—one for washing, one for rinsing to support hygiene ideals—collapsible workspaces, and storage facilities for crockery on the walls as well as in fitted cupboards, a standard feature of many kitchens in the twentieth century. Finally, she made space for a removable iron stove that could be easily replaced should technology advance (and was easier to clean than the brick-and-mortar ovens of the previous century). The room was accessed via two doors. The original design still stands, albeit in renovated form, in the Ernst May Haus Museum in contemporary Frankfurt am Main.

In some ways, Schütte-Lihotzky’s design presents the historian with a host of social work specific and politically gendered assumptions encoded in brick and mortar, reflected in the architecture and spatial organisation of her kitchen. Some have noted that Schütte-Lihotzky planned the Frankfurt kitchen ‘exclusively’ as a workspace. Others have associated her design with ‘Taylorism’ and highlighted its prioritisation of effectiveness, comparing the architect’s actions to producing ‘factory’ conditions. Yet others noted that although the lone and isolated housewife’s tasks were varied, in contrast to repetitive Fordist production conditions, Schütte-Lihotzky’s architecture still relegated women to a role similar to that of factory workers. It is finally often pointed out that she had never cooked or managed a household before joining the Frankfurt Housing project; these formulations accuse her of studying and reducing women to exploited labourers in the domestic sphere.

While criticisms of exploitative gendered domesticity are indeed necessary, Schütte-Lihotzky’s critics omit that the architect sought to buttress the difficult everyday life of working women whose economic and political context she could not change. After six decades of a rise in gendered domesticity, the design provided a degree of independence for work—practical and mental—as well as rest for the working woman, within the parameters of contemporary social-democratic economics and gendered politics. Schütte-Lihotzky, argued: ‘My work was based on the idea of women who worked and not in cooking itself’ [emphasis added]. Ample space was a luxury, which meant the designer had to use the reduced available area effectively. The placement of the chair by the window and the two opaque doors in turn broke any hypothetical panoptic supervision by removing the housewife from the outside gaze. Women could sit at a window and gaze outside—the act of seeing in itself an exercise of power and consumption. Having the option to close a door allowed the food worker to control this space without outward supervision.

Schütte-Lihotzky operated under the understanding that leftist party politics would cater to working women’s needs; they did not. The city council for which she worked was tied to the Social Democratic party, which failed to champion gendered egalitarianism and prioritised male workers’ rights. Her kitchen design thus reflects a social democratic feminist negotiation within general party lines at the time: a spatial construction which sought to give the female worker a room of her own, even as it embraced rather than problematised labour from the perspective of a leftist worker. She argued she ‘had never concerned [her]self with cooking in my life. Nowadays this is seen as feminist but it was not feminist at all’. Instead, cooking was a practical necessity, a task which should not be gendered, but instead should foment solidarity among workers across the genders irrespective of spatial location. That the party failed to ratify this silent gendered workers’ contract and recognise women as workers equally was not a dimension for which the architect carried blame. Neither did Schütte-Lihotzky assume that women would not hold professional occupations outside the home. The effectiveness she aimed to facilitate in kitchens aimed less at exploiting women than at helping them survive the demands on their time.

Figure 4: Removable iron stove-top combination in the Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

In my most recent article, I examine the gendered prehistory of kitchen work in central Europe—with unexpected findings. In central Europe the kitchen was not always gendered, or even necessarily a room. Elites in the nineteenth century in general preferred to employ men, making the many rooms which castles dedicated for cooking and food preparation preferentially male domains. Workers and poorer rural populations in turn often lived in single-room homes, where kitchen areas were inseparable from living, working, or resting areas—meaning that there was no room to gender the space. It was primarily the middle-class with its gendered domestic ideals after the 1860s and their idealised nineteenth-century Roman architectural designs who championed the idea of gendered domesticity in a single room and successfully spread the ideal throughout society. The notion that women’s work should unfold in a private feminine sphere rather than in a masculine public sphere coincided with a drop in house-staff numbers due to industrialisation, which forced middle-class women to take on more household tasks.

Schütte-Lihotzky’s ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ deeply affected twentieth-century western kitchens which derived modernist spatial design elements from this architectural nexus. I argue that this did not solidify the success of the idea of a kitchen as a gendered room. Politics and society had already solidified this work allocation by 1900 in central Europe and elsewhere. Instead, contemporaries and scholars have been spatially blind to the surreptitious nuances of her work and texts to contest the broken gender relations of her period and its leftist politics through architecture. More recent designs since 1924, in turn, from studios and lofts to open-concept kitchens, continue to renegotiate and destabilise the limits and limitations of our spatial, gendered, public and private ideas, ideals and practices—in the unexpected shape of brick and mortar.


Postgraduate Spotlight: Maria Zukovs

Blog written by first-year PhD student Maria Zukovs. Maria’s research focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. You can follow her on Twitter @m_zukovs.

Maria was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her passion for history arose at the young age of four when she discovered the story of RMS Titanic and grew from there. Despite being engineers, her parents always encouraged her to follow her own interests. Her grandfather also played an important role in nurturing Maria’s love of history by teaching her about Ireland, his home country, from a young age.

Maria began studying history in 2011 at the University of Toronto, where she majored in history and Celtic studies. Her experiences in the Celtic studies programme solidified her love of Irish history and culture. Following her graduation from the University of Toronto in 2015, she immediately pursued an M.A. at Western University in London, Ontario. There she explored settler-colonialism in seventeenth-century Ireland through the lens of Bardic poetry. As history is often written by those in power, this research sought to understand perceptions of colonialism through the eyes of the colonised. After completing her M.A., she took a break from academia and went on to complete a certificate in museum studies. After working several jobs in culture and heritage, she realised she missed doing historical research. Leaving the world of art galleries behind, she looked to Scotland.

Her current research, under the supervision of Professor Andrew Pettegree, focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. This topic brings together Maria’s two main historical passions: Irish history and the French Revolution. She examines newspapers published in late eighteenth-century Dublin and how their coverage of the French Revolution may have impacted Irish society at that time. Much of the scholarly focus for this period of Irish history has been on figures like Theobald Wolfe Tone, organisations like the Society of United Irishmen, and the 1798 rebellion. In particular, the United Irishmen’s relationship with France has been the subject of several in-depth studies. However, despite there being a significant number of newspapers printed in Dublin during the period of the French Revolution, there have been few studies about them, their contents, and the role the press played in spreading news of the Revolution. Going through these newspapers, she will examine what reports on the French Revolution looked like, what information was being disseminated to the public at the time, and how accurate those reports were. The government response to this press coverage (legislation, libel cases against proprietors) plays a key role in understanding whether these reports on the French Revolution were seen as a threat to Irish society.

Outside of academia Maria is a horror film enthusiast who has been told she makes excellent bread. When she is not playing with the neighbourhood cats, she is knitting sweaters and hosting Jeopardy nights with her friends. She also enjoys playing the violin, which she has been doing since the age of nine. Since moving to Scotland, she has discovered an interest in walking and hiking, mainly along the Coastal Path. She welcomes recommendations on any paths she should check out.

Publication Spotlight: Politics and the Slavic Languages

Blog written by Dr Tomasz Kamusella. Dr Kamusella is an interdisciplinary historian of modern central and eastern Europe, with a focus on language politics and nationalism. Politics and the Slavic Languages is now available for pre-order from Routledge.

Dr Tomasz Kamusella

During the last two centuries, ethnolinguistic nationalism has been the norm of nation building and state building in Central Europe. The number of recognised Slavic languages (in line with the normative political formula of language = nation = state) gradually tallied with the number of the Slavic nation-states, especially after the breakups of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But in the current age of borderless cyberspace, regional and minority Slavic languages are freely standardised and used, even when state authorities disapprove. As a result, since the turn of the nineteenth century, the number of Slavic languages has varied widely, from a single Slavic language to as many as forty.

During my years in academia, I have run into questions about methodology and language classification regularly. While working in the Institute of East Slavonic Philology (Instytut Filologii Wschodniosłowiańskiej) at Opole University in Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland, I had an enlightening discussion with a master’s student who was completing her thesis on the East Slavic language of Rusyn. This student told me that she was a bit apprehensive about the research seminar where she was expected to present her research at later that day. In order to ease her into the flow of the required scholarly discourse, I was interested to hear her opinion on the salient differences between the categories of language and dialect. Soon we came to the conclusion that there is no linguistic basis for distinguishing between these two terms. Extralinguistic factors—such as political decisions—are responsible for according one speech variety the status of a language and another of a dialect. From the perspective of linguistics, such decisions are arbitrary and mainly reflect the power relations extant in the human groups concerned. Usually, in the West, a polity’s dominant group (typically, with its power center located in a polity’s capital) poses its speech as a language, which subsequently is standardised through writing and is often declared the sole legal medium of written and oral communication in public. In turn, speech varieties of non-dominant (‘regional’) groups residing across this polity are classified as dialects of the dominant group’s language. Political domination is translated into sociolinguistic and conceptual domination of the top group over subordinate ones, though members of the latter can try to renegotiate their subaltern status by situationally switching between the dominant group’s state language and their own ‘dialects’ (or ‘non-languages’).

We had a really good conversation that cleared a lot of methodological confusion. At least it appeared so. When I met the same master’s student a week later I asked her how the seminar went. Her mood was a bit subdued. She explained that ‘for the sake of objectivity’ her supervisor had asked her to refrain from using the term ‘language’ in reference to Rusyn. The student was coaxed to speak about Rusyn as a dialect of the Ukrainian language. She was pragmatic and followed the supervisor’s suggestion. It was time for the student to graduate and get a job. There was nothing to gain from arguing about the ‘obscure methodological point,’ otherwise the defense of the student’s thesis could have been delayed, or even not permitted. No one in her shoes would risk such problems over a mere question of terminology.

In this way, as required by ethnolinguistic nationalism typical to central Europe, universities in this region make sure that the unpacked black box of language and the unquestioned dogma of the nation pass swiftly from one generation to another. A thinly veiled threat of ‘problems’ or the inability to graduate is usually sufficient to put any intellectually adventurous students back in line. But questions of language classification continued to interest me and led to researching and writing my new monograph Politics and the Slavic Language. Through the story of Slavic languages, my book illustrates that decisions on what counts as a language are neither permanent nor stable, arguing that the politics of language is the politics in Central Europe.