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.   

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.

February 7, 2021- Day of Solidarity with Belarus

Blog written by Dr Tomasz Kamusella. Dr Kamusella an interdisciplinary historian of modern central and eastern Europe, with a focus on language politics and nationalism.

Belarus hardly features in the western or Anglo-American mind. When I arrived at the University of St Andrews a decade ago with the remit to teach Central and Eastern European history, our library did not sport a single monograph on this country. Most St Andrews students’ hands-on knowledge of Europe ends with Germany, beyond which a blurry area of numerous states intervenes before Russia emerges in the east as a huge splash of color on their mental map. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the unprecedented eastward enlargements of the European Union (1995, 2004, 2007, 2013), has hardly corrected this Cold War myopia.

Historically speaking, today’s Belarus and Lithuania used to constitute the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In turn, this Grand Duchy was the eastern half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. When in the late 18th century Poland-Lithuania was erased from the political map of Europe, Russia annexed four-fifths of the polity’s territory, including the Grand Duchy. In the wake of the Great War, independent Belarus emerged, but Bolshevik Russia’s war on Poland led to the partition of Belarus between those two countries in 1921. Uniquely, interwar Soviet Belarus was officially quadrilingual, with Belarusian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish as its four official languages. In 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union formed an alliance and together attacked Poland. The partition of interwar Poland led to the unification of the majority of the ethnically Belarusian lands in Soviet Belarus. In 1941, Germany’s onslaught on the Soviet Union (1941-1945) pushed Belarus into the very center of wartime genocide, wanton destruction, and multiple occupations. After World War II, due to Soviet politicking, Soviet Belarus (alongside Soviet Ukraine and the Soviet Union) became a founding member of the United Nations.

In 1991, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine – as the sole three Soviet republics with their own seats in the UN – decided to dissolve the Soviet Union. Independent Belarus became a vibrant democratic country. However, the exigencies of market-oriented reforms led to the 1994 election of Alexander Lukashenko (Aljaksandr Łukašenka in Belarusian) as President, on a promise to recreate a Soviet system in Belarus. All of the subsequent presidential elections (in 2001, 2006, 2010, 2015, and 2020) were neither free nor fair, in line with the Leninist-Stalinist principle that those who count the votes win the elections. In 2005, this fact earned Lukashenko’s Belarus the moniker of ‘Europe’s last dictatorship.’ Uniquely for the European states, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe or the European Court of Human Rights.

Prior to the last presidential election in August 2020, as usual, the Lukashenko regime either refused to register or imprisoned any viable candidates. What Lukashenko did not take into account, however, was that a new post-Soviet generation of Belarusians was born, raised and educated during the last quarter of a century, a generation with access to the internet and relatively free travel to the neighboring EU states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. This generation considers themselves Europeans, and they want to live like their peers in Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw. As such, they have refused to accept the most recent, and blatantly rigged, election results in which Lukashenko claims victory. In reality he did not get more than 10 percent of the votes. The official results, unlike those in the past, have not been recognised by a single Western country. Rather, the unlikely winner by a landslide is an imprisoned candidate’s wife who ran in the election in his place, namely, 38-year-old Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Śviatłana Cichanoŭskaja in Belarusian). After the election, the authorities intimidated her into leaving the country for Lithuania. With the Lithuanian government’s help, Tsikhanouskaya has established her Belarusian government-in-exile in Vilnius.

After the rigged election, Belarusians of all ages and walks of life have risen in spontaneous, unceasing and peaceful protests in Minsk and across the country, despite the repeated switch-offs of the internet and mobile phone networks. Every weekend crowds have been streaming in the streets or organising neighbourhood meetings and concerts. They protest under the red-white-red national tricolor, hated by the regime. The security forces have done their best to provoke the protesters into violence by unleashing indiscriminate beatings and incarcerations. Over 30,000 people have been thrown into prison, where they are beaten, raped, tortured, and starved. At least five protesters have lost their lives, and ten have suffered from shotgun wounds at the hands of the security forces.

What do the Belarusians want? Just the European norm, namely, a free and democratic country, fair elections, the rule of law, and respect for human and civil rights. But in Lukashenko’s dictatorship this is too much to ask. That is why this time Europe and the free world should listen to and help the protesters. Learn more about what you can do to help here.

Further information on the latest election in Belarus can be found here:

Disability History Month 2020

Image: UK Disability History Month logo. UKDHM explains the logo design on its website as follows: “The Black Triangle. […] Disabled people were forced to wear this symbol by the Nazis during the ‘T4′ Eugenics Programme; which was intended to eliminate them. Between 250,000–1 million were murdered by the Nazis’ false hopes of building a ‘master race’. The UKDHM Logo has taken this symbol, and in reclaiming our history we have inverted it.”

Today marks the start of Disability History Month, which runs from 18th November to 20th December. This year’s theme focusses attention on issues of access from an historical perspective.  The UK Disability History Month organisation have produced a fascinating broadsheet asking ‘How far have we come?’ and ‘How far have we to go?’ in relation to access. It demonstrates how the activism of disabled people over past centuries led to the inclusion of accessibility as a UN recognised international human right in 2008, as well as the development over time of mobility aids, for example wheelchairs in 6th century BC China and 16th century Spain, of sign languages, hearing aids and of braille.

To mark Disability History Month, staff in the School of History will put together a reading list of key texts connected to histories of disabilities in the times and places we research and teach. Our intention is to create a resource that amplifies the important historical research being undertaken in this field and continually revise and update it. We also intend to create a resource that will have a tangible and lasting impact on teaching in the School and University, in that where possible, we will endeavour to purchase books on the list that are not currently held in our library, thereby improving the university’s holdings in the histories of disability and of people with disabilities.  If you would like to suggest any works that you think are ‘essential reading’ in this field, please email Dr Kate Ferris (histedi) with your suggestions.

We also hope to publish a number of blog posts produced by students and staff in the School relating to diverse aspects of disabilities history over the course of the coming month, so please look out for these.

SaintsLGBT+ Exhibitions to Mark LGBT+ History Month 2020

We’re delighted to publish this guest blog post written by Lauren Reeves on behalf of SaintsLGBT+, detailing the two fantastic exhibitions they are staging in collaboration with the University Library as part of QueerFest and LGBT+ History Month:

February is LGBT+ History Month here in the UK. Since 2005, when Schools OUT organized the first ever LGBT+ History Month in Britain, we have celebrated the abolition of Section 28 by promoting the visibility of Queer identities both in the past and in the present. In collaboration with QueerFest, the University of St Andrews Main Library will be hosting two exhibitions of local LGBT+ history: Read You, Wrote You (sponsored by the Glasgow Women’s Library) & The Memories Project.

Read You, Wrote You is a selection of LGBT+ zines and magazines on loan from the “Lesbian Archives” of the Glasgow Women’s Library. The purpose of this display is to enable the students and faculty of St. Andrews to discover and celebrate the recent history of pride in the UK. This collection will address: trans rights & issues, queer visibility, intersectionality, queer black history, putting the femme in feminism, and much more.  

The Memories Project takes a more intimate look at queer stories from within our St Andrews community. According to Natalie Pereira, the brave and ambitious curator of this event, the ‘project aim is to tell the stories of everyday queer people in St Andrews through a selection of portraits, accompanied by personal anecdotes’. Students & faculty have kindly volunteered to discuss their individual experiences of being LGBT+, queer life in St Andrews, and their political understandings. 

In addition to these two displays, the university library will be gathering a number of its LGBT+ books and films into a central book rack for visitors to check out & take home to show support for queer writing and publishing. 

Read You, Wrote You will be on display on the 2nd floor of the Main Library from 7 February to 16 February.  Memories will also be found there (immediately to the left as you enter the Main Library) for the duration of the month. 

Celebrating Black History Month 2019

Black History Month logo from

Today is the first day of Black History Month.  This year we are celebrating Black and African diaspora histories in a number of ways. 

Our research seminar programmes for October include speakers presenting topics that intersect with Black histories:

On Thursday 10th October, Dr Claire Eldridge from the University of Leeds will speak to the Modern History seminar about ‘Conflict and Community in the Trenches: Military Justice, Colonial Soldiers and the French Army during the First World War’ at 5.15pm in room 1.10, St Katharine’s Lodge.

On Monday 14th October, Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones from the University of York will speak to the Medieval Studies seminar about ‘The Swahili world in the medieval globe: writing history with things’ at 1.15pm in the Old Class Library, St John’s House.

Later that day (Monday 14th October), at 4pm Dr Kate Law from the University of Nottingham will speak to the Modern History seminar about ‘”A delicate subject”: Family Planning and Apartheid, South Africa c. 1974-1994’ in room 1.10, St Katharine’s Lodge.

Other research seminars relevant to Black histories will also be held further into the academic year – for a full programme see here.

Finally, those of you who are not newcomers to the School may remember that last year we marked Black History Month by compiling a reading list of ‘essential texts’ on African and African Diaspora (including Black British, African American, and Afro European) histories. Many staff members pledged portions of their library allowance to buy any books on the list that were not held by the library.  When we compiled this reading list last year we acknowledged that by its nature it would always be a ‘work in progress’, which would require revising and updating as time went on.  This year, again, we would like to invite all students and staff to look through the reading list and let us know if there’s anything that’s not on there, that you think we should add.  Maybe you are new to St Andrews and are seeing the list with fresh eyes.  Maybe you’ve been here a while but have encountered a book in the past year – newly published or a classic in a field that’s new to you – that you think is now ‘essential reading’.  Please email any suggestions to Dr Kate Ferris (kf50) by the end of the month.  We’ll add these to the reading list, and if any are not already in the library’s collections we’ll do our best to purchase these.  In this way you’ll be making a tangible and lasting difference to the university’s holdings in the fields of Black and African diaspora histories that will help inform our research and teaching for years to come!

PhD Induction Day 2019

Blog written by Emily Betz. Emily is a third-year PhD student in Modern History studying the medical history in early modern England.

On Wednesday, September 18th the new cohort of history PhD students gathered at the beautiful Rufflets Hotel on the outskirts of St Andrews. The day began with the students getting to know each other over a cup of tea and a speed ice-breaker question series. After becoming better acquainted with each other’s academic and non-academic interests, we settled in to listen to Dr Emma Hart, the Director of Research Postgraduates and Elsie Johnstone, the School’s Postgraduate Administrator, speak about what the School of History offers its students. Their presentation gave a deeper insight into the School’s administrative processes and how it can support history students on the journey to a successful PhD.

The beautiful garden of the Rufflets Hotel.
Photo credit: Emily Betz

After a short coffee break, Dr Kate Ferris, chair of the School of History Equality & Diversity Committee, and Lenna Cumberbatch, University Equality & Diversity Adviser, spoke on the importance of knowing the University’s equality and diversity processes. Their interactive presentations imparted the necessity of respect in our academic environment and brought awareness to our biases, especially the unconscious ones that we all carry.  This was followed by a lovely walk in the Rufflets’ gardens while lunch was being prepared.

After a lunch of soup and sandwiches (with fantastic cake for dessert!), Dr Hart asked the group to think more about how to write a thesis and what stages we as researchers should go through during the PhD process. After discussing our methods as a group, we found that there are many individual ways of constructing a thesis—the important thing is to find a method that works best for you. While it’s easy to compare one PhD path to another and feel imposter syndrome, but Dr Hart warned against this in what would become the quote of the day: ‘Perfection is a unicorn’! The main takeaway was that there is no one correct way to be successful at your PhD.

The 2019 History PhD Induction group.
Photo credit: Emily Betz

Following in the same vein, the current PhD students talked about their own experiences and challenges with the PhD process. They echoed that perfection certainly is an unattainable goal and gave advice on how best to manage expectations and stay positive in what can be a grueling writing process. Their best pieces of advice included getting to know your PhD cohort, writing soon and often, and taking advantage of the various extra skills courses the university offers. After the current students spoke, it was time to get back in the taxis and make the short trip home to St Andrews–this time with more knowledge of the School of History and even more excitement for the 2019/20 academic year to begin!

Crisis or Enlightenment? 2019 USTC History of the Book Conference

Blog written by Elise Watson. Elise is a first year PhD student in the Reformation Studies Institute and part of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project. Her research focuses on the trade of Catholic books in the Dutch Golden Age, and she will be co-organising next year’s annual book conference on Gender and the Book Trades with Professor Helen Smith. 

On 20-22 June, scholars from as near as Church Street and as far as Colombia gathered for the annual conference hosted by the Universal Short Title Catalogue project, this year entitled ‘Crisis or Enlightenment?’. The conference, organised by St Andrews School of History postdoctoral researcher Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Université Rennes 2 postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, was also generously sponsored by the School of History of the University of St Andrews and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP). The conference consisted of eight panels, two keynotes and 24 presenters spread over three days. The chronological range of the conference’s presentations, which extended beyond the current scope of the USTC, both broadened the horizons of the project and explored some of the fundamental questions of early modern book history.

Conference co-organiser Dr. Anne-Marie Hansen address the attendees.
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

The first panel of the conference discussed networks and book distribution from Vienna to Edinburgh. From there, the conversation shifted to book collecting, in examples of parish libraries and Italian monastery libraries. After lunch, a panel on profits and markets discussed the marketing and sale of particular genres of books, including medical books in the Dutch Republic and school books in Catalonia, as well as examples of how (not) to run a print shop in the Enlightenment. The first day concluded with a plenary address by Professor Ian Maclean on the impact of academic journals on the German book fairs in the Enlightenment. After the work of the first day was done, presenters and attendees were treated to an exhibition from University Special Collections, a carefully curated and fascinating collection of early print.

Attendees peruse the Special Collections exhibition in College Hall, St Mary’s College
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

On the second day, the first panel discussed auction catalogues and collecting practices in Lübeck, French private libraries and Jewish collections in the Dutch Republic. The second panel, which dealt with newspapers and periodicals, discussed French language gazettes and discussions of comets in eighteenth-century ephemera. After lunch, three papers on science and censorship in Italy and the Spanish colonies shifted our understandings of the relationship between control and innovation in Enlightenment publishing. The second plenary of the conference, delivered by Professor Dominique Varry of the École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques, delighted the crowd with a fascinating discussion and entertaining examples of false imprints in eighteenth-century French books, including a book claiming its origin in Hell, at the print shop of Beelzebub himself!

Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The second day concluded with the launch of the conference volume Buying and Selling: The Business of Books in Early Modern Europe, edited by USTC alumna Dr. Shanti Graheli and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series. This was celebrated with a wine reception sponsored by SHARP.

The final day contained two further sessions. The first, on production, crisis and change, included a fascinating discussion of the impact of the Disaster Year of 1672 on print production in the Dutch Republic. The eighth and final panel included three papers on Enlightenment libraries, asking practical and interpretive questions of what we mean when we say ‘Enlightenment library’ and interrogating systems of organisation, annotation and use. Along with the presentations, I think all participants would agree that a great amount of collaboration and in-depth scholarly synthesis occurred during both the question and answer sessions, and later at the pub after the ideas presented had some time to digest. We are grateful for the help provided by everyone from St Andrews, especially the USTC summer interns, as well as all participants for their excellent and thought-provoking contributions! The conference proceedings will be edited by the co-organisers, Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series.

For more reporting on the conference see the recent blog on the Preserving the World’s Rarest Books site, or follow the coverage on the Twitter hashtag #USTC19. Next year’s conference, entitled ‘Gender and the Book Trades’, is being organised by Professor Helen Smith (York) and myself (Elise Watson), and it will be held from 2-4 July 2020. For more information, please see!

Postgraduate Skills Seminar: Dr Gareth Williams, British Museum

Blog written by PhD student Christin Simons. Christin is a 3rd year PhD student at the Institute for Scottish History studying the perception of the Scandinavian East India Companies.

School of History, St John’s House
Photo credit: Emily Betz

On Thursday 11 April, Dr Gareth Williams from the British Museum visited St Andrews to discuss alternative career paths for PhD students considering a non-academic career. He spoke specifically on pathways to becoming a museum curator. This event was hosted under the sponsorship of the University’s Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development (CAPOD) under the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland (QAA) thematic initiative ‘Transitions’.

Dr Williams, who has been a curator with the British Museum since 1996, managed to both promote the career possibilities for becoming a museum curator while being candid about the challenges of the job at the same time. He painted a realistic picture of the work in a museum, which comes with limited career development and lack of funding opportunities, but his enthusiasm for working in the field still made it an attractive opportunity to pursue after finishing one’s PhD. For the attendees without a degree in Museum Studies, it was especially encouraging to hear that it is possible to enter the museum world by way of internships, volunteering or trainee curatorship. As well as responsibilities like the management of collections, public engagement and exhibition display, Dr Williams gave further insight into the ‘less obvious things’ that come with being a museum curator, like the teaching, training and mentoring of doctoral students.

The attendees commented on the practical value of the session. Matthew Ylitalo, PhD candidate in Modern History, stated that he appreciated the field previously but admittedly had not seriously considered entering it, having thought that not having a postgrad degree in museum studies excluded him.  He noted ‘Gareth quickly put all of that to rest when he introduced the state of the field and its possibilities.  To my surprise, there are a number of non-traditional pathways into curatorial work. Even if I do not pursue full-time employment with a museum, Gareth convinced me that volunteering with a museum or project could be a fulfilling and much appreciated prospect’. Another attendee, Chelsea Reutke, PhD candidate in Early Modern History, liked the speaker’s enthusiasm and helpfulness in answering questions. ‘He conveyed both the exciting opportunities as well as the pragmatic realities of working in museums. After attending his talk, I feel that I have a solid understanding of the requirements of different types of museums. Museums remain one of my career paths after my PhD, and I now feel that I know what it will take and what to look for’. Echoing that sentiment, Clémentine Anne, PhD candidate in Modern History, declared, ‘I think I am now more aware of the reality of the job and can reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of a career in museums.’

The overall consensus was that this was an extremely informed and useful session, and we thank Dr Williams for sharing his experience with us.

2019 SAIMS Graduate Conference

By Dana Weaver

The weekend of the 6th-8th June the Saint Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies (SAIMS) held its annual postgraduate conference, welcoming colleagues from around Europe and the United Kingdom. Jointly sponsored by SAIMS, the School of History, the Centre for Anatolian and East Mediterranean Studies, the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research and CAPOD, the aim of the conference was not only to give postgraduate researchers an opportunity to present their ongoing work, but also to bring together medievalists from a variety of fields with the goal of facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue. The success of this can be seen in the diversity of topics presented and in the wide range of speakers which included students, early career scholars and established academics.  

We began Thursday morning with a paper by Renan Baker (Cambridge) on ‘Latin Imperial Biographies and Miscellanies’ that provoked a welcome debate on the nature of genre. This was followed by a session on Anglo-Saxon saints with papers from Alice Neale (SAS, London) and John Hudson (St Andrews) entitled ‘Turning Æthelthryth’s pages: the development of the cult of an Anglo-Saxon saint during the tenth-century reform movement’ and ‘The cult that didn’t happen: the case of (St) Lanfranc of Canterbury’, respectively. This session generated a fruitful discussion on the factors contributing to the success or failure of the development of saints’ cults. After a short break we heard from Serena Ammirati (Roma Tre) on ‘Authoritative writing, writing as authority: the contribution of paleography to the history of the transmission of Roman legal thought,’ sponsored by the ILCR, and Justyna Kamińska (Jagiellonian) on ‘The role of the founders in the building process of the Dominican church and cloister of St James in Sandomierz’. Both of these papers encouraged us to find meaning through visual forms and processes.

Our own Professor John Hudson (left) and Professor Carole Hillenbrand (right) presenting at this year’s conference. Photo credit: Cameron Houston

After a productive day of papers and discussion, the evening commenced with a garden party at St John’s House where a friendly game of cricket was followed by pizza and a drinks reception. Scholarly debate continued, but was punctuated by the process of getting to know the people behind the research. Those from St Andrews were especially pleased with the blue skies and sunlight late into the evening.

On Friday we started the day with a paper by Franziska Geibinger (Vienna) entitled ‘The functional types of the representation of the elevation of the hairy Mary Magdalene in her development to the determining “cult image”’, which explored a unique representation of a familiar saint. A paper was also given by Roman Tymoshevskyi (CEU) on ‘The discourse of kingship in John Gower’s and Thomas Hoccleve’s Mirrors of Princes’, provoking rumination on the role of power and the moral expectations of kingship.

The keynote speaker was Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews), who led us through her ‘Reflections on the caliphate’. This was a riveting survey of the caliphate from its beginning to the end of the Ottoman empire from which sprung a fascinating discussion about the conceptualization of the caliphate in modern-day politics and the centralization of power in the middle east.

After lunch and with prevailing good weather Alex Woolf (St Andrews) led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews. It was enjoyed by all of its participants, especially those of us from St Andrews who were seeing the town through a new lens. Back at St John’s House we began the second half of our day with a paper by Nic Morton (Nottingham) on ‘Confronting and culturally absorbing Mongols and Seljuk Turks’, followed by David Zakarian (Oxford) who spoke on ‘Women and the laws of men in medieval Armenia’, sponsored by CAEMS. Both of these papers took us beyond the borders of western Europe and into the near east where the discussion centered around questions of cultural transmissions and connections.

Dr Alex Woolf led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews
Photo credit: Cameron Houston

Our last panel of the day included topics of philosophy with papers by Mahdi Ranaee (Potsdam) on ‘Al-Ghazâlî on sophistry and doubt’ and Ana Martins on ‘Political yhought in Collectanea Moralis Philosophiae (1571).’ Each of these papers encouraged thought on textual organization and engagement: how do we conceive of the interaction between texts, authors, and time?

Friday evening was spent at Forgan’s enjoying a lively conference dinner followed by a ceilidh—a great way to introduce our guests from beyond St Andrews to some local traditions. The following morning dawned the last day of the conference and began with a paper entitled ‘Imagining the cross, imagining Christ: insular sculpture in the Viking Age’ by Heidi Stoner (Durham), which captured the importance of moving beyond attributions of ethnicity in early insular sculpture. The keynote speaker on Saturday was Charles West (Sheffield) who gave a stimulating paper on ‘Hincmar of Reims and the politics of the ordeal.’ This paper examined the part of the ecclesiast in the politics of trial by ordeal and encouraged a discussion on the role of intercession, both sacred and secular, in the outcome.

After a short break we heard papers given by Blythe Malona (Glasgow) entitled the ‘Percy empire: building a northern lordship’, John Aspinwall (Lancaster) entitled ‘Patronage and politics: literary production as a strategy of power in Rogerian Sicily’ and Oliver Mitchell (Courtauld) entitled ‘Power and Fortune’s Wheel’. These three topics all explored some aspect of the pursuit of power and the ways in which it is recognized and displayed. The day concluded with lunch and goodbyes: the culmination of a rewarding conference spent exploring the medieval world through new and innovative perspectives.   

A special thanks is due to our conference organizers Ingrid Ivarsen, Maria Merino and JJ Gallagher, as well as the St Andrews University catering staff. Many thanks to each of you for your patience and good humor.