Postgraduate Spotlight: John Condren

John’s addiction to history began around the age of six, when he disappeared while on a family visit to his aunt’s house and was eventually discovered three hours later, blissfully engrossed in Treasure Island under the dining-room table. Shortly afterwards, he struggled to identify his favourite work of historical fiction from among Kidnapped, Lorna Doone, The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers, and Liam O’Flaherty’s little-known magnum opus, Famine. John’s somewhat precocious reading career ended abruptly when he began an undergraduate degree in law (2005-09) at the University of Limerick, but he quickly decided that the soul-sapping ennui of a legal career was not for him. The inspired choices of history and French as minor subjects kept him sane throughout these four years.

Happier times ensued when John took the sound advice of his Early Modern History tutor at Limerick, St Andrews graduate Dr Alistair Malcolm. He came to the School of History at St Andrews in September 2009, enrolling upon the MLitt in Reformation Studies (2009-10). He was immediately struck by the generosity and supportiveness of staff and fellow students, and the beauty of the town and its environs.

Sala dello Specchio, Palazzo Gonzaga, Mantua

Sala dello Specchio, Palazzo Gonzaga, Mantua

After a year away, to recharge his batteries and to begin learning Italian, he returned in 2011 to commence a PhD under the supervision of Dr Guy Rowlands. John’s research examines the diplomatic, political, and military connections between Louis XIV’s France and the small states of northern Italy, in a period of general peace on the peninsula, 1659 to 1689. This was a state of affairs which Louis ostensibly wished to preserve, but which, in reality, he, his ministers and diplomats managed to undermine. John spent his second year of doctoral study (2012-13) researching in French and Italian archives, enjoying himself immensely outwith the hours of 8am to 6pm every working day, when he was busily reading and photographing stacks of documents for his thesis. During that year, he also had an attachment to the Centre Roland Mousnier at Paris-Sorbonne IV, and filled an ERASMUS exchange from St Andrews to the EUI in Florence in the spring of 2013. He would strongly advise and encourage newer PhD students to avail themselves of this wonderful exchange opportunity, if they possibly can. John also tutored on the sub-honours module MO1007, The Early Modern Western World, in the first semester of his third year (2013-14) and again in the first semester of fourth year.

John’s immaculate sense of timing led him into an Italian archive for the very first time during the same ten days in May 2012 when not one, but two dreadful earthquakes tore through Emilia-Romagna. John describes waking up in his hotel room in Modena at 4am during the first quake as the most terrifying experience of his life, apart from a bungee-jump in Queenstown, New Zealand, when aged 19. The experience fortunately did not deter him from researching in Italy, however.

Letter from the Modenese envoy in Paris, Gaspare Rizzini, on 10 March 1683

Letter from the Modenese envoy in Paris, Gaspare Rizzini, on 10 March 1683

Outside academia, John enjoys playing touch rugby with the St Andrews university club, being unfortunately far too short and slight of build to play proper rugby union. He notes ruefully that March is his most professionally unproductive month of the year, when, like any self-respecting Irishman, he is distracted by the Six Nations (rugby) and the Cheltenham Festival (horse-racing). He is, to his supervisor’s surprise, not a gambler. Indeed, John rather piously wishes that an important figure in his thesis, Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga (duke of Mantua from 1665 to 1707), could have exercised the same personal restraint, for the good of his state, his soul, and his pocket. John himself has been a keen equestrian in the past, joining his brother and sister in competing in shows, hunter trials, and one-day-events until his mid-teens. He now greatly prefers to occupy a watching brief, having far more of a care for his neck than he had in his rash youth. John can usually be found in the postgraduate office in the basement of St Katharine’s Lodge (the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”). If not there, he will probably be ambling along West Sands, or downing an espresso in the Cottage Kitchen café on many a long winter afternoon, and some summer ones, too.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Elisabeth Mincin

Liz is originally from the small town of Jarrettsville in Maryland, where her high school was best known for its annual ‘drive your tractor to school’ day. One day after history class, she noticed a list of British monarchs posted on the back door of her teacher’s office and, seeing the name ‘Athelstan’, became both amused and intrigued about a period of history that was never covered in the American curriculum. Soon after, when she found the University of St Andrews listed in a College guidebook, she decided to apply and has never looked back. Although she first arrived in St Andrews as an undergraduate with the intention of studying early mediaeval Britain, nearly eight years later her interests have moved considerably further east.

During her undergraduate degree, Liz became increasingly interested in the concept of ‘heresy’ – what it meant to be heterodox and how people were stigmatised by their contemporary societies. For her fourth-year dissertation, she chose to focus on the creation mythology promulgated by the Cathars of mediaeval Italy. As dualists, this sect proclaimed a belief in two gods – one good and the other evil. In order to add a comparative element to her study, she chose to also examine the dualist creation myths of the eastern Bogomil movement. This was her first foray into Byzantine history. It was not until her Master’s degree at the University of Oxford that Liz would abandon her western mediaevalist roots and move firmly into the field of Byzantine Studies.

Building from her former work on heresy, Liz’s master’s thesis examined the literary construction of outsiders within monastic communities as demonstrated by the tropes employed when sentencing dissident monks.

This idea of the social rationalisation of the outsider then led on directly to her doctoral research. Having received funding from the Dorothy Miller Fellowship at the School of History here in St Andrews, she returned from her yearlong sojourn in Oxford to start her doctorate under the supervision of Dr Tim Greenwood. Her thesis, entitled “Curing the Common Soul: Rethinking Byzantine Heresy with Particular Focus on Literary Motifs (11th-12th centuries)”, is a study of the popular motif whereby heresy is described in terms of disease. Although this trope has received some (albeit limited) attention in western focused heresy scholarship, it has been completely ignored in Byzantine studies – deemed little more than a useless topos with no relevance to the contemporary world in which it is found. Liz’s thesis re-evaluates this neglectful approach to the motif and examines its use in light of the contemporary socio-political atmosphere of the time. In doing so, she finds that the debasement of heretics as diseased individuals gave rise to the antithetical image of the healing doctor figure. This persona was seen adopted by the emperor in various texts compiled by his close affiliates. It helped an unstable ruler better maintain his own power and authority, making him the embodiment of the doctor and defender of Orthodox Christendom.

In addition to her research, Liz is has also tutored on the MH2002: Introduction to Middle Eastern History course and helped with both the Mediaeval and Middle Eastern Studies seminars. From September 2014, she will be taking up the position of Membership Secretary for the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS), which she urges everyone to join.

Outside of academia, Liz enjoys baking cakes for her officemates in the Osgood Room, seeing musicals and eating exciting food. She would love to say she enjoys reading intellectual texts in her free time, but in truth would always prefer a relaxing evening with a light-hearted film.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Kevin McNamara

Kevin McNamaraKevin McNamara grew up in the small town of Castlebar in the rural and rugged west of Ireland. One of his earliest memories is of hiding at the back of a Maths class in Primary School, re-reading his history book from cover to cover. Unsurprisingly, this interest led to his first adventure into the world of humanities at the University of Limerick in 2006, focusing on a joint honours degree in English Literature and European History. During his final year, he worked on the development of the German ‘Bewegungskrieg’ concept in the interwar period for his dissertation under the supervision of Dr. Ruan O’Donnell. In 2010, Kevin moved to the University of St Andrews to study for a MLitt in Modern History with a specific focus on the rise of Nazism in the Weimar Republic. Following his dissertation, which examined the issue of whether consent or coercion formed the basis of support for the National Socialist regime, Kevin decided that the University of St Andrews offered the ideal launch pad for an academic career and began his PhD under the watchful eye of Professor Conan Fischer in September 2012.

Kevin’s doctoral project focuses on the network of British consular posts in the Third Reich between 1933 and 1939. This project examines consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution in local and regional sectors of the Third Reich and the influence that these despatches had upon Anglo-German diplomacy during the interwar period. The fact that reports generated by the British Embassy in Berlin were in part derived from consular dispatches allows this project to discern how significant Nazi anti-Semitic persecution was to the British Government and what influence this data had upon Anglo-German diplomacy. The project will therefore go beyond local consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution to establish what the interaction was between the network and the Embassy, and consider how the resulting range of viewpoints influenced British policymaking at key junctures.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

As the project adopts a thematically-based approach, the deficiencies within any one consular district will be offset by evidence from elsewhere in the network, thus facilitating a balanced and objective study. Kevin’s doctoral project will therefore evaluate the reports on anti-Semitic persecution from six consular districts in Nazi Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which will be subsequently examined in the wider context of the consular network in the Third Reich. In terms of their scope and range, the consular service offers a wealth of uncensored diplomatic material and must be considered as a fundamental instrument of data-gathering in the Third Reich. In examining reports of anti-Semitism from the local consular officials to the Foreign Office via the Embassy in Berlin, the bottom-top approach will give insights into the context and underlying rationale of British external policy with each new phase of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.

Aside from his doctoral project, Kevin is a fellow of the Leo Baeck Institute in London which has provided a platform from which to present research findings and to engage in current trends in German historiography.  Furthermore, as his doctoral project contains a vast quantity of data from the local regions of the Third Reich, the Fellowship programme has allowed for extensive dialogue with eminent scholars to establish a contextual framework in which consular despatches could be gathered and formulated for the British Government.

Outside of his academic life, Kevin has a keen interest in all types of sports, in particular racquetball. He has represented his club, province and country with a national rank of Number 2 throughout his junior career. In 2004, he won his first and only all-Ireland title and, later that year, a gold medal in the Doubles event at the European Junior Championships in Amsterdam, Holland. For less energetic activities, Kevin loves reading, travelling and watching political dramas, and hopes one day to transform the experiences of a local consular official in the hostile world of the Third Reich into a visual project. Currently on the Erasmus exchange programme with the University of Bonn, Germany, Kevin can be found most days at the History Department on the banks of the Rhine River or trying to speak the native language (with an Irish accent), to the puzzlement of his German counterparts.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Róisín Watson

Roisin Watson 1Róisín was born in the shadow of the Arsenal stadium in north London. Her first act of rebellion was her refusal, aged five, to visit the third church of the day whilst on holiday with her family. She quickly learnt her lesson.  Frequent visits to Edward I castles in north Wales and Romanesque churches in France as a child had an unconscious impact on her future trajectory.

She studied for her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford. As an undergraduate, she became interested in the Near East in the age of Justinian and Muhammad, as well as Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s.  Her undergraduate dissertation on the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, however, cemented her curiosity about the relationship between religion and gender.  In her M.St. degree, supervised by Lyndal Roper, she examined the literary dedications of Nuremberg humanists to the Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer (d. 1532), which throw light on how male humanists constructed female identity in the first decades of the sixteenth century and how the Reformation altered the function of the abbess within these intellectual circles.  Following her M.St., Róisín spent a year at the Stiftung Maximilianeum in Munich, studying early modern German history at the Ludwig Maximilian Universität.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Róisín started at St Andrews in 2011, working under the supervision of Bridget Heal.  Her doctoral research is on the development of Lutheran visual and material culture in Württemberg churches from 1534 to c. 1700. This is a region traditionally overlooked in the literature due to the assumption that iconoclasm in the sixteenth century established an environment hostile towards church art.  However, this was not the case.  Róisín explores the relationships between church decoration, space, ritual, and individual piety in Württemberg through a variety of printed and archival sources, such as church consecration sermons, church ordinances and donation records. The study builds on the sole iconographical analysis of Lutheran art in the duchy by Reinhard Lieske (1973) by analysing the ways in which images and objects were experienced in local churches.  Of particular interest are the broader themes of church patronage after the Reformation and the impact of Luther’s message of salvation by grace alone on patterns of religious giving.  Her doctoral work incorporates her interest in gender and piety in the analysis of image cycles commissioned by Princess Antonia von Württemberg (d. 1679) and Duchess Magdalena Sibylla von Hessen-Darmstadt (d. 1712)

The research is based on ten months study in the Hauptstaatsarchiv and Landeskirchliches Archiv in Stuttgart funded by the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst.  She also visited a series of local church archives and made a survey of over 70 churches.  Róisín has presented her work, both in English and German, at a number of conferences, including the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference, the Kolloquium Frühe Neuzeit at Tübingen University, and the German History Society annual conference.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

In addition to her PhD research, Róisín co-ordinates the early modern German salon that meets fortnightly in the Reformation Institute and was a tutor for M01007: The Early Modern Western World.  Outside St Andrews, she has worked on a number of curatorial projects, among them the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum in 2012, and the display of medieval manuscript cuttings in the Wallace Collection. She is currently involved in a small project presenting objects with supposedly magical properties in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  When not working, Róisín enjoys running and has completed several half-marathons.  Since the age of 6, she has been playing Irish music on the tin whistle and flute, and takes her instruments with her on research trips to play in local sessions. She can be found most Tuesday evenings at the Whey Pat’s folk session, and, in keeping with her chosen historical period, is a member of the St Andrews Renaissance Singers.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jordan Girardin

jgirardinJordan Girardin grew up in the French region of Franche-Comté, only eight miles away from the Swiss border. He undertook his first degree at Sciences Po in Lyon, where he focused on both Communication and Political Studies. This included a year-long programme at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he was able to specialise in 18th and 19th century history. In 2012 Jordan decided to leave France’s gastronomic capital to move to St Andrews and to join the MLitt in Modern History, which he completed twelve months later. He has remained loyal to the School of History, by starting his PhD at St Andrews in September 2013 under the supervision of Dr Bernhard Struck.

Geneva: network hub and Alpine gateway? © Bibliothèque de Genève / VIATICALPES

Geneva: network hub and Alpine gateway? © Bibliothèque de Genève / VIATICALPES

Jordan’s main research interest is the study of networks, particularly in border regions, which explains his general enthusiasm for transnational history. Logically, his PhD thesis examines the development of travel networks and intellectual flows in the Alpine region (1750-1830). His MLitt dissertation consisted of a spatial analysis of transnational interactions in the County of Montbéliard, before and after its annexation by Revolutionary France (1770-1820). Jordan is also a keen historian of the Napoleonic era: his work (in French) on Napoleon’s decisive journey between Grenoble and Lyon during the Hundred Days is available in the Napoleon Foundation’s digital library.

Outside of his doctoral research, Jordan is involved in the Centre for Transnational History as a Communications Intern, hoping to develop the Centre’s visibility in St Andrews as well as abroad as part of the GRAINES Network. This year, Jordan is organising a workshop entitled “Mapping Flows & Visualising Data in the Era of Digital Humanities“. He has also helped to co-convene the Early Modern and Modern History Postgraduate Forum, including running the forum website, and teaches his mother tongue in the University’s evening language programme. In his spare time, besides repeatedly playing The Killers on his ukulele, Jordan likes to keep his Lyonnais and Philadelphian habits alive, always looking for a new restaurant or pub to try among the streets of Edinburgh. Jordan is passionate about travelling and particularly enthusiastic about railways, which is a topic that it’s best not to mention when he is around. You can reach Jordan online on his personal website or on Twitter.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Nathan Alexander

Nathan A 1Nathan Alexander was born and raised in the town of Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, but has lived in various locations across Southern Ontario. Before coming to St Andrews, Nathan spent two and a half years teaching English in South Korea to every possible age group, from kindergarteners up to adults. Although he misses the hustle and bustle of Seoul (not to mention the kimchi), he is glad to be back in academia and studying in the comparatively laid-back atmosphere of St Andrews.

Nathan became interested in history in high school, when the September 11th attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq spurred his interest in world affairs and led him to want to make sense of why the world is the way it is. Considering the study of history the best way to do this, he undertook his B.A. in Honours History at the University of Waterloo and later his M.A. in History at Wilfrid Laurier University (both in Canada). Nathan’s historical interests have seemingly changed from year to year. He initially intended to focus on Canadian history, but then became interested in American history, before settling on African history for a time. For his master’s, he combined his interest in African history with yet another new interest, the history of the idea of race. Studying under Professor John Laband, Nathan examined British views of the Asante (a West African people in modern-day Ghana) in the nineteenth century.

A cartoon which appeared in the American atheist periodical, 'The Truth Seeker', in the late nineteenth century.

A cartoon which appeared in the American atheist periodical, ‘The Truth Seeker’, in the late nineteenth century.

A convert to the New Atheist movement ­– although not always agreeing with its chief proponents – Nathan has once again moved on to a new subject and now studies atheists, agnostics, and other freethinkers in nineteenth-century Britain and the United States, and considers how they engaged with the idea of race. Nathan’s doctoral research, supervised by Professor Colin Kidd, brings together two bodies of literature, on the history of race and on the history of atheism, that have previously seen few points of contact. While the influence of Christian thought weighed heavily upon conversations surrounding race, from the origins of supposed races to the legitimacy of slavery, surprisingly historians have not yet studied how non-religious people thought about race. More broadly, the history of atheism at the university level is regrettably understudied and Nathan hopes to contribute, if in a small way, to reversing this trend. Nathan’s fingers are crossed that his historical interests will remain stable for at least long enough to complete his dissertation!

In addition to the work on his PhD, Nathan is kept busy through his involvement with the Institute of Intellectual History and his work as editorial assistant with the School’s communications team. In this role, he prepares the fortnightly School of History Gazette, as well as working on the School’s annual alumni magazine. He is also an editor of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network’s blog. Nathan has presented his research at the University of Victoria (Canada), the University of Glasgow, the University of St Andrews, and in the summer will present at the University of Newcastle.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Nathan enjoys swimming and playing basketball. He is a keen follower of the Toronto Raptors basketball team and, as a Canuck, is an obligatory (ice) hockey fan. He is a chess player as well and likes to imagine himself as a modern-day Bobby Fischer, hopefully minus the conspiratorial rants.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Amy Eberlin

postgraduate spotlight pictureOriginally from Toronto, Amy has spent the last six and a half years living internationally. Her university education has taken her from a small town in central Ohio to Aberdeen before, finally, settling in St Andrews. Studying for her PhD was not part of her original “plan,” but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Amy’s love for history began at a young age. Her schooling was littered with projects about important historical figures from Florence Nightingale to Eleanor of Aquitaine. While she enjoyed history, Amy entered Denison University in 2007 as an International Studies and Communications double major. This did not last long. In the second semester of her first year, Amy took a class on twentieth century history through literature. She was a goner. The next three years were filled with every history class that she could get into, particularly medieval European and modern African history classes. As a product of her liberal arts education, Amy’s research interests ranged from the socio-political identity of religious military orders in medieval England and France to the efficacy of judicial systems in post-genocide Rwanda. Shortly after she completed her BA in History with a minor in Sociology/Anthropology in May 2011, she began a MLitt in Medieval Studies in Aberdeen.

She attained her MLitt in Medieval Studies in 2012 under the supervision of Dr Jackson Armstrong. While at the University of Aberdeen, Amy developed an interest in the social and political history of fifteenth century Scotland. This enthusiasm for late medieval Scottish history led her to the University of St Andrews in 2012 and the Institute of Scottish Historical Research (ISHR).

Amy’s doctoral project is part of the Scotland and Flemish Peoples Project. Her research is supervised by Dr Katie Stevenson. Her thesis argues that there was no substantial Flemish settlement in Scotland after 1347, as has previously been thought, and instead sophisticated networks of Scots with interests in Flanders emerged to deal with the increasing volume of trade and diplomacy between the two regions. This thesis will contribute to the limited historiography on late medieval Scotto-Flemish relations and, more generally, on Scottish diplomacy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

A fifteenth century document from the reign of James III.

A fifteenth century document from the reign of James III.

In addition to her research, Amy is the ISHR Intern, co-section editor for the Bibliography of British and Irish History (IHR), tutor on ME1006: Scotland and the English Empire (1070-1500), and is working on both a blog and a workshop for the Scotland and the Flemish Peoples Project. She has presented part of her MLitt research at the New Frontiers Conference at York University (Canada) and will be presenting papers at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Convention (New York City, March) and the International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo (May) this year. Amy and her fellow ISHR 2nd year, Liz Hanna, will be giving papers at the last ISHR seminar of this academic year on April 17th. She has also recently been awarded a 2014 Schallek Award by the Medieval Academy of America to support a month-long research trip to Bruges and Middelburg.

Besides her academic interests, Amy loves musicals, crime procedural TV shows, good food and sports. She is a huge fan of softball (having played it competitively) and ice hockey. You might have seen (or heard) her cheering for Canada’s hockey team in the Winter Olympics. Her officemates were subjected to more ice hockey chat than should be acceptable in a two week period. You can find her, more often than not, in the basement office of St Katharine’s Lodge (lovingly termed “The Dungeon”), listening to her music and working through her lists and networks of medieval Scots.