Postgraduate Spotlight: Manon Williams

Blog written by Manon Williams. Manon is a first-year PhD student. Her research examines how medical knowledge was constructed at sea among surgeons in the British and French navies

Manon is a first year PhD in Modern History under the supervision of Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith and Professor Aileen Fyfe. Her doctoral research, funded by a Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities, explores how medical knowledge was constructed and implemented at sea among surgeons in the British Royal Navy. Using naval medical journals from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, her thesis examines how surgeons applied various contemporary medical theories to different patient populations. She is especially interested in the role of medical bias, including how patients were categorised based on preconceived or constructed notions of disease susceptibility and transmissibility.

After an undergraduate degree focused on late antiquity, a master’s degree in medieval history, and a brief interlude as a research assistant in a paediatric hospital, Manon has inexplicably yet irrevocably landed on late-eighteenth-century naval medicine. She likes to think that her previous study of hermits and monks has some bearing on her current research, but in general it was her experience analysing data in a paediatric infectious diseases department that brought forward many of the questions that drive her research. After nearly two years of analysing patient data, she realised how powerful of a story those data points could tell once interpreted and contextualised. In her search for historical records of patient data, Manon discovered the National Archive’s collection of naval surgeons’ journals (series ADM 101) and fell into a world of poisonous fruits and arachnids, death by lightning and battle, and the devastating effects of tropical diseases. By analysing various illnesses and comparing their treatment in different geographic locations and among different patient populations, Manon hopes to identify how prevailing medical theories informed patient care and shaped modern clinical practice.

Raised by a family of architects and engineers, Manon’s passion for history has often perplexed relatives whose experiences with the discipline consisted mainly of rote memorization and monotone lectures. Undeterred, Manon has spent nearly a decade trying to convince her friends and family that history is a fascinating subject requiring deep critique and contextualisation. To Manon, history teaches empathy, introspection, and awareness. Whether discussing medieval saints or eighteenth-century sailors, Manon’s drive is to find ways to make history interesting, engaging, and approachable to all. She is looking forward to taking this time during her PhD to explore opportunities with public engagement and public history.

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Manon has happily exchanged her 300 days of sunshine a year for a PhD on the windy east coast of Scotland. After an undergraduate semester abroad in Edinburgh, she is excited to be back and looks forward to exploring the country further. When not buried deep in a monograph or computer screen, Manon enjoys bicycle rides, long walks in nature, photography, games, and gardening. This summer’s task is to figure out how to grow vegetables in a new climate. She hopes that the excess of moisture, compared to semi-arid Colorado, will make up for the loss of sunshine. Any tips are most welcome.

History in the Making: PhD Student Jonathan Gibson on his Mastermind quiz appearances and enduring love of history

Blog written by second-year PhD student Jonathan Gibson. Jonathan is currently a contestant on BBC Two’s Mastermind quiz. You can follow him on Twitter @jgib1996 and watch him compete on the Mastermind Grand Final on 26 April.

I first came to St Andrews in 2017 as an M.Litt. student in Early Modern History, having previously done my undergraduate degree at Magdalen College, Oxford. I am now in the second year of my Ph.D. here at St Andrews. Since my final undergraduate year, my focus has been on the period of the British revolution and the interregnum, and particularly the ways in which radically opposed constitutional visions were mediated through institutions of dialogue and debate. Having previously written about the Army debates at Putney, and about the operation of parliamentary orders in the Protectoral Parliaments, I am currently interested in the rhetorical trope of ‘plain speaking’ and its particular relevance to the language of Cromwellian politics.

However, in the last few weeks I have perhaps become somewhat better known, at least on certain corners of Twitter, as ‘that lanky nerd who looks like he’s just funnelled a case of Red Bull’ through my appearances on the BBC quiz show Mastermind. I have been a quizzer for most of my life, from falling in love with The Weakest Link as a child, to now competing alongside the very best in several national and global quiz leagues (even more now that they’re all on Zoom!). In my latest exploit, having won first my heat and now my semi-final, I have been lucky enough to reach the Mastermind Grand Final, which will be broadcast on BBC2 at 8 p.m. this coming Monday, 26 April.

For about as long as I can remember, history and quiz have been my twin driving passions. I have no idea which came first. In many ways, the correlation feels fairly natural. Both as a historian and as a quizzer, I love the fact that there is always more to learn. The canon is never fixed, or at least it never should be, and the greater the diversity of voices involved in developing theses or setting questions, the more exciting and surprising the task of responding to them becomes. I also love that both occupations involve a constant process of forming intellectual connections. Every quizzer knows that two facts which are related to each other, particularly in a creative or unexpected way, are far easier to remember than one discrete fact without context, just as many of the most exhilarating historical theses involve juxtaposing a familiar story with a novel disciplinary framework, a neglected body of sources, or a broader chronological or transnational development. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve got a lot better and had a lot more fun at both when I’ve been supported by a community of teammates and friends, sharing new facts, pooling collective knowledge, and being inspired to rise to higher and higher levels.

Admittedly, the more quizzes I do, the more I am reminded of the vast swathes of knowledge, particularly historical knowledge, of which I remain embarrassingly ignorant. I still remember the first pub quiz I ever did, where, as five first-year history undergrads, our academic confidence took an early knock when we achieved our worst score of the night on the history round (for what it’s worth, we still won the quiz, aided largely by our knowledge of early noughties girl groups and ‘80s tennis players!). But the joy of quiz, like the joy of academia, is that there will always be unexplored territory, always a question that you can’t answer this time but will the next, always the potential to get better. And for as long as I can continue chasing those unanswered questions, I can’t see myself ever tiring of either.

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Hill

Blog written by Dr Felicity Hill. Dr Hill’s research is focused on social and religious history. Her forthcoming book, Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England: Community, Politics and Publicity (Oxford University Press), examines the social, political and spiritual consequences of the medieval church’s most severe sanction. 

Dr Felicity Hill

I came to St Andrews at the start of 2019 as a lecturer in medieval history, leaving a postdoc at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Before that I was based in London and have degrees from Manchester, UCL, and University of East Anglia. I’m currently in the final stages of turning my PhD thesis into a book—fingers crossed it’ll come out next year.

The book looks at the practice of excommunication in thirteenth-century England. Excommunication was the church’s most powerful weapon, and it affected everyone from popes, kings and emperors to artisans, peasants, monks, nuns and priests. Children couldn’t be excommunicated, but they would witness announcements of excommunication sentences (which were made in vernacular languages rather than Latin). All sorts of offences could result in excommunication. Some were very serious (murder), others far less so (nicking some herbs). A considerable proportion involved injuring clerics or clerical property. Buying a baby in order to pass it off as someone else’s heir or simply being Scottish could get you excommunicated in thirteenth-century Britain.

My book is a social and political history, focusing on what it meant to be excommunicated and the consequences for people at all levels of society. Because enforcement was in the hands of the community, which was supposed to ostracise excommunicates, the effects of excommunication were by no means limited to the individual. People reacted in all sorts of ways. ‘We’d rather go to hell than give in’ is one of my favourite rejections (in a dispute about taxes). Others said that they thought their excommunications were unfair and that they were willing to take their chances with God. Most people, however, did reconcile with the church by seeking absolution sooner or later. Excommunicates were, however, angry about the publicity that accompanied excommunication – constant denunciations that painted excommunicates as ‘sons of Belial’, ‘limbs of the devil’, ‘satellites of Satan’, forcefully condemning their actions and damaging their reputations. Bad press, rather than any shunning, was the worst part. I am particularly interested how sentences were publicised: excommunication was an early form of mass communication.

While there is a lot of information about excommunicates—bishops’ registers in particular provide so much rich material about people’s lives—we have very incomplete records for some types of analysis. One of the things I am asked most often is how many people were excommunicated. It’s a question I cannot answer. Any attempt to give a sense is made difficult by the huge gulf between the assumptions of medieval historians and everyone else. Many people tend to think that excommunication must have been very serious in the Middle Ages and so have been rare, so I need to explain that it was used quite routinely and certainly wasn’t exceptional. Amongst medievalists, on the other hand, the idea that excommunication was overused and so of little interest has taken hold. This is too far: excommunication had fascinating and important effects for individuals, communities and politics.

When not teaching or working on my book, my COVID-year has involved a lot of (unplanned) DIY. It’s been a good lockdown distraction and provided a change of scenery when we’re not allowed to go anywhere (painting especially). As much as I’m pleased with my new-found skills, I am very much looking forward to returning to the pub garden this summer.

Publication Spotlight: Roma Voices in History

Blog written by Professor Elena Marushiakova. Prof Marushiakova is a Research Professor in Modern History. Her new book Roma Voices in History, co-authored with Professor Veselin Popov, is now available with Brill.

Over the past two decades, the Roma issue has become one of the most current topics in the European public space and has become especially relevant in academia. Despite this, there are still numerous research topics that remain uncharted. One of these is the history of the Roma (formerly referred to as ‘Gypsies’ in local languages) in the period between WWI and WWII and the appearance and development of social and political projects proposed by Roma themselves. Together with my co-author and husband Veselin Popov, we have worked for over 40 years in the field of Romani Studies, during which time we developed an ambitious goal to fill in this gap. This became possible thanks to the ERC advanced grant for a research project entitled ‘RomaInterbellum. Roma civic emancipation between the two World Wars’.

Our previous research convinced us that one of the biggest mistakes made in the research of Roma has been to view them as a ‘people apart’, or a people without history and fatherland. And yet, Roma do not live isolated on an uninhabited island—they exist in two dimensions, both as separate ethnic communities and as a part of the society in which they live within their respective nation-states. The chosen historical period (the interwar) is the time when Roma, together with the majorities in the countries in which they lived, experienced breakdowns of old Empires and the establishment of national states. On the vast territories which would become the Soviet Union they were included in the building of a new political system. In this time span, Roma started to be politically institutionalised and subjected to a variety of controversial policy practices.

Prof Elena Marushiakova

We look at Roma not only as passive recipients of policy measures but also as active architects of their lives, so the aim has been, alongside studying pieces of evidence reflecting state policies regarding Roma, to collect written heritage of Roma visionaries whose published and unpublished texts reflect the main stages in the development of the Roma movement and represent its different aspirations. The overall project looks at Roma as an inseparable part of mainstream history and Roma socio-political visions as part of the history of modern political thought in Europe. In this respect, the first outcome of this project, Roma Voices in History, reflects and implements this perspective.

Apart from academic curiosity and our conviction in the importance of the topic, the reason for writing this book was a reaction to existing prejudices about the inequality of Roma with other European nations, alongside which they have lived for centuries. We repeatedly hear statements about the lack of written sources concerning the history of the Roma. We also repeatedly hear about the lack of archival material concerning the history of the Roma, material which when it does exist takes the form of police reports wherein Roma are presented merely as violators of law. Through this, Roma are most often viewed as passive objects of different state policies rather than as active creators of their own history. Because scholars do not often seek to discover sources written by Roma, the Roma point of view has de facto been absent, while the reaction of the Roma themselves (or lack thereof) to the policies implemented towards them, as well as their visions about the future of their communities, has been almost totally neglected.

Prof Veselin Popov

Our research, however, has proven that the opposite is true. It appears that source materials are, in fact, extremely numerous, and many of them represent the voice of the Roma themselves while also presenting the visions and the specific goals pursued by the Roma civic emancipation movement.  It is precisely this which is revealed in the book Roma Voices in History.

Together with a team of colleagues, we have discovered an extensive collection of primary historical sources in various languages representing original Roma voices from across the vast region of Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe. This is the region in which numerous Roma communities have settled for centuries and which represents an inseparable part of the societies they inhabit. Much like any other nation in the region, the Roma experienced processes of nation-building during the Interwar period, a time when their national elite came into being and the establishment of national literature and press can be noted. All these shifts are clearly presented in our book by highlighting the most important source materials to reflect the broader process of Roma civic emancipation. These materials are published in the book both in their original language and their English translation, accompanied by explanatory notes and summarising comments. The notes and comments, alongside the original sources themselves, aim to discuss the specific historical realities and their interrelation to the Romani emancipatory movement in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe, thus presenting a comprehensive picture of the historical processes that shaped it.  

Publication Spotlight: Political Advice: Past, Present and Future

Blog written by Prof Colin Kidd and Dr Jacqueline Rose. Their new book Political Advice: Past, Present and Future is now available from Bloomsbury.

‘Could you give me some advice?’ is a question we have all asked at various times in our lives. But whom do we ask? When do we turn to a person that we feel we can trust, a friend we can confide in, somebody with experience and expertise in a particular area, or someone whose job it is to advise on such matters? Such questions are daunting. But how much more fraught for political leaders, who take decisions on crucial matters far beyond their knowledge base, is the selection of appropriate advisers.

Few would dispute the need for political advice, yet it has a remarkable propensity to cause problems. Is the leader listening to enough people? To the right people? Are they listening at all? Do they have to? Can they be made to and, if so, would this be by formally constraining them to hear advice or by changing the way in which that counsel is presented? There are certain functions that advice perennially performs—compensating for a leader’s limited knowledge, time, and (occasionally) abilities; balancing long-term objectives with crises that require immediate attention; resolving conflicts and extracting consent; providing support in the lonely and dauntingly burdensome business of governing. Yet the mechanisms for managing it have varied over time and space. Indeed, what works for one president or prime minister may be disastrous for their successor: some respond well to rigidly structured advice, others thrive in a seemingly undisciplined atmosphere in which they receive multiple pieces of conflicting counsel.

Dr Jacqueline Rose

It was with the aim of reflecting on these themes that we embarked on what became Political Advice: Past, Present and Future. Somewhat embarrassingly for a pair of historians, we can’t pinpoint its precise beginning and causes. But it may have had something to do with conversations about Joan Quigley, the Reagans’ astrologer, an adviser on auspicious dates whose role, originally revealed by a disgruntled former chief of staff, proved to be a revealing way into the politics of counsel in the late-twentieth century White House. The themes of formal vs informal advice, access and influence, and the interplay of personal trust with official constitutional structures, seemed to be ones offering excellent opportunities for dialogue across periods and disciplines.

Assembling a team of interdisciplinary contributors from academia and public life, we began with a day-long workshop in the ‘Public Life’ series at All Souls College, Oxford, settling on a date of 8 June 2017. As it turned out, we were not the only ones for whom 8 June 2017 ended up being an important day, for it was the one that the then-prime minister, Theresa May, chose as the date for a snap general election. The aftermath of that election included the high-profile removal of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. Media attention to the vicissitudes of advice in the Trump White House, the advent of Dominic Cummings as a key adviser to Boris Johnson, and a steady stream of reports about projects to reform Whitehall kept political advice constantly in the news during the period in which our volume took shape.

Prof Colin Kidd

Even as we put the final touches to the introduction in early 2020, conflicts over ministerial control of special advisers and civil service reform were still making headlines. We thought we were up to date in including a mention of Sajid Javid’s resignation letter, which urged the importance of advice. It’s just as well, therefore, that we expressed ‘the characteristic historian’s caution about predicting tomorrow’s headlines’ in the acknowledgements (dated February 2020). For the volume ended up being dispatched on one of the last days before we moved to working from home. In the early weeks of lockdown, it looked like the politics of advice had vanished from view. A year later, less so. At the point of publication, the other forecast in our acknowledgements—that ‘future events will continue to generate stories about political advice’—holds true. Indeed, the still-unfolding story about who gave what advice to whom and when during the pandemic demonstrates the vital and contested role of political advice—past, present, and future.

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Loughlin

Blog written by Dr Felicity Loughlin. Dr Loughlin is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of St Andrews, where she is working on the ‘Learning & Unbelief’ strand of the After the Enlightenment project. Her research and teaching interests lie in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of Scotland and Europe, c.1650–c.1850.

I came to St Andrews as a postdoctoral Research Fellow in September 2018. I’ve spent over two happy years here as part of the After the Enlightenment project team. Before that, I was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, where I wrote my thesis on the Scottish Enlightenment’s fascination with ‘pagan’ (non-Abrahamic) religious cultures. I’m now working on transforming my thesis into my first book, The Scottish Enlightenment Confronts the Gods: Paganism & the Nature of Religion.

More generally, I’m fascinated by the history of religious belief, which has profoundly shaped how individuals view the world and their place within it. I’m especially interested in how religious thought and ideas about religion have contributed to long-term patterns of intellectual and cultural change. Joining the After Enlightenment project has allowed me to pursue these interests in the context of nineteenth-century Scotland.

The project aims to explore Scottish intellectual life, c.1789–1843, reconstructing the legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment’s debates in three fundamental areas: natural philosophy, political economy, and religion. My contribution belongs to the religion strand and focuses on unbelief. Working with a variety of colourful material (anti-infidel apologetics, freethinking newspapers, court records, catalogues of infidel bookshops, and scientific, literary, theological, and historical writings), my research seeks to answer several interlocking questions. What did unbelief mean in the early nineteenth century? How far did unbelievers continue the religious debates of the Scottish Enlightenment? In what ways did they take unbelief in new directions? And how did infidelism, and the civil and ecclesiastical responses it elicited, transform the Scottish religious landscape?

Pamphlet produced in 1824 by the Edinburgh Freethinkers’ Zetetic Society, found in the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh. Credit: Felicity Loughlin

Strikingly, unbelievers are at present almost entirely absent from existing historiography on nineteenth-century Scotland. Yet from the 1820s, unbelievers of various stripes – including sceptics, deists, and atheists – acquired unprecedented visibility in Scotland’s urban communities. Freethinking societies were formed in numerous towns and cities, attracting hundreds of members from the middling and lower classes, and infidel bookshops appeared in Glasgow and Edinburgh, prompting the last blasphemy trials in Scottish history. Numerous scientific and literary works were also accused of endorsing or fomenting unbelief, including the writings of the phrenologist George Combe (1788–1858), the writer Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), and the publisher Robert Chambers (1802–71). Christian thinkers engaged actively with the perceived rise of unbelief, responding diversely with abhorrence, qualified respect, or sympathy. Strikingly, shared commitment to issues such as freedom of speech, ultimately led to tentative alliances between certain religious and non-religious groups. Debates on religion were often framed in highly emotive language, and I’ve recently become especially interested in probing the emotional as well as intellectual factors that determined changing belief positions and relations between believers and unbelievers.

Outside of work, I very much enjoy walking along the coastal and forest paths of the beautiful Fife countryside. I’m also an enthusiastic (if rather unskilled) knitter, an activity that became particularly attractive in the cold winter months. A great advantage of living in the vicinity of St Andrews is proximity to its excellent selection of cafés, and I very much look forward to partaking of their tea and cakes once again when they reopen!

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.

Staff Spotlight: Bridget Heal

Blog written by Professor Bridget Heal. Professor Heal’s research focusses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. She has published two monographs: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648 (2014) and A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany (2017).

I came to St Andrews in 2002. Before that (long, long ago) I studied history and art history in Cambridge and London and had a postdoctoral research position in Cambridge. St Andrews has been home for nearly 20 years now, and I’m very grateful for the colleagues and students who make it such a fantastic place to live and work. As a historian of Germany, I try to spend as much time as possible there. I’ve lived in Nuremberg, Munich, Cologne and most recently Berlin. Much as I love St Andrews, it’s great to escape to a big city now and again. My son, Tom, was born in 2007. Because of my work he’s spent 3 years living in Berlin and has developed a strong liking for Currywurst.

A bronze statue of Martin Luther, in front of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Ad Meskens. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

My research focuses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. I’ve always been particularly interested in images, and in the ways in which historians use visual evidence. My first book, based on my PhD, drew on both visual and textual sources to investigate what happened to the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary during the Reformation era. My second explains why Lutheranism, a confession that is usually understood as being built around the spoken and printed word, made such extensive use of images. It originated in my desire to explain seeming paradoxes like the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden, a Lutheran church that deployed the visual idioms of the Catholic baroque and was compared by eighteenth-century observers to St Peter’s in Rome. If you want to know more, I wrote a blog.

Epitaph for Christian Lehmann and Euphrosyna Lehmann, born Kreusel, parish church, Scheibenberg (Saxony). Credit: Bridget Heal

I’m working now on a very different project: a religious history of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). During my research on Lutheran art I came across a wonderful set of sources written by a pastor, Christian Lehmann. He served in a small mining village in southern Saxony for 50 years from 1638-88 and witnessed the worst predations of the war and its difficult aftermath. I am using his writings and the records relating to his parish as the basis for a book that examines the role of religion in the survival and recovery of individuals and communities during Germany’s first ‘Great War’. Lehmann’s writings are excellent to work with, as he recorded all kinds of interesting things, from local gossip to ghost stories. And he had nice handwriting – something historians of early modern Germany can never take for granted.

Since lockdown, and the temporary end of research trips to Germany, my main achievement has been the acquisition of a kitten, Clio. I’m hoping that someday she’ll grow into her role as a muse of history and stop bouncing off the furniture. In the meantime, she’s made some star appearances on Teams…

LGBT+ History Month & ‘Queerfest’ Collaboration

In collaboration with SaintsLGBT’s ‘Queerfest’ and to celebrate LGBT history month the School hosted two fantastic papers by Dr Christin Hoene (Maastricht) and Dr Nikos Papadogiannis (St Andrews). Thank you so much to both speakers and to the audience who attended and asked such interesting and engaged questions. 

Those of you who were there know we had a few technical issues (!), and so unfortunately a few questions only came through after the event had ended. However, we sent these to our speakers and they have written some replies which we have posted below.

Question 1 (for Christin): Were colonised regions more open-minded regarding homosexuality before the arrival of the British? Was there many prejudices prior to colonisation?

Christin: Here comes my reply to a brilliant question: Given the sheer geographical expanse of the former British Empire and the multitude of indigenous cultures, it is nearly impossible to give one coherent answer to this question. In general, though, it is a fact that colonial-era sodomy laws and the prejudices against homosexuality that went with them were in most cases introduced by the British to places that did not have laws of that nature before. Moreover, many of these places culturally accepted notions of gender fluidity and same-sex desire pre-colonisation. For more information, I can recommend the following publications:

  • Han, Enze and Joseph O’Mahoney. British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality, Queens, Crime and Empire. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.
  • Kidwai, Saleem and Ruth Vanita. Same-Sex Love in India: Readings in Indian Literature. New York: Springer, 2000.
  • Epprecht, Marc. Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance. London: Zed Books Ltd., 2013.
  • Hoad, Neville. African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality, and Globalization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Question 2 (for Nikos): Thank you for your lecture and for the attention you’ve given to language and terminology here. As a trans femme, I very much appreciate it. I’m used to seeing anglophone nonbinary trans people self-identify with and reclaim terms like ‘transvestite’ during the 1980s, but am interested in hearing a bit more about how the trans women and femmes you interviewed felt about or interacted with similar words. Additionally, was there a clear social split between women who viewed themselves as ‘transsexuals’ and transfemmes of more nonbinary identity? Or is this not a discursive division as common in the sex worker communities you interviewed? 

Nikos: Thank you very much indeed for your comment! It means a lot to me! Some of the transgender individuals, whose autobiographies I am studying, tried to reclaim the notion of ‘transvestite’ in the late 1970s and the 1980s. For instance, an activist transgender female sex worker employed it as a way of claiming a gender identity that was neither entirely feminine nor entirely masculine and for which she was proud, as she narrated. However, the term ‘transvestite’ has been carrying very negative connotations in Greek society up to the present day. Thus, some transgender individuals, including some trans female sex workers, began to drop it and embrace the term ‘trans’ (or, more rarely, its Greek equivalent), especially in the last couple of decades. The oral testimonies of those subjects are interesting in the sense that they serve as a palimpsest: these individuals often describe themselves as ‘trans’ and ‘transvestite’ at different points during their interview, which, potentially, reflects the fact that they used both labels to identify themselves at different points in their lives. 

Concerning your second question, I have not spotted a clear social split along those lines. Regarding the autobiographies I have collected, at least, it was not atypical for the same individual to vacillate between these two identities in the 1970s.

Thank you very much indeed for your encouraging comments and your questions! I would love to stay in contact with you and discuss my research with you further if you would like!

Question 3 (for Nikos): How did transgender women cope with transphobia back in the 1970s?

Nikos: Thank you very much. Yet another excellent question! In brief, regarding the trans female sex workers that I have studied:

Transgender female sex workers forged close ties with one another in the spaces where they worked. They exchanged information and, sometimes, even supported one another in difficult situations. However, these networks were marked by contradictions. The very same individuals got often involved in quarrels with one another, as they competed over the clients they were trying to attract.

Moreover, some trans female sex workers worked for pimps, who might have also been their lovers. These pimps both exploited them and, sometimes, protected them from clients attacking them.

Those networks aside, some trans female sex workers played a prominent role in the movement for the liberation of homosexual desire, which emerged in Greece in the mid-to-late 1970s. In so doing, they challenged transphobia, which has been deeply entrenched in Greek society. However, gay cisgender men were not always supportive of transgender women and the movement was marked by tensions between the former and the latter.

LGBT+ History Month 2021- Reading List

For the past couple of years the school has celebrated LGBT+ History Month by working on a bibliography of essential texts in LGBT+ history: as February has come around again it’s time to release the updated version! We will also be ‘curating a (virtual) shelf’ on the library homepage and are looking forward to  Wednesday Week 5 at 4pm for an event of short talks on some of the latest research on LGBT+ History, including by our own Dr. Nikolaos Papadogiannis.

LGBT History and the History of Sexuality – Staff Suggestions 

Aldrich, Robert. Colonialism and Homosexuality. Routledge, 2008. 

Afken, Janin, Benedikt Wolf (eds.), Sexual Culture in Germany in the 1970s. A Golden Age for Queers?, Cham: Palgrave, 2019. 

Arondekar, Anjali. For The Record: On Sexuality And The Colonial Archive In India, Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. 

Ayalon, D. “The Eunuchs in the Mamluk Sultanate”, Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet Jerusalem, 1977, pp. 267-95. 

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