Postgraduate Spotlight: James Fortuna

James Fortuna is entering the second year of his PhD. His research focuses on the cultural, social, and spatial history of twentieth-century Europe and the United States.

James (Jimmy) was raised in the Litchfield Hills of Southern New England. After spending his undergraduate years double-majoring in History and English across Appalachia and Andalusia, he continued to see double throughout the British Isles, first studying Classics in Dublin, then Modern History in Cambridge.

Jimmy has spent time as a mountain guide in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland, an American football coach, an on-air radio disc jockey, a ski instructor in Vermont, and has led scuba diving courses in every ocean but the Arctic – yet the semesters he spent teaching as a member of the Faculty of Humanities and Foreign Languages at public colleges in Florida and Connecticut remain his favorite professional experiences to date. He took a good deal of time trying to identify a PhD course that would provide him the necessary training and resources to someday make a larger, more lasting impact on the academy and he remains convinced that moving to St Andrews to work directly with Professor Riccardo Bavaj was the right choice.

At its broadest, Jimmy’s research is concerned with the relationship between state-commissioned art or architectural design and national identity. He is also interested in various instances of cultural diplomacy throughout the interwar period and pays particular attention to the material culture of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the New Deal United States. Three fundamental questions drive the majority of his work: First, how did these three powers engage with one another in socio-cultural terms? Secondly, how did these powers view the world, and how did the world view them? Finally, though perhaps most importantly, how did the cultural programs of each come to affect regular, everyday people both at home and abroad?

Entitled ‘Architectural Diplomacy, Cultural Heritage, and Popular Reception of the Fascist Involvement at the International Expositions of 1933-42’, Jimmy’s project will look to make sense of the way Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany represented themselves at six of the major world’s fairs held during the late interwar period. At the end of Martinmas term 2019, he was fortunate enough to expand his supervisory team and the dissertation will now benefit from the expertise of Dr. Kate Ferris and Dr. Sam Rose.

Jimmy prefers the music scene of Glasgow, the ales of Dundee, and the buildings of Edinburgh. As for his favorite St Andrews libraries, he prefers Martyrs Kirk on rainy days and the far end of the King James when the sun shines. He is a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the John Muir Trust, and both the St Andrews Sub Aqua and Surf clubs. He regularly contributes mixtapes to Ancora Radio, a DJ collective born of the scuba training and expedition group he helped found in 2015, and is excited to launch the Blue Belfry Project soon, an online database of overlooked or abandoned architecture.

He is currently based at the European University Institute in Florence through the Eramsus+ Doctoral Exchange Programme and looks forward to spending the next twenty-four months writing a dissertation his supervisors (and grandmother) can be proud of. Until then, he is happy to experience whatever comes in between.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Chelsea Reutcke

Chelsea is a final year PhD student in Reformation Studies. In this blog she shares what draws her to studying ‘overlooked figures in history’.

Raised in Cincinnati and Chicago on a steady diet of Agatha Christie and history documentaries, Chelsea dreamed of someday living in the UK. Her love for mysteries extended beyond the realm of fiction, and from age twelve she became fixated on figuring out and understanding the past. After deciding that forensic anthropology required too many biology classes, she fixed her sights on history. 

During her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she was drawn to overlooked figures in history as well as those whose stories had been overwritten by a popular narrative. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on the ‘afterlives’ of Anne Boleyn in Protestant and Catholic polemics. This in turn led to a fascination with the under-recognized Catholic priest and vitriolic writer, Nicholas Sander, and his scandalous history of the English Reformation. This became the subject of her 2014 MLitt dissertation, undertaken at St Andrews under the supervision of Dr Jacqueline Rose. When Chelsea returned to St Andrews for her PhD in 2016, she found the perfect continuation of this work in a thesis on the production and circulation of Catholic books in England. 

Chelsea is now in the final year of her doctoral studies on Catholic texts in Restoration England, again under the supervision of Dr Rose. As in her earlier studies, the themes of hidden figures and mysterious queens (in this case, Catherine of Braganza) feature heavily in her work. She continues to focus on historical networks and lived experiences, particularly of the obscure printers and booksellers in London who produced Catholic books. Her favourite is a Catholic bookseller by the name of Matthew Turner. Despite selling over a hundred different titles and being described by contemporaries as ‘that notorious popish bookseller’, little is known about Turner compared to many of his Protestant counterparts, making every detail about him an exciting discovery.

Chelsea loves bringing new life to a topic deemed uninfluential in the wider historiography and giving agency to a group usually discussed in terms of outside fear through her research. Even in the final stretch, her love for her topic has not wavered, and the many avenues for further investigation it yields has already resulted in two upcoming publications: one on the private interests of the enforcers of the 1662 Licensing Act, and the other on the patronage networks surrounding Catherine of Braganza. 

Meanwhile, she’s exploring new approaches to history and public outreach through her participation in the Bibliography for British and Irish History and the ongoing ‘St Andrews 1559’ project by Open Virtual Worlds, supervised by Dr Bess Rhodes. This year, the project produced a digital reconstruction of Holy Trinity parish church, of which Chelsea’s favourite detail is the little set up steps on the side of the main entrance.

Now living her childhood dream, Chelsea tries to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities offered by life in Scotland. She has danced in a Regency ball, shot arrows in a medieval castle, and even travelled to Stockholm on a cheap flight to see a live podcast about murder. Her bookshelves continue to be filled with history texts and murder mysteries, and she looks forward to the day those books will feature her name. 

Postgraduate Spotlight: Lasse Andersen

Lasse Andersen is a second year PhD student of Modern History. In this post he shares about his unlikely journey to his love of history and more about his current research.

The fact that Lasse Andersen is now a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews would have seemed very unlikely had you met him little over a decade ago when he was practicing his bread baking skills in a small-town family bakery in rural Jutland. His father had been a great baker, so it seemed like a natural career choice to simply stay in town and do the same. But things were not to be so simple. The state intervened on behalf of the Queen, and Lasse was conscripted to the Royal Danish Navy where he was to aide in the defence of her Realm against all enemies and trespassers, especially in that vast arctic appendage to it that is Greenland. In reality, however, this mostly just involved him baking more bread, but with the added challenge of being at sea.

It was while he was at sea watching out for those trespassers (and waiting for the bread to prove) that he acquired an obsessive interest in reading. At first, he read histories of naval warfare and seafaring peoples, but one day during a particularly bad storm in the North Sea he suddenly developed an acute interest in land and all things attached to it. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of Aarhus, where he was taught Foucault and Marx, but mostly just read about the Scottish Enlightenment. After writing his BA dissertation on Montesquieu and Adam Smith (and land), he briefly boarded yet another ship and eventually acquired the means to settle in St Andrews. He finished an MLitt in Intellectual History in 2018 with a dissertation on the changing idea of an Agrarian Law in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland.

His current research takes the question of land distribution into the nineteenth century, being a project about the movement for land reform in Britain in the period 1865-1875. It focuses on radical ideas about the tenure, transfer, and taxation of land within political economy and jurisprudence, especially as these came to prominence with the formation of the Land Tenure Reform Association, a pressure group headed by John Stuart Mill from 1869 to 1873. By 1873, the year of Mill’s death, more than 30 prominent radicals had signed up as members of this association, and the ideas that informed its programme reflected their anti-aristocratic liberalism and their collective experience with different systems of land tenure in places such as Ireland, India, France and North America. The essential idea behind their desire to ‘emancipate the soil’ from the confines of feudalism – from the dead hand of primogeniture and entails – was that the free and easy transfer of land would enable a much wider distribution of land, generating a numerous class of peasant proprietors whose direct interest in the produce of the soil would make agriculture more productive and give previously landless labourers an interest in the prosperity of society and the preservation of property.

Aside from John Stuart Mill, Lasse’s research focuses on many lesser-known individuals such as John Eliot Cairnes, James E. Thorold Rogers, and Thomas E. Cliffe Leslie, all of whom were members of the Land Tenure Reform Association, as well as on Louis Mallet and the 8th Duke of Argyll, the association’s primary and most vocal detractors.

One question that Lasse is particularly interested in researching is the relation between these radical land reformers and laissez-faire liberalism, a question that is intimately connected to the advent of marginalism in British political economy as well as to the debate about Richard Cobden’s legacy in the decade after his death in 1865.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Konstantin Wertelecki

Konstantin is a final year PhD student in Modern History. In this post he writes on the research of ‘Others’ and why history is so important.

If I had to summarise in a word why I chose to research history, it would be the word ‘human’. In political science, people are dehumanised to calculations, flow charts and digits of mechanical proportions. In the arts, people are pedestalised and crafted beyond authentic recognition to a fantastical scale. But in history we comb through both the ugly and the elegant, the bewildering and the bewitching. As historians we seek to discover the genuine patterns of ‘human-ness’.

My research looks into the lives of the expatriate British community in Florence between the First and Second World Wars. While upon first glance this seems a rather unextraordinary subject compared to the study of spies, humanitarian heroes and other grand figures, this topic overflows with a hidden complexity that forces us to face our ‘human-ness’, not only as historical observers, but also as historical participants. 

Old-fashioned historians love to ‘tidy’: countries are categorised by print-friendly borders, people are sorted into easily distinguishable labels of ‘ethnicity’, ‘nationality’ and ‘race’ and sweeping generalisations of ‘us’ and ‘others’ allow for a quick-and-easy history that politicians can parade as a ‘national story’. Rarely, however, is history so precise.

When I first began my research, I, too, very much fell into the trap of arranging my historical subjects tidily into ‘British’ and ‘Italian’ camps. I sought to sculpt a narrative of a ‘transplanted’ Little Britain to the idyllic Tuscan hills. My naïve perceptions were soon challenged, however, as I came across ‘unusual’ cases of ‘Britishers’ who were also Italian, ‘Britishers’ who had been born and lived their whole lives in Florence, ‘Britishers’ who took Italian spouses and had Italian children and ‘Britishers’ who unabashedly declared their distaste for all that the United Kingdom represented. It was at this moment that I realised what great responsibility (but also what great privilege) historians, as historical participants, have in highlighting this ‘human’ element for future historical observers.

In addition, my own personal perspective as an expatriate in Scotland aided me in learning more about the British in Florence from the questions that philosophically challenged me, and no doubt challenged them as well: What is it to be ‘x’ nationality? What is to be ‘patriotic’? Is one no longer an ‘x’ national if the ‘purity’ of one’s patriotism has been diluted by experiences abroad?

If there is one message I would deliver of my experiences on the practise of history to the historian and non-historian alike, it is this: our discipline is the most enriching for the very ‘weaknesses’ by which it is criticised. It is not (nor should it try to be) a science that artificially contours people, places and ideas of the past to a painfully corseted fit. Nor is it of the arts that embellishes, romanticises or spectacularises the ordinary to grotesque or wondrous dimensions. It is an honesty-seeking discipline that braves the messily splashed remnants of past fortunes, failures and forged attempts. It is a discipline which is underutilised in its strong potential of pointing to the paradigms of the future from the patterns of the past. It is the discipline that teaches us what it is to be ‘human’.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Emily Betz

Blog written by Emily Betz

Emily is currently a second year PhD student in Modern History. She’s an international student at St Andrews, originally hailing from the small and very snowy city of Erie, Pennsylvania. Her fascination with history began at a young age, when she first became obsessed with the idea of becoming an Egyptologist after seeing a handful of Discovery Channel specials (and, let’s be honest, the Indiana Jones movies). She has switched her focus to a more modern time period now, but her early interest in history has never faded.

During her undergraduate years at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Emily studied history alongside her major of German Literature and found a passion for traveling after studying abroad in Austria and Germany. Her travels inspired her to apply for a joint MA/MSc degree in Global Studies from the University of Roskilde in Denmark and Leipzig University in Germany. After graduating, she worked in a think tank in Berlin that researched higher education institutions for a year before deciding to go back to school for her true passion of history. This led her to begin an MPhil in Early Modern History from Trinity College Dublin. Her research in Dublin examined the spread of the Henrician Reformation in England in the 1530s-40s through in-depth analysis of churchwarden’s accounts of the period. She is now continuing her love affair with the early modern period at St Andrews under the supervision of Professor Rab Houston.

Emily’s doctoral research focuses on melancholy in England between c. 1550-1750. While it could be a rather dreary subject, she’s found that researching melancholy in the early modern period is far more than learning about a medical condition. Instead, it provides a reflection into the changing values and perceptions of society as a whole and is inextricably linked to the formation of English identity. What she hopes to elucidate with her research is just how the perception of the English as a particularly ‘melancholy’ nation came about, both within and without the country.

In addition to her PhD research, Emily is the editorial assistant with the School of History’s communications team. In this role, she prepares the fortnightly School of History Gazette and helps compile the annual alumni magazine with Dr Chandrika Kaul. In her free time, she loves dancing ballet, reading, and practicing her newfound love of horseback riding. This year she is moving to Edinburgh to try a taste of Scotland’s city life.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jack Abernethy

Blog written by Jack Abernethy

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Me on a recent trip to the far north of Scotland. It was in Thurso, near John O’Groats, that several skippers signed an oath of allegiance to the Marquis of Montrose in support of Charles II

My name is Jack, and I am currently a student at St Andrews, studying Scottish History. I was recently awarded the British Commission for Maritime History’s prize for Undergraduate Achievement (a prize given to only six students across Great Britain) for my Honours dissertation, entitled “The Specter at the Feast: The Royalists at Sea in the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652-1654.” The dissertation aims to correct the long-held notion that Prince Rupert and his privateering fleet of the late 1640s and early 1650s was the only royalist maritime threat to the English Commonwealth after the conclusion of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

To give some background: after the execution of Charles I in 1649, many royalists fled to the continent, especially to the Dutch Republic. At the same time, Prince Rupert, Charles’ nephew and a royalist commander on land and at sea, was leading a privateering fleet from Ireland to Africa and beyond. In Britain, royalist maritime bases supporting Charles were being dismantled by the Commonwealth. Between 1652 and1654, England went to war with the Dutch over religious, political, and economic issues, and the subsequent war heralded in a new era of naval warfare. Despite the attack on the Netherlands, the royalist threat was not yet finished.

Before I began my deeper exploration of the era, I had found it particularly appealing: I have always had an interest in maritime history and after having done some previous work on the First Dutch War, I wanted to continue to pursue this interest. While I was considering ideas for my thesis, I found words such as “royalists,” “privateers,” and “pirates” arising constantly in scattered sources, such as calendars of state papers and personal papers. However, I found no work that connected them within a coherent narrative. As a result, I began to wonder (with governments in the Netherlands and France hostile to the Commonwealth) whether seaborne royalist endeavors had increased during this time, and sought to answer this question for myself.

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SRA, Anglica IV, 521. SE/RA/2102/IV/521. The Answer of the CoS, 28 May 1652

Two names in particular began to arise in reference to royalist privateers or pirates: William Balthazar and Richard Beach. The classification of these men has caused confusion. For instance, if they were receiving privateering commissions from a deposed government, were they still valid belligerents, or, as many sources suggest, were they just pirates? Through the collection of sources from both the Commonwealth and royalist exiles, I sought to create a more unbiased and holistic understanding than previously offered. Balthazar and Beach, along with other anonymous privateers, did a shocking amount of damage during the Dutch War. For example, the port of Barnstaple, in Devon was subject to near economic ruin, while captured mariners between England and Brittany were often pressed by royalists or marooned on the French coast. I found this research the most interesting, as it gave me an opportunity to tell the stories of people often ignored, and it was also vastly entertaining because of the swashbuckling characters and sea-battles that were described.

I also began to look for sources farther afield  in both digital and physical archives. My last chapter dealt with British maritime immigration. It was said that during the Dutch War between 5000 and 6000 British sailors were in the Dutch marine. An investigation into Dutch sources became necessary, as well as learning some Dutch language along the way! I did not try to address the contention directly, so instead, I gave several examples of men who definitely served in the Dutch navy. A good example was Robert Callwine, a mariner from Stirling, who along with several Scottish shipmates nearly drowned when he was attacked by the English fleet. Another sailor I encountered was one John Scott, a sailor of local interest, having hailed from our very own St Andrews! I also used my research as an excuse to travel to Edinburgh and to collect as many sources in the NRS as possible, including several I had to transcribe from original Scots language manuscripts. Among other documents of interest I found was one letter I discovered while on a class trip to Sweden: a 1652 letter from the English Commonwealth to Queen Christina in Sweden seeking reassurance that their ships would be mutually entertained in each other’s harbors and protect each other from becoming “infested” by their enemies.

In the future, I hope to publish my dissertation. In the meantime, I will return as a student to St Andrews in January to begin my MRes, continuing my research into Anglo/Scottish-Dutch history, and writing a dissertation on Scottish soldiers in the Dutch Republic between 1600 and 1655. In my free time, I enjoy playing the fiddle, running, and I have also been entering biographies of Scottish immigrants on the Scotland, Scandinavia, and Northern Europe (SSNE) database for Professor Murdoch.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jonathan Triffit

JonathanTriffitt_SpotlightPhotoJonathan grew up in rural Leicestershire and later in the mediaeval market town of Skipton, nestled on the border of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Skipton is dominated by a Norman castle, famous as northern England’s last Royalist citadel in the Civil War, but Jonathan’s first introduction to history came while exploring other such structures: Edward I’s Welsh fortresses and the fairy-tale palaces of Ludwig II in Bavaria. Looking at his doctoral project, it would seem that a preference for castles with roofs and windows has won out.

Having taken a peculiar mix of science and arts subjects at A-Level, Jonathan chose to read German and history at university. As another small mediaeval town, St Andrews was referred to at school as ‘Skipton-on-Sea’ and seemed like the perfect place to pursue a degree. After sub-honours, Jonathan spent an ERASMUS year at the University of Bonn in Germany. As part of a course on ‘Intellectual Debates in the Weimar Republic,’ he was asked to prepare a presentation on the Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann and his conversion from a monarchist into a staunch defender of the German Republic. Noticing that very little had been written on monarchism in this period or on Thomas Mann’s monarchist peers, Jonathan decided to devote his honours dissertation to addressing this lacuna. Under the supervision of Professor Frank Lorenz Müller, his investigation argued that restorationism in Germany foundered because a return of the monarchy would have been impractical, unpopular and, for many, unnecessary.

Taken in by the allure of academic research, Jonathan knew that he wished to delve more deeply into the consequences of the German Revolution at PhD-level. He therefore decided to use his master’s year to try new things, moving down the coast to the University of Edinburgh. There he studied diplomatic history, intellectual history, and the history of science, completing a thesis on plans to unify the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century.

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Hesse’s former royal family attends a protest against the Treaty of Versailles in Darmstadt (May 1919). Photo attrib. HStA Darmstadt Fonds D 27 A No 65/546.

On his return to St Andrews in September 2017, Jonathan began a PhD project under the supervision of Professor Müller and Professor Riccardo Bavaj. As before, his research examines monarchy and the Weimar Republic, but does so from a new perspective. Concentrating on three of the former royal states – Hesse, Bavaria and Württemberg – it will examine princely, popular and political responses to the German Revolution of November 1918, which swept away centuries of monarchical rule within a matter of days. Uniquely, however, the various German monarchs did not flee abroad, but continued to reside amongst the people, often in their ancestral castles. The upheaval of the Revolution naturally introduced a great deal of novelty, but popular attachment to (and awareness of) the monarchical structures and traditions left behind have been largely ignored. Put simply, what consequences did ‘de-monarchification’ entail for Germany and the Germans? An investigation of this nature relies heavily on ego-sources and other contemporary documents. Armed with a somewhat intimidating map of scattered archives, Jonathan is looking forward to returning to Germany and visiting regions he has yet to see. The fact that dynastic archives are often housed in splendid palaces may have something to do with it…

Outside of academia, Jonathan is a stalwart of the university’s Concert Wind Band and the St Andrews and Fife Community Orchestra, where he regularly does battle with twelve feet of brass tubing and obscure Italian instructions. When not playing the horn, Jonathan is a recent, if still confused convert to the Bundesliga and a keen follower of cricket. Once convinced that, as a future captain of England, he need not attend university, his attitude quickly changed on been informed that his predecessor-to-be did so – and read history no less! Jonathan’s exploits on the cricket field are on something of an extended hiatus, but when not wandering along West Sands or seeking sanctuary in a bookshop, he can be found working to commentary on the latest test match or county game.