ISHR Reading Weekend 2018

2018-04-07 15.12.32Blog written by PhD student Anne Rutten

On April 6, the annual Reading Weekend of the Institute of Scottish Historical Research took place, celebrating ten years of Scottish studies at St Andrews. The Burn in Edzell was as usual kind enough to host the staff, postgraduate students and visiting scholars over the weekend.

Arriving late on Friday afternoon, everybody settled in and caught up with each other’s work. In the evening, Professor Roger Mason officially opened the weekend by reflecting on ten eventful years in the life of ISHR. This talk of the past was contrasted by the following talk on the St Andrews project of Smart History, given by Dr Bess Rhodes. Showing and explaining the reconstruction of St Salvators Quad, we were introduced to the future of historical studies. As the evening wound down, those present tested their skills at the pool table and/or debated the merits of the Geddy Map.

IMG_20180408_094320616The following morning, first-year PhD student Sarah Leith and incoming PhD student Daniel Leaver kicked off the first set of panels. Sarah’s paper ‘Whose history is it anyway?: Shaping identities in mid-twentieth-century Scotland’ discussed the different people who participated in the remembering and making of history, from lecturers in academia to Fife citizens starting their own folk museums. Daniel Leaver’s paper ‘Visions of Scotland, Visions of Empire: Scottish Nationalists, Britain and the World, 1928-42’ focused on interbellum Scottish political history, assessing the ideas and propositions by the SNP, especially related to the development of Home Rule in Ireland.

The second panel moved further back in time, with Christin Simons and Nora Epstein. Taking us across the world in disputes between the East Indian companies of England and Sweden, Christin’s paper’ RIP? Reputation, image and perception of the Swedish East India Company during the Porto Novo affair’ explored questions of legitimacy and reputation in eighteenth-century naval matters. Nora’s presentation ‘Visual Commonplacing:  The Transmission and Reception of Printed Religious Images in Reformed England and Scotland’ took us from the seas to the household, introducing her database and methodology to understand how certain illustrations traveled through time and found their way from religious books to fireplaces and ballads.

IMG_20180407_150925965For the customary outing, ISHR intern Chelsea arranged for a visit to Kinnaird Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Fife. Although the current building dates from the twentieth century, early parts of the castle were built in the fourteenth century. As the Duke showed us the hunting trophies of ancestors, paintings of family members and other curiosities, nearly every guest found something that interacted with their research! Upon returning to tea and coffee at the Burn, cake and champagne were brought out to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of ISHR. In addition, to thank Roger for his tireless efforts, a surprise panel of former PhD students took place. Bess Rhodes, Esther Meijers and Steven Reid took us on a whistle-stop tour of the Reformation, Scoto-Dutch relations and Neo-Latin writing.

The Saturday evening was devoted to the ISHR Pub Quiz, a staple of Reading Weekends. As usual, the Scottish history round yielded the least points, while the riddle of four kings was solved by the youngest attendee. (Nobody else managed to untangle the names, causes of death and monikers!) The Sunday morning opened with a medieval panel. First-year PhD student Dana Weaver‘s talk ‘Memorial Identity: Inventing the Anglo-Saxon in the Medieval and the Modern’ analysed how post-colonial theory proves useful for early medieval historians, while Anne Rutten’s paper ‘Reading and Bleeding Revisited: Creating Highland Culture in Fourteenth-Century Scotland’ investigated the beginnings of Highland and Lowland identities.

readingweekend.jpgThe final talk was delivered by William Hepburn, whose paper ‘Common books: burgh registers and documentary culture in fifteenth-century Scotland’ discussed how societies in burghs made use of the written word. The weekend was a great success, as students and staff made connections between their research, tested their skills at various games and enjoyed the sunny surroundings of Edzell. After a hearty lunch and leaving their wishes in the Burn guest book, everyone piled back into cars for their return home.


March Round Up


Photo attrib. Sarah, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


Congratulations to Dr John Condren, who has received a Rome Award from the British School at Rome, to conduct research for an article on diplomatic ceremonial at the papal court in the late 17th century

Congratulations to Professor Aileen Fyfe, Professor Knud Haakonssen, Professor Colin Kidd and Professor Richard Whatmore. They have received a Leverhulme Trust Large Grant for their project After Enlightenment: Intellectual Life in Scotland, 1790-1843

Staff Activity

On March 19, the Editing Early Modern Texts and Sources: Problems and Possibilities conference took place

Professor Guy Rowlands presented the papers ‘The Last Argument of the King? Arms, Artillery and Absolutism under Louis XIV’to the Medieval and Renaissance Group, and ‘The Sinews of War, the Sun King, and the Financial Burdens and Perils of Being a Superpower’ at the history department of the College of William and Mary

On March 27th, Dr Gillian Mitchell delivered a paper entitled ‘Popular Music and Family Life, 1955-1975: Questioning Notions of Generation Gap’ at the ‘Recording Leisure Lives’ conference at the University of Bolton

On March 27th, Professor Richard Whatmore gave a talk entitled ‘Rights after the Revolutions’ for the Johns Hopkins Political and Moral Thought Seminar series


Aileen Fyfe and Camilla Mørk Røstvik, ‘How female fellows fared at the Royal Society,’ Nature (6 March 2018)

Tomasz Kamusella and Fenix Ndhlovu, ‘Kamusella and Ndhlovu on Linguistic Imperialism,’ Social Science Matters (March 2018)

Mara van der Lugt, ‘The left hand of the Englightenment: truth, error, and integrity in Bayle and Kant,’ History of European Ideas (26 Feb 2018)

Richard Whatmore, Béla Kapossy, Isaac Nakhimovsky and Sophus Reinert (eds.),  Markets, Morals and Politics. Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought (Harvard University Press, 2018)

Conference ‘Dress and Décor: Domestic Textiles and Personal Adornment in Scotland up to 1700’


From left to right: Professor Roger Mason, Peryn Westerhof Nyman and Dr Morvern French, photo attrib. Chelsea Reutcke

Blog written by Dr Morvern French

On 23 and 24 March 2018 the Institute of Scottish Historical Research held a conference on Dress and Décor: Domestic Textiles and Personal Adornment in Scotland up to 1700. With a diverse range of speakers and topics, the event focussed on clothing, accessories, jewellery, tapestry, and embroidery from the medieval to early modern period in Scotland.

Dr Sally Rush opened with a study of the chafferon at the court of James V. A gold wire headdress worn by men and women, it represented the Renaissance ideals of beauty and majesty, and can be traced through written accounts, portraiture, and sculpture. This was complemented by a panel on ‘Royal Ceremony and Display in the Sixteenth Century’. Dr Lucy Dean outlined the use of dress at the marriages of James IV, James V, and James VI, arguing for its international significance. Rosalind Mearns examined a portrait of James V and Mary of Guise, comparing the fashion and accessories depicted with those in a contemporary portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. Peryn Westerhof Nyman considered the wearing of dule – mourning cloth – by members of the Scottish court on the deaths of Madeleine of Valois, Margaret Tudor, and James V.

Helen Wyld gave an in-depth paper on the reconstruction of James V’s tapestry collection, none of which is known to survive. Documentary and visual evidence, and the identification of contemporary pieces, show that James’s taste was at the cutting edge of European design and cultural sophistication.

In the Collections Session Claire Robinson presented a pair of gauntlet gloves held by the Museum of the University of St Andrews. These were given by Charles I to Sir Henry Wardlaw, who also owned the Wardlaw Bible presented by Dr Briony Harding of Special Collections, University of St Andrews. This and a dos-à-dos devotional text on display are covered with embroidered bindings bearing heraldic and floral designs.


Photo attrib. Chelsea Reutcke

Afterwards, we heard a panel on ‘The Production and Circulation of Textiles’. Nora Epstein considered how the adoption of Protestantism in Scotland caused religious imagery to move from the church to the home, appearing in embroidery. Professor Christopher Smout then discussed the varied types of fabric produced in seventeenth century Scotland, and the spinners, weavers, tailors, and merchants involved in its manufacture and distribution within Scotland and abroad.

Caroline Paterson then opened a dialogue on Viking graves in Scotland with a consideration of brooches, belt fittings, beads, and other accessories. The dating, metal content, and design provide a picture of cultural complexity in Viking era Scotland, with material influences from Scandinavia. Following this paper, we heard Dr Susan Freeman’s study of the textile remains found in these graves, with a focus on the skill and time investment needed to produce these items.

The next morning, Dr Mark Hall discussed the spiritual and social values attached to dress accessories in and around medieval Perth. These included coins, pilgrimage tokens, reliquary pendants, horse mounts, and seal matrices, which held religious and/or apotropaic properties. Such objects were sometimes recycled or reshaped to change in use and meaning, beyond the strictly aesthetic.

The final panel on ‘Dress, Accessories, and Jewellery: Their Role in Cultural Identity’ was opened by Lyndsay McGill. She reconsidered the accepted definition of fede rings as relating to love and marriage, when they may have also had religious or apotropaic properties. Rhona Ramsay followed with a look at ‘naken’ or itinerant metalworkers in Argyll, showing that such craftspeople were capable of producing sophisticated silver pieces for elite clients. Finally Dr David Caldwell re-examined the traditional Scottish dress of plaid, which had antecedents in the classical world but was increasingly associated with the Highlands of Scotland.

At the concluding roundtable discussion ideas for future research and collaboration were put forward. These included a publication of the conference proceedings and the holding of further conferences. In the meantime we have created an online network for anyone interested in the topic of dress and décor in Scotland. To access this please email or


St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies Postgraduate Reading Weekend

Blog written by Dr Sarah Greer

sarah greerphoto.pngOn a chilly Saturday morning in February, an assortment of MLitt and PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and staff arrived at Dalgairn House in Cupar for the 2018 SAIMS Postgraduate Reading Weekend. We received a very warm welcome to Dalgairn House by our hosts Hugh and Hilary Kennedy, along with a very appreciated cup of tea or coffee to warm up, before cracking on with the sessions. Over Saturday and Sunday, the postgraduate students and postdocs presented brief outlines of the current questions they’re tackling in their research projects, each followed by questions and discussion.

Our first session began with Ingrid Ivarsen speaking about her research into the transmission of law in Anglo-Saxon England and the interplay between Latin and Old English language in lawcodes. Following her, one of our taught MLitt students, Callum Jamieson, discussed his work on the invention of stories about papal legates in 12thC English chronicles and the use of these stories to comment on the disputes between the English church and king and the pope in this period. Sarah Greer then introduced her postdoctoral project on Carolingian and Merovingian burial sites in tenth- and eleventh-century Germany and France and how these dynasties were remembered – or forgotten – in the post-Carolingian world.

After quite a lengthy discussion and a caffeine break, we pushed on with the next session. Hailey Ogle spoke on her work on the Chansons de Geste in the High Middle Ages, and how the emotional and behavioural topoi of these very secular pieces of literature would be interpreted by monastic audiences. Guy Fassler then introduced his research on lordship in public spaces in Italian cities, and the release of tension through violent revolts that could still considered to be within the boundaries of acceptable political behaviour.

Lunch was accompanied by a chance to stretch our legs and explore the gardens around Dalgairn House in the sunshine. In the afternoon, we returned with Maria Merino Jaso outlining how she came to work on the exchanges of poetic riddles in Charlemagne’s court, and the problems of interpreting chains of texts where not all of the texts survive. Holger Kaasik then discussed his research on ideas of time in medieval calendars, and how and why various memories of different ways of calculating and measuring time became embedded in calendars over the Middle Ages. Eleonora Rava spoke on her postdoctoral project on female religious recluses and the fascinating case of a recluse who fled her enclosure and whose testimony was then presented as a character witness against a male cleric. Sophia Silverman, one of our MLitt students, introduced her dissertation on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Constance of Brittany and the ways in which female authority and rule were constructed in succession disputes. Finally, Mark Thakkar rounded the day off with a presentation of the problems he has faced in creating a new Latin edition of John Wycliffe’s De Logica.

After a full day of presentations, questions and stimulating discussion, we broke off for a much needed rest before our hosts provided us with an excellent – and very convivial – dinner. Everyone returned the following morning for the last few sessions of papers. Dana Weaver introduced her doctoral project, which uses post-colonial theory as a way to look at the incorporation of Anglo-Saxon imagery in Norman art in northern England. Gert-Jan van de Voorde then discussed his involvement in a collaborative project on studying lordship in late medieval Europe and the possibilities and problems posed in creating a quantitative database of material.

Our next session was slightly different: Eilidh Harris from CAPOD, who completed her doctorate in Mediaeval History at St Andrews, joined us to discuss her own experiences as a PhD student. She offered some practical advice and perspective on being a postgraduate student, which sparked a lively discussion about work practices and reflections from students and staff on their approaches to research.

Our final presentation was from our very generous host, Hugh Kennedy, who gave a summary of his work on the formation of the early Islamic empire, their use of taxation and their creation of a society in which intellectual culture was able to flourish. It was an ideal way to finish up our weekend, and after lunch and another wander around the grounds of Dalgairn House, we all made our way back home. The various presentations from students and staff made clear the diversity in approaches to studying the Middle Ages within SAIMS. The weekend offered a chance for us all to become more familiar with each other’s work and interests, building on the close-knit sense of community and collegiality that defines Mediaeval Studies in St Andrews.

February Round Up


Photo attrib. Peryn Westerhof Nyman, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


Congratulations to Dr Kate Ferris for receiving a European Research Council
grant for her project on dictatorship and everyday life in Mediterranean Europe

Staff Activity

In early February, Dr Akhila Yechury gave a paper titled ‘Rethinking Imperial
Margins: French Borderlands in India, c.1815-1947’ at the international conference ‘Between Empires: The Making and Unmaking of Borers, 19th-20th Centuries‘ held at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

On 5 February, Dr Konrad M. Lawson gave a talk on the 1937 German-Japanese co-produced film The New Earth at the Institute for Global Cinema and Creative Cultures workshop Setsuko Hara @ St Andrews

On 7 February, Dr Gillian Mitchell participated in the Music Public Talks series at the Byre Theatre. She presented a paper entitled ‘British Pop Stars and Pantomime from the 1950s to the 1970s

Dr Yechury also participated in a British Academy sponsored international public engagement event at the University of York on 9-10 February called ‘Revising the Geography of Modern World History: New Research in Modern Trans-Regional History

On February 15, Dr Neil McGuigan presented his paper ‘Máel Coluim III and the Norman Conquest’ at the ISHR seminar

Professor Steve Murdoch gave the paper ‘Britain and the Thirty Years’ War: The
Evolution of a Field of Study’ at the Modern History seminar.

New Publications

Jordan Girardin, ‘How the first Winter Games harnessed the publicity power of
the OlympicsThe Conversation (15 Feb 2018)

Carole Hillenbrand and Robert Hillenbrand, ‘Ancient Iranian Kings in the World
History of Rashid Al-Din’, Iran: Journal of British Institute of Persian Studies (Feb

James Palmer, ‘The adoption of the Dionysian Easter in the Frankish kingdoms
(c. 670-800)’ Peritia: Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland, 28 (2017): 135-54.

Tomasz Kamusella, ‘Russian: Between Re-Ethnicisation and Pluricentrism’, New
Eastern Europe (Feb 2018)

Guy Rowlands, ‘Keep Right on to the End of the Road: the Stamina of the French
Army in the War of Spanish Succession’ in Michael Schaich and Matthias Pohlig
(eds), The War of the Spanish Succession. New Perspectives (Oxford University
Press, 2018)

‘In Defense of History’: Broadcasting on Hong Kong’s Popular Radio Show, Summit

The following piece is by St Andrews PhD student Percy Leung, who was recently able to promote the study of history on a popular Hong Kong radio programme. Percy is carrying out research for his thesis ‘Symphonic Beneficence: The Social and Political Contributions of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra during the First World War’ under the supervision of Prof. Frank Müller


DSC_3186 (1).JPG

Chip Tsao and Percy Leung


Hong Kong – once a glorious British colony – has experienced substantial political, social, economic and cultural transformations since her sovereignty was transferred to China on July 1st, 1997. Indeed, these transformations permeated into the academia, where scholarships that are perceived to generate more wealth and prestige, like medicine, law, finance and engineering took precedence over traditional humanities and the arts, especially the historical, literary and musical disciplines. History, as a field of study, is seen by many Hong Kongers as a ‘dead subject’ which not only is of little relevance to modern society, but also forces students to memorise facts and data that could not help with their career advancement.

During the Christmas and New Year holiday, I had the great pleasure of meeting Chip Tsao, a well-known, if controversial broadcaster, commentator, columnist and writer based in Hong Kong. Tsao took an interest in my doctoral research but was perplexed by why a Hong Kong youngster, like me, would embark on a PhD in Modern History, the very academic degree and subject which he believed would not appeal to the prominent multinational companies. Upon hearing my explanations and arguments, Tsao immediately invited me to be the guest on his radio show on Commercial Radio, Summit, the next evening to defend history as a discipline and offer the Hong Kong public an analysis of the value and importance of studying history.

Needless to say, this was a massive challenge for me. Not only was Summit a popular radio show in Hong Kong, I also needed to think about how to deliver my ideas in a way that was both approachable and understandable to the public. And of course, I would have to speak in Cantonese, which is my second language, throughout the show as any English phrases or words would only serve to confuse the mostly Cantonese-speaking audiences.

I started the radio programme discussing my music history doctoral project, which is on the contributions of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra to their countries during the First World War, before turning to how I became mesmerised by history and explaining the roles of music in history. In particular, I talked about the numerous historical occasions where British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod (from his Enigma Variations) was performed, like at every Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, Whitehall and at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Most importantly, I reminded the audiences that this piece was also performed at the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony in 1997, which drew tears from the British delegation, including our last Governor Lord Patten and his daughters. I played a recording of Nimrod, conducted by Elgar himself, during the radio show, hoping that this nostalgic, poignant and affectionate composition would lead Hong Kongers to reminisce their remarkable days under British rule. After the broadcast, I received numerous messages from friends and audiences, expressing how this segment brought them to tears, touched their souls and resonated with their minds and emotions.

After a commercial break, I critiqued some memorable quotes about history, including George Bernard Shaw’s ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history’, Sir Winston Churchill’s ‘Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ and Stephen Hawking’s ‘We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity’. And for the final 30 minutes of the programme, I launched into a passionate commentary on the importance of history and why students should study this subject. I analysed how history helped us to understand peoples, societies, values and changes, how history provided an opportunity for moral contemplation, how history gave us an ethnological, panoramic worldview that encourages us to appreciate the diversity of cultures, how history taught us lessons about the past, present and future and how history stimulated us to think, to problem-solve and to communicate.

Would my broadcast make a difference to the mindsets of the people in Hong Kong? Well, history will be my judge.

The Undergraduate History Conference

Blog written by Sophie Rees


Ruth McKechnie, winner of the Dean’s Prize

On Saturday 10 February, the University History Society hosted its fifth annual (and most-well attended to date) Undergraduate History Conference, held in the Medieval Old Class Library. The Conference is one of the Society’s flagship events, and one that we as a committee are immensely proud of. The first of its kind in the UK, the conference aims to enable undergraduate historians to engage independently and critically with historical topics that interest them. Year upon year, it provides a challenging but supportive environment in which to explore those interests, test ideas and develop professional and academic skills. It does not constrain students to a mark scheme, or award them points from 1-20. Instead, the conference nurtures independent academic thought, integral for the development of skills vital for dissertations and beyond.

This year’s theme, History and Memory, was well received by applicants and the wider community, and nurtured this sense of personal engagement. The tension between scholarly accounts of the past and collective memory in shaping a personal, political and national historical consciousness has often been perceived as obscuring ‘the facts’ from view. However, it is from the struggle between personal recollections and the official narrative that the patchwork of history slowly begins to be stitched together. Memory as a historical method can appear both useful and useless. It gives flavour to bland official narratives yet is hampered by its brevity and fractures. Yet, the comprehension of memory as a valuable historiographical tool is the key to ensuring that history is never forgotten.


Attendees at the Undergraduate History Conference Dinner

The day started with a fascinating key note speech by Professor DeGroot, who gave an address entitled ‘The Burden of Memory and the Need to Forget’. Ranging from personal recollections to a national perception of Blackadder, DeGroot’s address neatly interlinked private and public understandings of memory, before contemplating on the triviality of both what we remember and what we choose to forget. This was followed by our five undergraduate speakers, who spoke on topics as varied as Stolpersteine to Polynesian sexuality. There was a great sense of audience engagement and a reciprocity of ideas, as spectator and speaker alike were drawn into interesting debate. This was accompanied by copious amounts of biscuits and cups of university branded tea (a particular favourite among students and staff alike), as we all mulled over the curious construction of historical memory. After the final speech, the committee adjourned to decide which participant would be voted best speaker, whilst Professor Colin Kidd led an open discussion on the central themes with students in the Undercroft.

This year’s recipient of the £100 Deans’ Prize is Ruth McKechnie, for her fascinating discussion of sectarian tension in ‘The Glasgow Conundrum: A discussion of how socio-cultural prejudices affect the perception of history’. We are so grateful to everyone who attended the event, with particular thanks to our five fabulous speakers: Ruth, Victoria, Philip, Zoe and Hayley. The History Society looks forward to our next undergraduate conference, where we hope to relocate to a larger venue and host even more insightful speakers.