Postgraduate Spotlight: James Howe

Blog written by first-year PhD student James Howe. You can follow him on Twitter @JHowe1996.

James was born in London and spent most of his childhood living in Liverpool. From an early age, James was interested in history from the perspective of ordinary people and marginalised groups. This interest was nurtured by weekly visits to the city’s museums dedicated to maritime and military history as well as the transatlantic slave trade. He has tried to study and research history from this perspective throughout his academic career so far.

James first came to St Andrews to study for a BA (Hons) in Modern History in 2015. It was during this degree that he began to explore academic history from below. Through his optional courses, James became interested in the history of travel and tourism, which would inspire much of his later postgraduate work. His undergraduate dissertation used the war memoirs of ordinary working-class soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, analysing their impressions of the countries they travelled through after leaving their birthplaces for the first time in their lives. During this time, he also spent time studying the history (and lived experience) of dictatorship, in particular the Spanish Franco Regime and the Soviet Union. After graduating from St Andrews, he completed an MPhil in Modern European History at Cambridge, submitting a thesis entitled ‘The Experience of British Travellers to the Soviet Union, 1953-1964’. This research explored British travel literature on the Soviet Union, establishing travellers’ impressions of Soviet bureaucracy and propaganda. These books represented both a part of the discourse on Anglo-Soviet relations within Britain as well as historic Western European perceptions of Russia and Eastern Europe.

James couldn’t stay away from St Andrews for long and returned to begin a PhD in 2020. His project is supervised by Dr Kate Ferris and Dr Gillian Mitchell and focuses on the experience of British people who travelled to the dictatorships of Spain and Portugal prior to their respective transitions to democracy. Spain was ruled by General Francisco Franco from his 1939 victory in the Civil War until his death in 1975. The Portuguese Estado Novo (New State) was established in 1933 and lasted until the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which for the majority of this time was administered by António de Oliveira Salazar. British people travelled to these nations for a wide variety of reasons, on coach tours, new package holidays, as well as to work or study as part of university or government exchange programmes. The project is centred on oral history interviews which James hopes to begin conducting over the coming months. His PhD examines the presentation of Spain and Portugal as travel destinations to British people by both commercial and state-operated agencies. The material produced by these entities will be used as the project’s printed primary source base to be compared with the oral testimonies. Ultimately, his project contributes to the discourse on ordinary life during the late period of the Iberian dictatorships, as well as the ways in which travel and tourism were used by these regimes to reward and ensure the loyalty of their citizens, whilst improving their nations’ international reputations.

Outside of academia, James enjoys cycling and can often to be found dodging potholes on the back roads of Fife. He plans to ride the North Coast 500 before he finishes his PhD. James used the lockdown to improve his language skills by taking an online Spanish course and also took a deep dive into Russian literature because the last year hadn’t been bleak enough. James has played the guitar since he was young but remains a terrible musician. He is keenly waiting for life to get back to normal so he can resume visiting museums and exhibitions and finally talk about history in person again.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Maria Zukovs

Blog written by first-year PhD student Maria Zukovs. Maria’s research focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. You can follow her on Twitter @m_zukovs.

Maria was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her passion for history arose at the young age of four when she discovered the story of RMS Titanic and grew from there. Despite being engineers, her parents always encouraged her to follow her own interests. Her grandfather also played an important role in nurturing Maria’s love of history by teaching her about Ireland, his home country, from a young age.

Maria began studying history in 2011 at the University of Toronto, where she majored in history and Celtic studies. Her experiences in the Celtic studies programme solidified her love of Irish history and culture. Following her graduation from the University of Toronto in 2015, she immediately pursued an M.A. at Western University in London, Ontario. There she explored settler-colonialism in seventeenth-century Ireland through the lens of Bardic poetry. As history is often written by those in power, this research sought to understand perceptions of colonialism through the eyes of the colonised. After completing her M.A., she took a break from academia and went on to complete a certificate in museum studies. After working several jobs in culture and heritage, she realised she missed doing historical research. Leaving the world of art galleries behind, she looked to Scotland.

Her current research, under the supervision of Professor Andrew Pettegree, focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. This topic brings together Maria’s two main historical passions: Irish history and the French Revolution. She examines newspapers published in late eighteenth-century Dublin and how their coverage of the French Revolution may have impacted Irish society at that time. Much of the scholarly focus for this period of Irish history has been on figures like Theobald Wolfe Tone, organisations like the Society of United Irishmen, and the 1798 rebellion. In particular, the United Irishmen’s relationship with France has been the subject of several in-depth studies. However, despite there being a significant number of newspapers printed in Dublin during the period of the French Revolution, there have been few studies about them, their contents, and the role the press played in spreading news of the Revolution. Going through these newspapers, she will examine what reports on the French Revolution looked like, what information was being disseminated to the public at the time, and how accurate those reports were. The government response to this press coverage (legislation, libel cases against proprietors) plays a key role in understanding whether these reports on the French Revolution were seen as a threat to Irish society.

Outside of academia Maria is a horror film enthusiast who has been told she makes excellent bread. When she is not playing with the neighbourhood cats, she is knitting sweaters and hosting Jeopardy nights with her friends. She also enjoys playing the violin, which she has been doing since the age of nine. Since moving to Scotland, she has discovered an interest in walking and hiking, mainly along the Coastal Path. She welcomes recommendations on any paths she should check out.

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.

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.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Irina Mattioli

Blog written by Irina Mattioli. Irina is a second-year cotutelle PhD Student in medieval history, completing her degree at both the University of St Andrews and the University of Milan. Her research focuses on the history of animals in thirteenth-century Italy.

A portrait of Irina using the collodion process invented in 1851, by Alessio Vissani.

Irina grew up in Umbria, a region in central Italy that still looks very ‘medieval’. It is reasonable to assume that the landscape and constant exposure to ancient art and architecture played a role in her fascination with the past. She is quite confident, however, that she would not be doing her PhD in history without the input of some notable figures in her life. These include her grandmother Maria Adelaide (a schoolteacher who was very fond of humanities, history, and culture) and the inspiring mentors she worked with through her university cursus: Professor Donatella Scortecci at the University of Perugia, Professor Paolo Grillo at the University of Milano, and Professor Frances Andrews at the University of St Andrews. The last two are currently supervising her cotutelle PhD in Medieval History.

In her PhD Irina focuses on Animal History in thirteen-century century Italy, particularly on horses and their polyvalence in the society of the time. The idea is to explore the socio-economic implications, ethos, and ideology of an animal which, for a thirteen-century commune, was undoubtedly a multifaceted being. It was at one time war mount, means of transportation and communication, work resource, valuable asset, and, above all, a powerful symbol in the collective imagination and iconography. The commune of Perugia in the second half of the thirteen-century seems to provide the ideal case study for her project: it experienced a great phase of expansion, and its prosperity had visible effects both on the flourishing of architectural and cultural production. In this scenario, the horse emerged as an essential component of both the ‘state machine’ of the commune and of the needs of the society.

Credit: c. 50v, Massari 1bis, Archivio de Stato di Perugia-1277.

Irina’s choice to study animals in her historical studies was an intuitive, yet unavoidable one. She has always had a deep love and an utter fascination for nature, plants, and all the living creatures that are part of the Earth system: we share the present as we shared the past, and it is something worth investigating. To keep a broad perspective about this, she is also quite fond of ethology and ecology themed readings.

Irina prides herself on her interdisciplinary methodology in her studies. Since her bachelor’s degree, she has learned how to incorporate material evidence and iconography in her research alongside written primary sources. Due to this interest, while proceeding in her studies as a historian, she has worked at archaeological excavations every summer for the past eleven years on sites ranging from the Roman to Medieval periods.  

Irina photographing prima ballerina Joy Womack (Kremlin Ballet) in Moscow

Alongside her PhD, Irina has been a full-time professional photographer for the past fourteen years ( She has accomplished several artistic achievements between commissioned work with notable clients, exhibitions, publications, and prizes (first place at the Anna Pavlova international ballet photography competition, awarded in Moscow). Her photography focuses on portrait, reportage, fashion, and ballet, the latter subject being near to her heart as a former dancer with more than 20 years of experience and passion.

Postgrad Spotlight: Christin Simons

Blog written by Elena Romero-Passerin. Elena recently submitted her PhD thesis, which focuses on the comparison of public botanic gardens in Scotland and Tuscany in the late eighteenth century.

Christin grew up in the Ruhr valley, a region of Germany historically well-known for its Roman camps and important coal mining industry. Though she was not particularly taken with history at school, Christin did like practical approaches to the discipline, enjoying visits to museums and ‘medieval markets’ (which, by her own admission, might shock actual medievalists). As she finished school these visits inspired her, and she decided to take an internship in her local museum, where she guided visitors around exhibitions about—surprise, surprise—Roman history and coal mining!

After doing an undergrad in Classics at the Ruhr University of Bochum (those Romans really got to her!), Christin decided to switch topics for her master’s degree and began studying Early Modern History. This was when her great peregrinations around the world started, as she decided to leave Germany for an Erasmus exchange in Stockholm. There she began to take an interest in Swedish history, an interest that was helped along by her attending the course of a visiting professor from St Andrews who introduced her to maritime history and the East India Companies. Christin decided to continue her exploration of the world and registered for a PhD at the University of St Andrews to work with that very same visiting professor, Prof Steve Murdoch.

Before moving to St Andrews, Christin spent a year in Beijing with the support of the Chinese Scholarship Council. She ‘tingbudonged’ (Chinese for ‘I don’t understand’) her way through a language course and started to work in the archives the very same year. She then moved camp again to come to Scotland where she fell in love with St Andrews.

Christin works on the perception and legal strategies of the Swedish East India Company during its first charter (1731-1746). Her research explores the understanding of maritime conflicts in the absence of international maritime law and the role of foreign influence in the Swedish East India trade. She focuses in particular on the ‘Porto Novo affair’ of 1733, a conflict between the British and the French Companies on the one side and the Swedish East India Company on the other. The affair resulted in an eight-year-long lawsuit and illustrates the struggle between British exceptionalism and Swedish sovereignty. It involved characters such as the Scot Colin Campbell, director of the Swedish Company (but condemned ‘interloper’ by British legislation), who used his knowledge of British law to further the success of the Swedes in the East India Trade.

During her PhD Christin has continued to travel all around Europe as funding from St Andrew’s University, the Economic History Society, St Leonard’s Postgraduate College, the Royal Historical Society, the World Ship Society, the Society for Nautical Research, and the Dutch-Belgian Society for Eighteenth Century studies allowed her to go collect sources and speak at many conferences. She has also taken on a lot of organising duties, co-organising the Early Modern and Modern History Postgraduate Seminar for two years, as well as the International Postgraduate Port and Maritime Studies Network Conference twice (2019, 2020) with Scott Carballo (Stirling). In addition, she has pursued her interests in public history by developing an historical board game with her officemate Elena. ‘Merplantilism’ explores eighteenth-century trade, navigation, and science, and Christin has presented it to various audiences in Britain, Ireland, Sweden, and Germany.

Christin’s passion for engaging with wide audiences about history also shines through her work as a tour guide in Stockholm, where she now lives. She misses the time she spent riding, hiking, and dancing in Ceilidhs in Scotland. When she left St Andrews for Sweden in November 2019, she could not have foreseen that she would not be able to return before submitting her thesis, but she hopes to one day see her PhD colleagues in the flesh again

Postgrad Spotlight: Elena Romero-Passerin D´Entreves

Blog written by Christin Simons. Christin is currently in the midst of finishing her PhD and writes here about fellow PhD student, Elena Romero-Passerin D’Entreves.

It would have been a challenge for Elena to avoid history, as she was not only born in Paris, near Montmartre, but also is the daughter of two historians. The path was set. In her undergraduate degree, she took a class on Medicine and Hygiene from 1750 to WWI, which introduced her to the history of hospitals and science. A previous visit to the botanic garden in Edinburgh had made a lasting impression, so Elena decided to research it as part of her master’s thesis subject, which then developed into an interest in researching and comparing gardens, especially in Europe. Elena started her ‘Grand Tour’ of studying in Paris at the Sorbonne, followed by an Erasmus year in Strathclyde to explore the archives, then crossed the ocean to spend a year at Amherst College, where she also found the time to teach French with a Fulbright scholarship. Instead of pursuing a career in medieval history, as she had initially planned at the beginning of her studies, Elena decided to come back to the UK and follow the path of botany. Elena was lucky to find two very enthusiastic and supportive supervisors in Dr Sara Easterby-Smith and Prof Aileen Fyfe who shared her passion for comparative studies of botanic gardens, and so she moved to St Andrews.

Her PhD is a comparative study of public botanic gardens in Scotland and Tuscany in the late eighteenth century. Instead of focusing on the plants or the science itself, she is interested in how botanical gardens worked as institutions and about their role in society. Her research demonstrates that gardens are interesting examples of the institutionalisation of science and research, as they have often been ignored in the historiography of science and they have some of the earliest examples of professional scientists (who were paid to do research) in Europe. Usually the institutionalisation and professionalisation of science are associated with the nineteenth century, but in addition to including some juicy history about plants like rhubarb and pineapples, Elena offers new ways of considering the approach of botanical gardens. She has been able to apply her research in a number of creative ways, including the development of the board game Merplantilism, together with the author of this blog piece, and an endeavour to link the Linnean system to the evolution of Pokemon!

When she is not spreading the pollen of knowledge regarding botanical gardens, Elena is involved with the PGR History Community by organising the EMMH, teaching numerous students or going to the cosy movie theatre in St Andrews. In the ʽGreat Beforeʼ, Elena’s free time was filled with travels to conferences, archives (especially in Tuscany), and socialising with friends and colleagues over a good dinner or board games. During the pandemic, she has worked on her baking and painting skills and the ability to power walk through Fife. With finishing her thesis in 2020 and reaping the fruit of her labour, Elena will miss the community of great colleagues who became dear friends and the chance to run into people on the small streets of St Andrews, but she is also ready to start a new successful chapter—maybe by finally studying medieval history…

Postgrad Spotlight: Sofya Anisimova

Blog written by Sofya Anisimova. Sofya is a second year PhD student in School of History and International Relations. Her research focuses on Russia’s Military Strategy and the Entente in the First World War.

Sofya was born in northern Moscow and grew up in an area next to a park that used to be the largest First World War military cemetery in Russia destroyed in the 1930s. However, even though she was raised right nearby, she did not know anything about the cemetery until she went to university. The First World War was not a very popular topic in Russia and was not studied in school in detail, but the lack of attention to the 1914-1918 conflict in Russian memory only spurred Sofya’s interest and was one of the reasons she decided to pursue a career as a professional researcher.

The specific topic that drew her attention to the First World War was the Russian Expeditionary Force (REF): in 1916 some 40,000 Russian soldiers were sent to fight in France and Macedonia, many of whom did not return to Russia until the 1920s. Their story fascinated her so much that she decided to switch her research field from politics, which she was studying at the Higher School of Economics, to military history. Upon graduation in 2016 she enrolled in the ‘History of War’ MA program at King’s College London before eventually coming to St Andrews for a postgraduate research degree in 2019.

Sofya’s postgraduate research looks into Russian military strategy and the Entente in 1914-1917 and benefits from the supervision of Professor Hew Strachan. The First World War was the war of coalitions: the Entente and the Central Powers. Members of these coalitions faced a similar ‘strategic paradox’ of whether to pursue their own strategy or stay loyal to the coalition cause. Sofya examines how this ‘strategic paradox’ affected Russian military strategic planning in the Great War. Her research requires working in archives in the UK, France and Russia, so she is spending this academic year away from St Andrews collecting primary sources.

At the same time, she has not abandoned her passion for the Russian Expeditionary Force and continues to work on the REF memory and veterans in Russia and in France as a side project. Some results of her research on the topic were published this year in the First World War Studies Journal. As for non-academic activities, in the pre-COVID world Sofya was an enthusiastic rugby player and was hoping to become a rugby referee, a goal she hopes to achieve as soon as the players are allowed back on the pitch.

Sofya runs a twitter account in English (@SofyaDAnisimova) and a telegram-channel in Russian ( dedicated to the Great War and her research.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Laura Bernardazzi

Laura Bernardazzi is a final year PhD student. Her research focuses on combat scenes in Arthurian romances and their connection to martial knowledge found in Fight Books.

Laura grew up in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland just south of the Alps. Her passion for history started when she was very young. Her love for the Middle Ages was perhaps influenced by the fact that Bellinzona, her hometown, has three beautiful castles (Montebello is her favourite), which she visited regularly over the years since she was just two years old. Many books, documentaries and visits to museums and many other castles while she was growing up cemented her interest in history. After visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum when she was eight years old, she was set on becoming an archaeologist. However, a trip to the UK a couple of years later introduced her to the fascinating world of English history and literature (Harry Potter also played a significant role there).

She decided to follow all her interests by studying for a combined degree in English Literature and Linguistics with Classical Archaeology at the University of Bern. As an undergraduate, she took advantage of the Erasmus and Visiting Scheme Programmes, studying for a semester at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich first and at the University of York later. After completing her BA, she returned to York for an MA in Medieval Studies. There, she had the opportunity to explore topics that she found particularly interesting: chivalric literature, fighting culture, forensic archaeology, history of medicine, medieval languages, and palaeography. Her dissertation, supervised by Dr Michele Campopiano, explored the perception of surgery and its teaching by medical faculties at the early European universities.

For her PhD, she wanted to constructively combine some of her academic interests and moved to St Andrews to work with Dr. Justine Firnhaber-Baker (School of History) and Prof. Dr. Bettina Bildhauer (School of Modern Languages). Her research examines Arthurian romances in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries across three linguistic areas (England, Languedoc, and Italy), focusing on the description of combat scenes through the lens of Fight Books. Fight Books are a sub-genre of technical treatises that instruct the reader in interpersonal combat and make for a fascinating subject. They should not be understood as manuals for beginners, but rather as a mnemonic aid for the already initiated fighter. Their form is very fluid: they can consist of only text, only images, or a mix of both; the language can be either vernacular (mostly German) or Latin and in verse, prose, or both; and they can discuss only one fighting modality or multiple weapons. Laura’s research highlights that the knowledge (both practical and theoretical) contained in Fight Books is highly relevant for a more complete understanding of the romances’ narratives. It also demonstrates that there was a shared European tradition of martial knowledge and practice, rather than separate, language-specific ones.

Laura does not only study interpersonal combat from a theoretical, desk-based perspective, but she also tries to put them into practice (always in a safe training environment). She has been a member of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) clubs since she moved to the UK, and before the lockdown she could often be found practising solo drills with her sword in St John’s garden. Of course, HEMA training informs her research, but it is also great fun!

Postgraduate Spotlight: Daniel Leaver

Daniel Leaver is a second year PhD student. His research focuses on the politics of North Sea oil in post-war Britain.

Originally from the great city of Newcastle upon Tyne just south of the border, I first came to St Andrews as an undergraduate in 2010, graduating in Modern History in 2014. A two-year venture into the real world convinced me it was not a place I wanted to spend much time, and I therefore returned to St Andrews for an MLitt in Scottish Historical Studies in 2016. Following this I began a PhD in 2018, working under the supervision of Dr Malcolm Petrie and generously funded by the Strathmartine Trust for Scottish History.

My doctoral studies examine the politics of North Sea oil in Britain during the sixties and seventies. As my PhD has progressed, I have increasingly realised that there are many important debates about this generally unloved period of post-war history where the topic can act as a fascinating case study.  For example, interest in the potential riches of the North Sea during Harold Wilson’s 1964-70 government is, I believe, an under-appreciated element in that government’s interest in new technologies and the modernisation of British industry. I am currently researching the extent to which Edward Heath’s government realised that North Sea oil offered a potential solution to the ‘energy crisis’ of the early seventies, particularly within the context of prolonged industrial disputes with the National Union of Mineworkers. And while the familiar issue of oil invigorating the cause of Scottish nationalism during the 1970s is an important element of the subject, my thesis is an opportunity to consider the extent to which the arrival of oil played a role in the other great constitutional change of the decade, namely Britain’s entry into the European Community. The ultimate aim is to try and provide a new perspective on a period of political, constitutional, and industrial change which puts the arrival of a new, indigenous source of energy at its centre.

Something I have relished about the St Andrews PhD experience is the opportunity to build a rounded academic CV and to engage in collaborative work. I am a PG Teaching Assistant on the MO2008: Scotland, Britain and Empire module offered by the School, something I thoroughly enjoy and would encourage all new PhD students to involve themselves in if they can. I am also a Research Assistant on the Bibliography for British and Irish History project with fellow PhD student Chelsea Reutcke, and last August co-organised a successful one-day conference on the theme of ‘Ideology and Identity in Post-War Scotland’ with Sarah Leith. This year I am the intern for the Institute of Scottish Historical Research, the main duty of which is organising our ever-popular annual Reading Weekend at the Burn, Edzell.

Away from my work I play for the University Pool and Cue Sports club and have served as Men’s Captain this year. My ‘career’ highlight thus far has been representing Scotland at last year’s Student Home Internationals in Dublin. The trip, of course, included an historical morning before the flight home visiting the General Post Office museum! In the summer months I can regularly be found (much to my supervisor’s disapproval) enjoying a round of golf on the Links. Sadly, sharing a flat with a scratch handicapper has not led to any magical improvements in my game. When not working, or on the table or the golf course, I can usually be found at home cooking or in one of St Andrews’ many pubs, following the highs and (mostly) lows of Newcastle United.