The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic Class Trip

Blog written by Meg Hyland


Photo attrib. Frances Andrews, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Just as a cold snap descended upon St Andrews, our Special Subject class left the auld grey toon behind for five incredible days on a tour of mendicant Italy with Professor Frances Andrews. In her module The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic, we have been studying these three thirteenth century saints through close reading of the texts that flowered around each of them in the wake of lives, characterized by intense religious fervour. After a great deal of planning, we were able to take our research out of the classroom and into the medieval cities where these individuals lived, preached, prayed and died.

Where else to begin our journey through medieval Italy than the city to which all roads lead? Rome was not built in a day, but we certainly tried to walk it in one. Although our feet ached by the end of the day, the payoff was a whirlwind tour of the city’s medieval mendicant landscape (and an impressive Fitbit step count). Visiting the city’s medieval churches brought fresh clarity to many of the issues we encounter in the sources. The chandelier-decked nave of the Franciscan church Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the glittering cosmatesque pillars of the Lateran cloister, for example, served as architecturally didactic emblems of the eternal tension between the ideals of apostolic poverty and the “beauty of holiness” that plagued the medieval church.

The texts we labour over in the library came to life nowhere more vibrantly than in Assisi. The translation of Clare’s body up the mountainside from her monastery to San Giorgio in the hot Italian summer takes on a new physicality when you have scaled the steep path yourself. The delight in the natural world that inspired Francis to compose The Canticle of Creatures is easily shared by anyone watching the sunset over the olive groves beside San Damiano. Perhaps the most incredible match of experience to text was in the Upper Basilica of San Francesco. Medieval history has never been so tangible as when we gazed upon the phenomenal frescoes on the walls while Frances Andrews read us the passages of Bonaventure’s Life of Francis that inspired each image in a whisper (so as not to arouse the ire of the policeman patrolling the pews).


Photo attrib. Juan Salmoral, CC-BY-ND-ND 2.0

Of course, the landscape has changed since the time of the mendicant saints, sometimes dramatically – there were probably not so many gelaterias in Innocent III’s Rome, nor such affordable pizza places in Dominic’s Bologna. The museums of Perugia and Bologna house a concentration of valuable religious art so dense that it would have overwhelmed the medieval mind. But other things remain the same. A kitten scurries around the monastery where Clare once told a cat to bring her a towel. The Pantheon still lets the rain in through the roof. Beneath the layers of modern industry and ornament, a more ancient bedrock remains, from the Etruscan stones of Perugia to the tiny church of the Porziuncola huddled beneath the dome of the vast later basilica.

To study medieval history is often an exercise in the imagination, building up in the mind an image of people and places remote in space and time. On this trip, however, we had the incredible opportunity to see for ourselves the incredible art and architecture that these charismatic figures inspired their followers to commission. We are grateful to Frances Andrews and the School of History (not to mention anyone who patronized our library bake sale) for giving us this opportunity. Our thanks are also due to the people in archives and museums who helped us access the primary sources and those who showed us great hospitality: the Dominican archivist in Rome, the director of the museum of the Porziuncola, Professor Giovanna Casagrande and Amilcare Conti. All of these people enabled us to experience first-hand the rich physical world that the early mendicants inhabited, adapted and created.

Sharing 1780s ‘Fishy Fashion’: a 4th Year Case Study in Public History by Peryn Westerhof Nyman and Adam Hodges-LeClaire


Photo attrib. Noël Heaney, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


Blog written by Adam Hodges-LeClaire

While most students will simply go to archives to conduct their research, others go further in their pursuits to understand the past. Adam Hodges-LeClaire, a fourth-year History Student, used his Honours courses to delve deeper into the eighteenth century, specifically the culture of sailors and fisherfolk in 1780s Fife. After engaging in the historical re-enactment community for many years, beginning summer museum work during university, and then sailing aboard the reconstructed frigate Hermione for seven months, he returned to St Andrews to build on these experiences. Currently, he is finishing his degree with a focus towards public history, and connecting wider audiences to ‘fishy fashion’ and the maritime past of the 1780s.

This course recently culminated in the performance of, “Are You a Pirate?!” (My Adventures as an 18th Century Sailor), an on-stage dissertation performed on 2 and 3 December at the Barron Theatre as part of the HI4997 course led by Professor De Groot. Adam, together with PhD student Peryn Westerhof Nyman led the audience through a whirlwind two hour tour of the materiality of eighteenth-century sailor fashion  and maritime material culture, using this focus to address larger questions in social history. To begin, scattered over the theatre seats were a range of accessories, from colourful cotton handkerchiefs to clay pipes, from London brothel guides to tarred pieces of hemp rope. All of these tidbits were cues to enter and explore the lives of sailors, as founded in Adam and Peryn’s dissertation research which combined archival, textual, visual, and material evidence. After the members of the audience had a chance to examine the various objects, the hosts then talked the audience through the many layers of their clothing as they dressed in a replica maritime wardrobe, explaining the different rationales of function and fashion behind each garment, and what they can tell us about fashion today as well as its centrality over 250 years ago.


Photo attrib. Amy Chubb, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Rather than subscribing to the idea that daily life in the past was drab, filthy, and unimportant for ‘serious’ history, Adam and Peryn clearly showed the garments’ practicality, as well as the scholarly connections of Georgian fishing attire to the present. For instance, changing linen body layers kept contemporary bodies clean without modern plumbing, and an incredible range of materials was sold and produced within a global pre-industrial marketplace. Leather breeches would protect the sailors from the hard labour of work on ships, and a woman’s stays would help her carry a heavy willow creel of fish on her back to market. But like today, clothes were not just practical: they were also evidence of an individual’s social position, their personality and the wider mores of the time.


Photo attrib. Amy Chubb, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The performance ended with a discussion on how historical empathy and expanding the range of available evidence historians use, can teach both researchers about the past and non-historians about their experience of popular history. A sailor’s life was not just about sailing, and far less about swashbuckling: it was about acting with agency, in making a living, and underpinning many of the economic, military, and political systems of the era. It was also about the remarkable communities left behind onshore, and the larger systems and forces which defined the lives of both, from the state regulation of fisheries, to the wider professional identity of an international subculture at sea. For the understanding of gender in particular, women’s centrality in this traditionally male focused area was also highlighted, particularly in relation to pre-industrial fishwives and to the controversy surrounding British naval impressment. As the title of the performance indicated, pirates may be the focus in current popular culture, but the reality is far more incredible – and historians can use new techniques and research methods to effectively share these stories with wider audiences.


Photo attrib. Nöel Heaney, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Publication Spotlight: The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707

Blog written by Dr Jacqueline Rose

politicsofcounselIs it true that behind every successful ruler there is an exhausted adviser? It has certainly often been the case that ‘evil counsellors’ have been blamed for bad government. But if grumbling about special advisers looks like a distinctly modern phenomenon, think again.  Such figures have often operated in the shadowy world of political manoeuvring, whether characterised as benign mentors or cunning manipulators—or both.

For much of history, the role of the adviser was idealised. This was the case in much of the period covered by the contributors to the recent volume on The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707. This was an era in which good counsel was seen as the way to foster good rule; that is, where a monarch governed for the common interest and common good, and not tyrannically, for their own private benefit or wilful pleasure. Counsel evolved to meet the needs of this age of Anglo-Scottish warfare and unions, dynastic and religious upheavals, and developments in local, national, and colonial government—not forgetting the adaptations in advisory practices required to fit each new monarch’s personality.

Using the poetry, drama, government records, and political treatises of the period, contributors to the volume examine ideas about advice and the role it played. Some instances of political failure come up—James III of Scotland, killed during a rebellion in 1488, and Charles I, executed in 1649—are the most prominent. But there are also signs that rulers could be open to advice, at least on some points, some of the time.

Appropriately, contributors to this volume benefited from each other’s counsel through a workshop held in St Andrews in May 2014, which was made possible by the British Academy’s award of a grant from the Browning Fund and a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant; and by support from the School of History and the Institutes of Scottish Historical Research, Intellectual History, and Reformation Studies. Alongside the editor, the volume features chapters by St Andrews-based authors Michael Brown and Roger Mason, and one by Claire Hawes, at the time a PhD student here and now based in Aberdeen. This reflects how suitable a base St Andrews is for the larger Politics of Counsel research project from which the workshop and volume derived.

While substantial in its own right, the volume aims to create a framework for future research on political advice—past, present, and future. It provocatively suggests ways in which even ‘failed’ advice might actually contribute to political life. So the next time you hear on the news that the power and influence of ‘spads’ has been criticised, don’t assume it’s a symptom of the decline of modern politics. Bad advice may just be an age-old excuse: easy to make, but deserving of sharper analysis.

Undergraduate History Conference 2016

history-undergraduate-conference-group-photoThe 2017 Undergraduate History Conference is being held this weekend, 4 February with the theme “Identity in History” starting at 9:30 in our Old Class Library with Dr James Nott as the keynote speaker. We’ll have more to say about the conference in some postings ahead. Today Olivia Richey looks back at the conference last year in February, 2016.

I had the great honor of organizing the Undergraduate History Conference held in St. Andrews on the 6th of February 2016. This conference is the sole history conference in Britain completely organized by and for Undergraduate Students. The purpose of the Undergraduate History Conference is to facilitate a forum for Undergraduates interested in academic careers to research and present their work in a conference setting and have it published in a journal.

In selecting a theme for this year’s conference we wanted a theme that would excite conference attendees and allow for a great variety of submissions. While debating the merits of different topics we began to think about war. It has been a constant and powerful force in recorded human history and has affected almost every culture in existence, including ours today. Therefore, we believed it was an important topic to explore in the Undergraduate History Conference.

In our search for papers, we sought a diversity of locations and interpretations. We believed that in order to fully facilitate a discussion on war in history, the topics needed to be both broad and global. The time periods explored ranged from the Middle Ages, with a study concerning the Norman invasion of Italy and its effect on identity, to the 1980s, with an examination of Punk culture in East Germany as a form of war on accepted culture. The papers also examined different types of weapons used in war, from castles in the 11th century to atomic bombs in communist China in the 1970s. From the great range of topics, we delved into a deep and heated debate on the nature of war at the end of the conference in a round table discussion.

In addition, it was tremendously important to choose a Keynote Speaker that would match the sentiment of the conference. For this, Dr. Riccardo Bavaj was the clear choice. His presentation was based upon his newly released book Nazism: A New Introduction, which fit our search for novel interpretations of war. He spoke on the Volksgemeinschaft in Germany during the Second World War, particularly the relationship between Volksgemeinschaft and violence. His presentation served as an excellent example of how to conduct, create, and present research at the professional level.

Overall, the day was one of a great exchange of knowledge among all conference attendees. I would like to thank the participants of the Conference for devoting a great deal of their time to pursue history beyond the classroom. As well, the generosity of the History and Classics Departments of St. Andrews for their funding contributions, and the Dean of Arts at the University of St. Andrews, Professor Hibbert, for sponsoring the Dean’s Prize for the Conference.

Medievalists in Scotland Meeting


Photo attrib. Neil Howard, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the third of December, The St Andrews Institute for Medieval Studies welcomed almost a hundred medievalists from all over Scotland for a day of friendly chats and scholarly exchanges of ideas. Victoria Turner and Audrey Wishart organised this fantastic day in St Andrews, following the example of a similar event six years ago. The first Medievalists in Scotland meeting had been a great success, so the third of December had been widely anticipated by many!

The event was opened by a short speech, courtesy of the newly installed Principal Sally Mapstone. As a medievalist herself, she encouraged the participants to embrace all the new possibilities currently arising in medieval studies, without forgetting the material details of the sources everyone worked with. After these wise words, participants were free to mingle during the poster session. Not only senior lecturers from St Andrews were present: postgraduates and academics from all over Scotland attended, working on a wide variety of subjects.

Due to the high number of participants, there were two rounds of poster sessions. Everybody had been asked to craft posters beforehand, outlining their current research interests and projects. The geographical range spread from the Middle East to the far corners of Europe. Textile-oriented approaches were present alongside philosophical explorations, and the timeline of the Middle Ages was similarly approached from many different angles.

Following the poster session, participants were given the opportunity to meet in groups to discuss a variety of research interests. It will come as no surprise that a wide variety of interests exist among medievalists in Scotland: palaeography and manuscript culture, clothing/textiles, editing/philology, reception studies, spirituality/piety/relics, monasticism, gender, lordship/nobility/patronage, and governance/law. During these roundtable discussions, old and new approaches were all explored. After these workshops, participants met in groups again to discuss some of the latest trends in medieval studies, including: digital humanities, new materialism, emotions, academic/non-academic collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and palaeography. In certain panels, future collaborations were proposed, including workshops and conferences.

When the day ended, many medievalists had (re)connected with their colleagues elsewhere in Scotland. In the future, the Medievalists in Scotland Day will certainly be as successful in furthering research connections and bringing together scholars from all over the country.

Postgraduate Seminar Series


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

The History postgraduate community at St Andrews is especially vibrant, with many
opportunities for students to present their research, acquire new skills, and meet other postgraduates. In this blog post, PhD students Kimberly Sherman and Timothy Owens introduce the two postgraduate seminars series of the School of History.

Kimberly Sherman

Over the past few years, the Early Modern and Modern History (EMMH) Postgraduate Forum has become a fixture among the early modern and modern history cohort of PhDs and MLitt students. The forum aims to provide a comfortable and relaxed environment for postgraduates to present their research, workshop ideas, receive feedback, and generate discussion among their peers. Our sessions include postgraduate paper presentations, student-run skills sessions, and generally, a fun community for new ideas. Some papers presented at the forum have gone on to be published in peer-reviewed journals or have become the capstones of thesis projects. From digital history initiatives and staying organized with one’s research, to visiting archives and preparing for the job market, the EMMH has attempted to provide an atmosphere where students can learn from and encourage one another. Last spring, we ran a session designed for MLitts in which current St Andrews PhDs who earned their MLitts at the university gave advice on researching and writing the dissertation. The great response to the session guaranteed its recurrence on this year’s schedule.

The EMMH Postgraduate forum meets on scheduled Mondays during the academic year in St Katherine’s Lodge Room 1.10 at 17:15. Drinks and nibbles are provided and attendees are invited to join in our traditional pilgrimage to St Andrews Brewing Company for post-forum drinks and discussion. Keep up with news and events, listen to audio of past papers, or even propose a paper at our website or by contacting forum conveners Richard Daglish (rsd3) or Kimberley Sherman (ks222) for more information.

Timothy Owens

The postgraduate Mediæval History Seminar Series provides an opportunity for postgraduates at every level, from the most junior of MLitts to late-stage PhD students, to give an academic paper to an audience of their fellow postgraduates as well as any interested faculty members and the wider university community. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly, and collegiate, offering a great chance for postgraduates to practice papers that they are going to present at conferences, or simply to try out ideas for their research. Most of the time, the papers are focused on the scholarly interests of the postgraduate, but we also occasionally host speakers who instead offer their personal insight into the world of academia: whether that be a look at the pitfalls of trying to forge a career in a highly competitive sector, the idiosyncrasies of academic publishing, or issues of mental health in academia.

There is also a strong social aspect to the seminar series, which take place on Wednesdays at 5:15, in the New Seminar Room at St John’s House. Refreshments are provided at each event and after every paper the speaker and audience retire to a local pub to continue discussions in a more relaxed setting. Over the course of the year, the seminar series also hosts a number of special postgraduate parties, including the now (in)famous Halloween party! If you want to present, come along or simply know more, please visit the website to stay up to date!

PhD Induction Day 2016


Photo attrib. Agnieszka Mikolajczyk

Blog written by Dr Amy Eberlin

On an overcast Thursday in September, the School of History’s new PhD students were bundled off to a day of ice breakers, information, and a tasty lasagne lunch at the beautiful Cambo House in Kingsbarns, Fife. For the third year in a row, Cambo House and Estates was the location for the annual ‘School of History PhD Induction’, providing a warm and inviting setting for incoming doctoral students to learn about the School of History and the PhD experience.

The day started off with some general introductions before we jumped into ‘speed meeting’. Similar to speed dating, but with significantly less romance, new and old students alike were encouraged to get to know their partner through five minutes of conversation. With the age old (and overused) questions ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your research topic?’ banned from use, the students were given alternative question suggestions to spark conversations. Everyone was up to the task, throwing themselves into swift conversations before being told to switch partners and start all over again.

Next on the day’s agenda was a guide to the School of History given by Elsie, Riccardo Bavaj, and Dawn Hollis. Elsie and Riccardo went over the School’s postgraduate student handbook, providing the new PhD students with essential information about the School of History’s facilities, the yearly progress review, research funds, and the support provided by postgraduate and faculty mentors. Dawn spoke about PGR representation and the function of PGR representatives.

We then broke for tea, coffee and quite an impressive selection of cakes. Armed with caffeine and sugar, we quickly returned to conversations about the PhD. After giving some advice to the new doctoral students about writing a thesis, Riccardo had them break into groups and think about what it means to produce ‘an original contribution to knowledge’. This was a valuable question, which, hopefully, will stick with these students as they progress through their doctoral experience. Each group responded to the question with interesting and thought provoking answers, leading to a wider group discussion considering the question.

Following from that, Agnieszka Mikolajczyk and Matthew Ylitalo, second year PhD students in the School of History, and Dawn Hollis spoke about ‘being a PhD student’ and the thesis-related activities that they were involved in. Agnieszka told us about the conference papers that she has presented and the summer language course that she attended in Iceland. Matt described the talks that he has given to school children, local history societies, and local museums, and the SGSAH workshops that he has attended. dsc03102Finally, Dawn spoke about the opportunities to become involved in the School of History and the wider university, representing the interests of PGR students, and the international conferences. This session reflected the myriad of exciting opportunities available to PhD students in the School of History outwith writing their thesis. However, each student also emphasised the life that they have outside of their PhD, speaking about their hobbies, families and wider social life as providing balance in their doctoral experience.

The last session of the day (and the last before lunch) was mine. Having submitted my thesis just over a month ago, Dawn asked that I speak on ‘the view from the top’ and provide some insight into the PhD as a whole. Reflecting on my four years at St Andrews, I tried to give the new students advice that I got in my early years and some that I would have liked to have had. Emphasising the need to have a life outside of the PhD, I also spoke about establishing a relationship with your supervisor, organising yourself and your work, and responding flexibly to challenges.

After my very brief session on the whole experience of the PhD, we ended the day’s events with a delicious lunch of lasagne, salad and garlic bread, followed by a dessert of crumble and cream. Continuing on from the organised sessions, conversation bubbled over as we finished off our lunches and headed back to St Andrews.

All in all, the annual PhD induction day for the School of History’s newest PhD students was quite a success!