Publication Spotlight: The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

Blog written by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker. Dr Firnhaber-Baker is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History. Her research focuses on France between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker

My latest book, The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt, was published by Oxford University Press in the UK on 28 April and in the US on 28 May. The latter date—and I am sure this was a coincidence, not a clever marketing ploy—was the 663rd anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that the book is about. On that long-ago day, hundreds of peasants converged on a village north of Paris and killed nine noblemen, sparking the largest rural revolt that France had ever experienced. Over the next two months, villagers from regions stretching from Normandy to Champagne destroyed the castles and houses of local nobles, robbed them of their contents, and murdered some noblemen and their families. The cities of northern France became involved in the revolt, sheltering rebels, giving them food and supplies, and using the uprising to carry out their own operations against strategic targets or irritating neighbours. But by the middle of June, the nobles recovered the initiative and destroyed massive rebel armies at pitched battles to the north and east of Paris, setting in motion a ‘Counter-Jacquerie’ that would prove far bloodier and more destructive than the revolt itself. 

Although the Jacquerie was relatively brief, it has become a famous episode in medieval history, appearing in specialist works, textbooks, and historical fiction alike. I first read about it in my Advanced Placement European history class in 1993. I suppose I must always have had it in the back of my mind somewhere as an interesting story, but it wasn’t until I came across it again as part of my PhD research that I realized how little historians actually know about the Jacquerie. Just one book, originally published in 1859, had ever been written about it, and only a handful of articles had appeared in the century and a half since. None of this work seemed satisfactory to me, so once I finished my first book, I applied for and won a fellowship from the AHRC to support my own study of the Jacquerie alongside a comparative and collaborative project on medieval revolts that resulted in The Routledge History Handbook of Medieval Revolt, published in 2017.

Because the Jacquerie had been much discussed but little studied, much of what we ‘knew’ about it was actually just speculation. Through years of archival and manuscript research in France, I was able to build a robust picture of the rebels and their victims in their historical context that lays to rest many of the questions and mistaken assumptions that had proliferated. Probably the most important issue my book addresses is the question of why the revolt happened in the first place. Everyone who had ever written about the revolt struggled with this question, inevitably either characterizing it as spontaneous, irrational, and entirely rural, or as carefully planned, politically motivated, and orchestrated by anti-royal rebels in Paris. 

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

The evidence is more convincing for the second hypothesis—much of the revolt was well organized and many incidents, including the revolt’s inception, clearly served Parisian interests—but I came to realise that the revolt could not be reduced to a single cause or objective. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people participated in the uprising, each driven by their own interests and experiences. While Parisian objectives and actions played a central role in the revolt, other contributing factors include local and personal relationships, commoners’ resentment toward nobles’ wealth and status in the wake of the Black Death and French defeats during the Hundred Years War, threats from other rebels, and garden-variety greed and aggression.

Perhaps even more important for interpretation than the range of rebels’ interests and experiences is the way that those interests and experiences changed over time as the revolt unfolded in June and July and afterward in the years and decades that followed the revolt when people told the stories that made the sources historians use for their research. One of my book’s main arguments is that the revolt was not a discrete event so much as it was a process that developed over time in messy and unpredictable ways. That process didn’t end with the revolt but continued in the way that people chose to remember—or to forget—it months and years later. What the revolt meant to someone on 28 May 1358 may not have been what she thought about it three weeks later or in 1372, nor would she necessarily have told the story the same way every time and to every person.

A striking thing about the sources for the Jacquerie, which are mostly prosecutions against and pardons for the revolt’s participants, is the way that individual stories about the revolt kept multiplying despite the royal government’s efforts to impose its own standardized version of events. Of course, in writing a book like this, I, too, had to impose my own narrative on what would otherwise have been an unmanageable cacophony of individual accounts. I did make room for conflicting information and alternative interpretations—gargantuan footnotes are a scholar’s best friend in this regard—but I have a keen awareness that one’s own historical moment inescapably shapes analysis. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians who wrote about the Jacquerie were demonstrably influenced by their own experiences of revolution and social conflict, perhaps in ways they may not have realised at the time. Having sent the book to press in August 2020, I do wonder what role future historians will think plague, politics, and populism played in my story.

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt is available from Oxford University Press at a 30% discount using code AAFLYG6 at https://tinyurl.com/y2buob3j.

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.

Staff Spotlight: Derek Patrick

Blog written by Dr Derek Patrick. Dr Patrick joined the School of History as an Associate Lecturer in 2018.

Derek joined the School of History in January 2018 although he was already familiar with St Andrews and several of his new colleagues. He had completed his MA at St Andrews back in 1997 and, as a member of the Scottish Parliament Project, a PhD in 2002. His research focussed on the period c.1689-1702 with an emphasis on party politics and the membership of the old Scots parliament during the reign of William and Mary. Before returning to St Andrews, Derek spent 15 years at Dundee where he initially worked with Professor Chris Whatley on his 2006 book, The Scots and the Union.

While he spent most of his time at Dundee as a lecturer in Scottish history, Derek also worked in recruitment with UK-based international students and held a number of administrative posts. In 2017 he left academia for a brief period when he joined the veterans’ charity Poppyscotland, where he was part of a small team tasked with obtaining a large Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a mobile education outreach unit. This became Poppy Bud, an 18-tonne truck that becomes an interactive learning space visiting schools across Scotland with the purpose of exploring a contemporary understanding of remembrance. This was an especially rewarding post, but when Derek became aware of an opportunity to return to his alma mater he did not need any persuasion.

Derek serves as Deputy Director of Teaching and the School’s Academic Support Officer (a position that is unique to History). While he still lectures at sub-honours and contributes to several taught postgraduate courses, his role includes a number of administrative responsibilities. He is responsible for History Honours advising, is the School’s study abroad officer, coordinates our joint degree programme with William and Mary, is examination officer, is responsible for curriculum change, and acts as disabilities and wellbeing officer (with one or two additional School and University roles for added measure). He is based in St Katharine’s Lodge and is always contactable at asohist@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Derek enjoys the variety of the role which offers ample opportunities for research and public engagement. In recent years this has been more focussed on the Great War than the Convention Parliament, although in terms of First World War history he would consider himself very much an enthusiastic amateur. Since a high school visit to the battlefields he has had a longstanding interest in the War and a passion for the history of our local regiment, The Black Watch. He is co-founder of the Great War Dundee Commemorative Project, was a historical consultant for the BBC’s World War One at Home initiative, and has written a number of articles on the war which have appeared in various places, including Tayside at War (Dundee, 2018), co-edited with friend and former colleague, Dr Billy Kenefick.

His most recent work, The Black Watch in the Great War: Rediscovered Histories from the Regimental Family (Tippermuir Books, Perth, 2020), was published in December last year. This is a 400-page collection, written in conjunction with The Black Watch Association, which includes contributions by a number of veterans and their immediate families. This project was a unique opportunity for the wider regimental family to make a lasting contribution to the regiment’s history and heritage.

Outside academia, Derek has a number of interests and hobbies which he pursues with varying levels of enthusiasm. However, the one constant is football. He is a director of his local club, Lochgelly Albert F.C. (a name he’s sure you are not familiar with), who compete in the first division (Conference B) of the East of Scotland League. During the season, Derek can usually be found traversing the country, camera in hand, optimistically following the fortunes of the team.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Áron Kecskés

Blog written by third-year PhD candidate Áron Kecskés. Áron’s research focuses on Norman lordships in early twelfth-century Southern Italy. You can follow him on Twitter @aron.kecskes.

Áron’s research, supervised by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker and Professor Frances Andrews, looks at how the society of the eastern Campania deployed organic and localised responses to great political and societal turmoil in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The eastern part of Campania, a part of southern Italy, underwent enormous changes over the course of the eleventh century. Notably, the Lombard Principality of Benevento, which formerly ruled the whole territory, was replaced by a set of lordships ruled by an immigrant Norman aristocracy. These lordships form the principal subject of Áron’s thesis. Otto Brunner defined lordship as a conceptual category encompassing economic, social, and political aspects linked to both land and the household of the lord. An entirely alien phenomenon to our post-Enlightenment separation of economic, judicial, and military affairs, lordship was a principal ordering force of medieval politics and society. This does not mean that lordship was present in all medieval societies or that it was equally important in each. Áron’s thesis looks at a period when lordship became one of the central ordering principles in southern Italian society and politics, seeking to explore the reasons for this and the forms this process took. In particular, the thesis focuses on the documents lords produced (seigneurial diplomatic), the place of lordship in local society, and interactions between lords and seigneuries in extra-local contexts.

A stranger in foreign parts like the Norman lords he studies, Áron has lived in the UK for almost a decade now. His long-held fascination with medieval history turned into academic interest during an undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. While the intellectual history of the War of the Three Kingdoms almost seduced him, in the end he stayed loyal to his chosen period and came to St Andrews for an MLitt In Medieval History. This led naturally to his current PhD at SAIMS. Over the course of the last decade or so, Áron has worked in warehouses and shops, on petrol stations and assembly lines, rode bicycles and driven forklift trucks, and baked bread and assembled bouquets of flowers for a living. This has been just as much a formative experience as university education, instilling a deep interest in the systems and structures that order society.

Áron has been accused of being ‘overly invested’ in the Beastie Boys and of ‘quoting too much from their songs’ by his office-mates. This is actually an oversimplification: music, especially new wave, punk, and early hip-hop, plays a huge role in Áron’s life. His chief artistic interest, however, lies in literature, especially nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels. He considers Bolaño’s 2666 to be the best novel he’s read in the last few years. Áron is also an enthusiastic kickboxer. Originally introduced to Muay Thai by the Glasgow Uni MT Club, he has taken every opportunity to train ever since. Lockdown finally let him fully embrace the dark side, permitting him to grow a man-bun, put up a heavy punchbag in his living room, and ride a red fixie everywhere.

Áron is very much looking forward to returning to Italy to continue his research, but until then he is always keen on meeting people interested in chatting about Normans, music or literature, kickboxing, or cycling.

Staff Spotlight: Professor Aileen Fyfe

Blog written by Professor Aileen Fyfe. Professor Fyfe is a Professor of Modern History. Her research focuses upon the history of science and technology, particularly the communication of science, and the technologies which made that possible. She is currently investigating the history of academic publishing from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Prof Aileen Fyfe At the launch of ‘Academic Women Here’, 2018 (with Sharon Ashbrook)

I joined the School of History at St Andrews in January 2011, after ten years working at the National University of Ireland, Galway (where I learned much less Irish than you might imagine). I was born and brought up in Glasgow, so, thanks to those years in west-coast cities, I find myself still pleasantly surprised by how dry and sunny it usually is in St Andrews. I’m not so keen on the haar, though!

I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where I discovered a subject called ‘History and Philosophy of Science’. I haven’t done much philosophy since then, but that training continues to inform my research. I’m interested in knowledge – especially knowledge about the natural world, which we nowadays call ‘science’ – and I’m interested in the social practices that affect how knowledge is constructed, organised, and communicated. What determines who can claim to have knowledge? Or what forms of knowledge come to be regarded as trustworthy? And who decides who gets access to what knowledge? You could phrase those as philosophical or sociological questions, but I’m interested in them historically.

I pursue these questions in a variety of different contexts, which means I end up knowing about all sorts of things that might not be obvious from the label ‘historian of science’. A lot of it is to do with the history of publishing, since that has historically been one of the most effective ways for knowledge to circulate, but I’ve also written about museums and tourism. I wrote my PhD and first book on the popular science books published by the Religious Tract Society, a Protestant evangelical missionary organisation in nineteenth-century Britain – but I’ve also written about Enlightenment children’s literature, university set texts, and instructive penny periodicals. I’m particularly proud of my 2012 book, Steam-Powered Knowledge, which started off as a study of an Edinburgh educational publisher but turned into an investigation of the adoption of steam-powered technologies (including railways and steamships, as well as printing machines).

A few years after arriving at St Andrews, I won a large grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council to enable me—in partnership with the Royal Society—to lead a team of researchers to investigate the 350-year history of scientific journals, and specifically, the Philosophical Transactions, founded in 1665. It has a good claim to be the world’s longest-running scientific journal and some claim to be the first scientific journal (but colleagues in France and Germany may disagree). It is about as far from ‘popular’ science as one can get, but I have found myself becoming fascinated with editorial practices, peer review, and journal finances. We have a co-authored book going through the press at the moment.

(from left to right) Professor Marmaduke Salt of the Royal Panopticon of Science (Iwan Morus); Miss Ann Veronica Stanley, learned scientific gentlewoman (Aileen Fyfe); and Mr George Wells, inventor and brother of H.G. (Katy Price). Credit: https://www.oliverlodge.org/2013/09/

The Philosophical Transactions project transformed the sort of researcher I am in ways I did not anticipate. I used to focus on the period from about 1790-1860, but now I range from the 1660s to the current day, and the last paper I published dealt with the 1950s. My medievalist colleagues may think this chronological range is normal, but to me, it seems pretty long! This longer durée allows us to ask different sorts of historical questions, especially about change over time. This has turned out to be really useful, because the other effect of the project has been to involve me in contemporary debates about research evaluation, the fairness of peer review, and the campaigns for open access publishing. Over the past five years, I’ve spoken at gatherings of publishing industry representatives and policy makers as much, if not more often, than at academic history conferences. And in those contexts, being willing and able to talk about the ‘big picture’—and to connect the past to the present day—is essential. My briefing paper, Untangling Academic Publishing (2017), has been read by far more people—and far more widely—than any of my regular academic writings.

The nature of my research encourages reflection on my own experiences as an academic, whether I’m undertaking public engagement (usually about the Victorians and their technologies) or exploring evidence for gender bias in the research communities of the past. I personally have found academia to offer a great deal of flexibility and personal autonomy, which is very useful to a woman with children in a dual-career household; but I know that this was not true historically, nor is it true for everyone today. That’s why I’ve been involved in various projects to support women academics (such as Academic Women Now! and Academic Women Here!), and why I’m currently working with colleagues and students to investigate the historical experiences of the women who studied, researched, and taught History in our own university. It’s still in the early stages, but we look forward to sharing some of the findings next year!

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.

Publication Spotlight: Politics and the Slavic Languages

Blog written by Dr Tomasz Kamusella. Dr Kamusella is an interdisciplinary historian of modern central and eastern Europe, with a focus on language politics and nationalism. Politics and the Slavic Languages is now available for pre-order from Routledge.

Dr Tomasz Kamusella

During the last two centuries, ethnolinguistic nationalism has been the norm of nation building and state building in Central Europe. The number of recognised Slavic languages (in line with the normative political formula of language = nation = state) gradually tallied with the number of the Slavic nation-states, especially after the breakups of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But in the current age of borderless cyberspace, regional and minority Slavic languages are freely standardised and used, even when state authorities disapprove. As a result, since the turn of the nineteenth century, the number of Slavic languages has varied widely, from a single Slavic language to as many as forty.

During my years in academia, I have run into questions about methodology and language classification regularly. While working in the Institute of East Slavonic Philology (Instytut Filologii Wschodniosłowiańskiej) at Opole University in Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland, I had an enlightening discussion with a master’s student who was completing her thesis on the East Slavic language of Rusyn. This student told me that she was a bit apprehensive about the research seminar where she was expected to present her research at later that day. In order to ease her into the flow of the required scholarly discourse, I was interested to hear her opinion on the salient differences between the categories of language and dialect. Soon we came to the conclusion that there is no linguistic basis for distinguishing between these two terms. Extralinguistic factors—such as political decisions—are responsible for according one speech variety the status of a language and another of a dialect. From the perspective of linguistics, such decisions are arbitrary and mainly reflect the power relations extant in the human groups concerned. Usually, in the West, a polity’s dominant group (typically, with its power center located in a polity’s capital) poses its speech as a language, which subsequently is standardised through writing and is often declared the sole legal medium of written and oral communication in public. In turn, speech varieties of non-dominant (‘regional’) groups residing across this polity are classified as dialects of the dominant group’s language. Political domination is translated into sociolinguistic and conceptual domination of the top group over subordinate ones, though members of the latter can try to renegotiate their subaltern status by situationally switching between the dominant group’s state language and their own ‘dialects’ (or ‘non-languages’).

We had a really good conversation that cleared a lot of methodological confusion. At least it appeared so. When I met the same master’s student a week later I asked her how the seminar went. Her mood was a bit subdued. She explained that ‘for the sake of objectivity’ her supervisor had asked her to refrain from using the term ‘language’ in reference to Rusyn. The student was coaxed to speak about Rusyn as a dialect of the Ukrainian language. She was pragmatic and followed the supervisor’s suggestion. It was time for the student to graduate and get a job. There was nothing to gain from arguing about the ‘obscure methodological point,’ otherwise the defense of the student’s thesis could have been delayed, or even not permitted. No one in her shoes would risk such problems over a mere question of terminology.

In this way, as required by ethnolinguistic nationalism typical to central Europe, universities in this region make sure that the unpacked black box of language and the unquestioned dogma of the nation pass swiftly from one generation to another. A thinly veiled threat of ‘problems’ or the inability to graduate is usually sufficient to put any intellectually adventurous students back in line. But questions of language classification continued to interest me and led to researching and writing my new monograph Politics and the Slavic Language. Through the story of Slavic languages, my book illustrates that decisions on what counts as a language are neither permanent nor stable, arguing that the politics of language is the politics in Central Europe.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Manon Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Hill

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

Dr Felicity Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Publication Spotlight: Political Advice: Past, Present and Future

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

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

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

Dr Jacqueline Rose

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

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

Prof Colin Kidd

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