Early Modern and Reformation Studies Reading Weekend


Photo attrib. Stu Smith, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blog written by Hannah Briscoe

In mid-November, Early Modern and Reformation Studies students and staff gathered around the warmth of a fire and the grandeur of a Scottish country house for our “Reading Weekend”—a favorite tradition and yearly highlight for the school.

After our first dinner together on Friday evening, Robert Frost (Aberdeen) kicked off the weekend with an impressively appropriate and mood-setting presentation, “Identity Doubtful: The Supposed Polish Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.” It was just the right setting for a bit of Jacobite intrigue. Afterwards, the evening continued for most with games, discussions ranging from philosophical to the ridiculous, drink and merriment. Saturday was a full day which included three meals together, three sessions, and a gorgeous afternoon for exploring.

The morning session was on the theme of printing and publishing. Marc Jaffre chaired what was a truly interesting panel of papers and following discussion. Andrew Pettegree, Arthur der Weduwen, and Jamie Cumby presented on the recovery of lost books, lost and found travel literature, and reasons for resistance to typographic change. After the all-important coffee and tea break, Jaap Jacobs (Dundee) chaired a session in which Edda Frankot and Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen) offered insight into what it is like to work in a group on a funded research project. Claire Hawes (Aberdeen) then related her experiences in post-doctoral research and offered insights into how historians can engage with the community.

We reconvened after tea and coffee for an international panel discussion. Guy Rowlands was the moderator on “Crossing Continents. Two university systems divided by a common language (sort of).” Martine van Ittersum (Dundee), David Whitford (Baylor University, Texas), and Emily Michelson made up the panel which focused on comparing the American and British systems for undertaking a PhD as well as finding funding and the job interview process. In the evening, we enjoyed a fantastic pub quiz, courtesy of Jamie Cumby and Andrew Carter. Categories spanned early modern history, pop culture and movie trivia, US presidents and their moms, and many more!


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

After breakfast on Sunday, Prof. Karin Friedrich (Aberdeen) chaired a session in which Jessica Dalton, John Condren, and Lena Liapi (Aberdeen) spoke on the themes of conversion strategies of the Jesuits and Roman Inquisition, women as negotiators and political actors, and crime and the public sphere in London. Our final session was strictly ‘no staff allowed’. This panel was a chance for the MLitt students to hear from new and current PhD students about their experiences in choosing a topic, applying for PhDs, and to ask any questions they had about the process. There were a lot of great questions and insights offered, and it was a nice casual ending to the weekend before we all packed up the cars and headed back to the Kingdom of Fife.

The reading weekend has been a highlight for me in my first year-and-a-half at St Andrews. It is a great opportunity to get to know friends, colleagues, and lecturers in a relaxed environment. It offers exposure to academic presentations, the chance to get over the intimidation and just have a really great time—not to mention making the most of the incredible scenery and charms of Scotland.


Postdoc Spotlight: Sarah Greer


Sarah Greer joined the School of History at St Andrews in September 2013 as a Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Research Fellow while she completed her PhD on ninth- and tenth-century Saxon female monasteries under the supervision of Professor Simon MacLean. This was not what she expected when she started her tertiary education. After graduating from a high-school history curriculum which focused almost exclusively on twentieth-century history, Sarah was determined to take as wide a range of modules as possible when she arrived at the University of Auckland. Three years followed of courses ranging from Ancient Egyptian religion to modern Australian history, but when she enrolled in a paper on the Later Roman Empire and the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms of Western Europe in her final semester she was hooked. Her Honours dissertation was on the origins of female monasticism in sixth-century Gaul; this was followed by a research masters on the function of double monasteries under the Merovingians and Carolingians in the sixth to eighth centuries and she was lured even closer to the High Middle Ages during her doctoral research. She is now peeking over at the Salian and Capetian dynasties with interest, but still likes to describe herself as an early medieval historian.


Hrotsvitha presenting her Gesta Ottonis to Otto I, photo attrib. Sarah Greer

Sarah was fortunate enough to be able to come to St Andrews on a fellowship through a research network called Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom (PIMIC), which also included Professor John Hudson, Professor Caroline Humfress and Cory Hitt. As PIMIC was an EU-funded Innovative Training Network, this meant that in addition to working on her thesis, Sarah has spent the past three years also taking part in a variety of training workshops across Europe. She was also seconded to work at Brill Publishers in Leiden for three months in 2014; at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne for three months in 2015; and at the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid for two months in 2016. She also took part in a month-long documentary film school as part of PIMIC, and remains grateful to the PhD students from the Mediaeval department who stood in as various members of the Ottonian imperial family for her documentary on Mathilda of Quedlinburg.


The city of Quedlinburg, photo attrib. Sarah Greer

Having submitted her doctoral thesis in September 2016, Sarah is delighted to be continuing her connection with both the School of History at St Andrews and the EU. She has been selected as the postdoctoral research fellow under the supervision of Professor MacLean as part of the new HERA-funded research network: ‘After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Tenth Century’, which joins together historians from St Andrews, Exeter, Berlin, Vienna and Barcelona. Sarah will work on how tenth-century people interacted with earlier royal mausolea and used the memories of the past embedded in these sites in the post-Carolingian world. She is very happy to remain in Scotland for another three years on this fellowship, although she does at times miss New Zealand’s summers.


Gender and Transgression in the Middle Ages, 5 – 7 June 2014

img01Registration for the annual St Andrews postgraduate conference on Gender and Transgression in the Middle Ages is now open. The conference, running from 5 – 7 June 2014, focuses on issues of gender and/or transgression in the medieval period and has a strong interdisciplinary character.  The keynote lecture will be delivered by Dr Dion Smythe, Queen’s University Belfast. 

Now in its sixth year, the conference – hosted by the St Andrews Institute for Mediaeval Studies – aims to create a lively and welcoming forum for speakers to present their research, make contacts, and participate in creative discussion on the topics of gender and transgression in the Middle Ages.

The conference programme, featuring work from postgraduates and early career researchers from around the world, has now been finalised, and interested researchers can register here. Further updates are also available on the conference facebook page and twitter feed

Spotlight on Flavia Bruni

flaviabruniFlavia Bruni first arrived in St Andrews in September 2009 to work as an intern to the USTC project. After her Master’s degree in the ‘History of the Age of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation’ at the University of Rome La Sapienza, with a dissertation on the devotion to St Joseph between the 15th and 16th centuries, Flavia earned a doctoral degree in History and Computer Science at the University of Bologna in 2006, and a MPhil degree in Early Printed Book Studies at the University of Siena at the end of the same year. In 2009 she undertook a diploma in Library Science at the Vatican Library School, and is now on the verge of completing a second PhD in Book History at the University of Siena. After working on a number of extensive projects focussed upon the study and cataloguing of early printed books in Italy, Flavia returned to St Andrews as a Postdoctoral Fellow with the USTC in September 2012, to undertake work on the Italian arm of the project.

Her research with the Italian RICI project (Ricerca sull’Inchiesta della Congregazione dell’Indice) on 16th-century inventories of Italian monastic libraries, begun in 2001, led Flavia to bibliography and history of books and libraries, particularly of the Early Modern Age, with a main focus on forbidden books and censorship. She also has keen interests in the field of digital humanities, especially in the theory and practice of text encoding and modelling, digitisation of manuscripts and early printed books, digital libraries and digital preservation. Flavia has also taken part in research investigating itinerant printing in Italy between 15th and 17th century “Mobilità dei mestieri del libro in Italia fra Quattrocento e Seicento” and to the two conferences related to that project. She is now co-organising, with Andrew Pettegree (co-ordinator of the USTC project), the sixth USTC Conference on Lost Books.

Chained books at the Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena.

Chained books at the Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena.

In her first book, “Erano di molti libri proibiti”. Frate Lorenzo Lucchesi e la censura libraria a Lucca alla fine del Cinquecento, Flavia reassessed the case of a friar who acted as the official censor for the Bishop of the Republic of Lucca at the end of the 16th century, who has been erroneously considered by scholarship to be a “libertine friar” because of the number of forbidden books that he kept. After a series of articles on book inventories and physical markings on books, such as ownership inscriptions, bindings and labels, as sources for the history of libraries in the Modern Age, Flavia is now working to her second monograph. This will trace the history of the book collection of the Servite cloister of San Pier Piccolo of Arezzo (Italy) from the 16th century to today, and in so doing will suggest a new approach to the history of censorship throughout the Early Modern Catholic world.

On a visit to the Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, with St Andrews students in May 2013.

On a visit to the Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, with St Andrews students in May 2013.

Since 2012 Flavia has participated in the teaching of the M.Litt. Degree in Book History, in particular working with students on the core course ‘The Hand Press Book from Renaissance to Romanticism (MO5113), and the training module on ‘Technical Bibliography’ (MO5012).

Living in the UK is a dream come true for Flavia, a passionate fan of British indie rock bands, and whenever she is not busy with research she is apt to escape to Dundee or Glasgow to enjoy gigs and rummage around in record shops, waiting for the big event of the year – mud bathing at T in the Park!

ISHR Reading Weekend 2014, The Burn, 21-23 March

Dawn Jackson Williams, School of History communications intern and associate of the ISHR, attended the annual ISHR Reading Weekend. Below is her account.

The Burn. Photo by D. Jackson Williams.

The Burn. (Photo credit D. Jackson Williams).

The weekend of the 21–23 March saw members and guests of the Institute of Scottish Historical Research head to the Burn, just south of the Cairngorms National Park, where they enjoyed three days encompassing a variety of presentations, historical discussions, and a field trip to learn about Pictish stones.

Following a mid-afternoon arrival on the Friday the group was given plenty of time to get acquainted over tea in the Burn’s beautiful Drawing Room. After dinner, the MLitt students in attendance kicked off the weekend’s presentations with a ‘Three Minute Thesis’ session. The six gave brief introductions to their areas of research, which ranged from an exploration of the queenship of Margaret Tudor to a study of Scottish music halls in the early twentieth century. The postgraduate focus of the evening continued in a more light-hearted vein as Claire Hawes demonstrated herself to be not only a talented historian, but also a brilliant musician; she treated us to a musical exposition of the highs and lows of PhD life, set to the tune of ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’.

The next morning saw two fascinating panels, featuring PhD students Sean Murphy, Carol Bailey, Liz Hanna, and Claire Hawes, which covered a range of topics including ‘verbal tartanry’ and its role in Scottish diasporic culture, the language debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, James IV and his uses of chivalry, and the nature of fifteenth-century urban communities. After lunch the group ventured to Pictavia, a nearby attraction boasting a collection of Pictish stones, where they enjoyed the commentary of an extremely knowledgeable guide, and – perhaps less cerebrally – the interactive nature of the exhibit which encouraged visitors to run their hands over replica Pictish stones, and to play a reproduction Pictish harp. The ISHR was also pleased to discover a reference to the research of Dr Alex Woolf in pride of place on the wall beside one of the opening exhibits. The two articles of particular relevance to the displays at Pictavia can be found here: ‘Dún Nechtáin, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts’, and ‘Pictish matriliny reconsidered’.

Inside the Drawing Room of the Burn. (Photo credit Darren S. Layne).

Hearing about the MLitt research topics in the Drawing Room of the Burn. (Photo credit Darren S. Layne).

On returning to the Burn the group reaped the benefits of a pre-dinner skills panel, with Matt McHaffie sharing his experience of finishing the PhD, and offering advice to those PhD students present to whom handing in still felt like a distant dream. Darren Layne gave a persuasive presentation regarding the virtues of Evernote and its potential benefits for historians. The schedule for the weekend (arranged by ISHR intern Amy Eberlin) had boasted ‘Prescribed Fun Time’ for the hour or so after dinner, and the inaugural ISHR pub quiz certainly provided both entertainment and some head-scratching. History as a potential category was deliberately avoided and the assembled staff and students were tested on their general knowledge, geography, and, in a picture round, their ability to recognise the logos of international organisations. The ‘Blue Owls’ helmed by ISHR Director Katie Stevenson won, although as they boasted a one-time St Andrews University Challenge team-member, this had been widely predicted. The team of ISHR’s Edinburgh guest, Steve Boardman, came joint last after forgetting that the Queen was Canada’s head of state.

The final day saw some erratic weather – bright sunshine interspersed with hail – but no change in the continuing high standard of presentations across the weekend. Piotr Potocki explored Catholic identity and the Catholic church in Scotland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, whilst Neil McGuigan took listeners on a journey to the ninth and tenth centuries with his account of the sons of Ivar and the medieval kingdom of Northumbria. The weekend was ably rounded off by Dr Steve Boardman, who gave a compelling paper on the depiction of Anglo-Welsh and Anglo-Irish relations as depicted in Scottish sources. After a final lunch, the group dispersed, perhaps a little more tired, but certainly more knowledgeable than they had been upon arrival.

Spotlight on Julie McDougall-Waters

JMW image 1 (2)Julie McDougall-Waters came to the School of History at St Andrews in May 2013 as a research fellow on a four year AHRC-funded project, ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions, co-ordinated by Dr Aileen Fyfe. Despite previously living for four years in Edinburgh, Julie, rather shamefully, had never stepped foot on St Andrews soil before her appointment. Even now, she gets to enjoy the scenic setting only every two to three months as she is based at the Royal Society in London, where most of the relevant archives are held. Working on the economic, social and cultural history of the Philosophical Transactions (the oldest science journal in the world) has augmented her interest in the history of science and book history. As part of her research, Julie is concerned with the economic history of the journal—published by the Royal Society of London and produced by different presses over time—as well as the editorial practices and individuals behind its pages.

Julie’s current career in history was not quite what she had in mind when she first began her university studies. She realized very quickly that studying physiotherapy in Newcastle was not for her, and returned to Northern Ireland and to a subject that she had always felt strongly about; geography. It turned out that geography in higher education was exceedingly more diverse than she had expected. Her interest in historical research stems from this revelation, and during her final year at Queen’s she embedded herself in the study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travel writing, economic and environmental histories of Britain, and historical geographies of memory and memorialisation.

Referee reports on papers submitted to the Philosophical Transactions in 1873.

Referee reports on papers submitted to the Philosophical Transactions in 1873.

Her historical perspective continued to expand during her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, which focussed on British school atlases and their place in the development of geography as a modern discipline. This was a perfect union of historical geography and book history. Through this she also engaged in a history of cartography, focusing on an Edinburgh mapmaker, and considering the style and content of atlases produced for pupils in distinct locations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She hopes to publish her thesis as a monograph, and is publishing articles based on aspects of her PhD research.

She is currently organizing several events at the Royal Society with Noah Moxham and  Aileen Fyfe, in preparation for the 350th Anniversary of the Philosophical Transactions in 2015. These include an exhibition on the history of the journal, opening at the Society in late November 2014, and an academic conference, Publish or Perish? Scientific periodicals from 1665 to the present, which will take place in March 2015 and which aims to highlight transformations and challenges in the publishing of scientific journals over the last three and a half centuries, raising questions on peer review, editorial practice, printing processes, and distribution.

When she is not elbow deep in dust and manuscripts at the Royal Society, she enjoys spending time with her — relatively new — husband, often taking advantage of the many cultural attractions London offers, including classical concerts, ballets, and plays. One thing she also enjoys is doing yoga, especially her class at the Royal Society in rooms covered from floor to ceiling in portraits of well known scientists. She sometimes wonders if they would approve.

Transnational History – Calls for Papers

SWWprojectThe GRAINES network, of which the St Andrews Centre for Transnational History is an active member, has recently released its call for papers for this year’s summer school, taking place in Vienna. This year’s theme is “The European City in Transformation: from the Early Modern Period to the Present”.

The Flying University of Transnational Humanities has also released a call for papers for this year’s meeting at the University of Pittsburgh, which can be downloaded here. The theme is “Globalization East”. Dr Bernhard Struck and Dr Konrad Lawson, both of St Andrews, have recently joined the FUTH steering committee.

Plans are currently underway to bring both the GRAINES summer school and the FUTH annual meeting to St Andrews in the summer of 2015.