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.

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.

David Brewster and the culture of science in post-Enlightenment Scotland

Blog written by Dr Bill Jenkins. Dr Jenkins is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of History, working on the Leverhulme-funded project ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. He is the author of Evolution before Darwin: Theories of the Transmutation of Species in Edinburgh, 1804–1834, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2019. If you want to learn more, you can follow him on Twitter (@BillHWJenkins) or view his personal website.

Dr Bill Jenkins

I first made the acquaintance of David Brewster (1781–1868) when I was working on my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Today, Brewster is best known as the inventor of the kaleidoscope and for his work in optics, but he was also an important author and editor of scientific books and journals. It was in the latter capacity that I first encountered him while working on my doctoral research on pre-Darwinian theories of evolution in the Edinburgh of the 1820s and 1830s. The central figure in my thesis was Robert Jameson, Edinburgh’s professor of natural history. Jameson had co-edited a journal entitled the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal with Brewster between 1819 and 1824. Both men were big personalities with a habit of making enemies, so it wasn’t long before they had made enemies of each other. After parting company, Brewster went off to found his own Edinburgh Journal of Science, while Jameson stayed at the helm of the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. I was intrigued enough by Brewster to read a number of the popular books he wrote on scientific subjects, which are notable for their lively literary style and dramatic leaps of the imagination. I was immediately hooked.

Image: Chalk drawing of David Brewster by William Bewick, 1824 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Given my existing interest in Brewster, I was delighted to learn in Spring 2018 that the School of History at St Andrews was looking for a postdoc to work on Brewster and Scottish natural philosophy for  a project entitled ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. I was fortunate to be the successful candidate, and soon found myself working alongside fellow postdocs Felicity Loughlin and Lina Weber. We are also lucky enough have an eminent group of senior academics in the form of Professors Aileen Fyfe, Knud Haakonssen, Colin Kidd and Richard Whatmore on the project team.

Brewster was a multi-faceted character, and I’ve chosen six aspects of his life and work to focus on for the monograph I’m writing for the project. This will explore not only his own career, but through him will shed light on post-Enlightenment science in Scotland more generally. These six topics fall into two broad sections. The first section focuses on the contexts and institutions within which Brewster operated and which he helped shape. Firstly, Brewster has a great deal to tell us about the immediate contexts for scientific practice in early nineteenth century Scotland. This includes scientific networks and the exchange of ideas, instruments, and specimens. Secondly, he was a prolific writer and editor of scientific books and journals. This makes him the perfect vehicle for studying the communication of science. Thirdly, Brewster was deeply involved with a number of key Scottish and British scientific societies: he was secretary, vice-president, and finally president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the first director of the Society of Arts for Scotland, to name just three of his roles.

Image: Title page of Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic (1832), one of his popular science books, in which he gave scientific explanations for optical illusions and other magic tricks

The second section of my study looks at natural philosophy in the light of the political, religious, and intellectual cultures of Scotland. The fourth topic deals with Brewster’s involvement with the political life of the country. Brewster was a life-long reform Whig, who relied to a considerable extent on the patronage of fellow Whigs, and in particular the influential politician Henry Brougham, who shared Brewster’s scientific interests. The period between the French Revolution and the First Reform Bill was a particularly turbulent era in the political life of Scotland, and Brewster’s career was deeply marked by the times in which he lived.  Fifthly, like many men of science of his time, Brewster was deeply religious. He was a passionate champion of the Evangelical Party of the Church of Scotland and, like most members of that Party, left the established church to join the Free Church at the Disruption of 1843. The compatibility of the book of nature with the book of revelation was an abiding concern for Brewster and often shaped his scientific views in surprising ways. Sixthly and finally, Brewster wrote a great deal regarding the history and philosophy of science. He was a fervent champion of the power of the scientific imagination, which he saw as closely akin to ‘poetic fancy’.

The overarching question which runs throughout my work is: Can a distinct Scottish style of science be discerned in the decades following the Scottish Enlightenment? My answer to this is a clear ‘yes’. This scientific style emerged from two principal sources. Firstly, the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment had taken a deep interest in scientific methodology and the type of questions it was reasonable for natural philosophers to ask. Their views profoundly shaped the thought and practice of generations of Scottish men of science into the middle of the nineteenth century and beyond. Secondly, the Presbyterian worldview influenced even those natural philosophers who rejected some of its harsher Calvinist doctrines. They were unlikely to share the optimistic worldview of many earlier Anglican natural theologians, who had seen God’s goodness reflected in every sunbeam and blade of grass. Instead, the Scots were haunted by a darker vision of a fallen universe declining towards final dissolution that was to have a profound influence on physics and cosmology to this day.

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!

Spatialising the Modern: The Frankfurt Kitchen and its Gendered Work Politics

Blog written by Dr Claudia Kreklau. Dr Kreklau is an Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests include Food History, Modern Germany, and Women/Gender/Sexuality.

Dr Claudia Kreklau

In 1924, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) designed the modern kitchen. This kitchen was a single room designed for a worker, presumably a woman. As one of few well-explored early-twentieth-century woman architects, Schütte-Lihotzky’s work, politics, and feminism have attracted a good deal of attention, usually of a rather critical nature. She has been accused of relegating the female worker into domestic cooking spaces and enabling their Tayloresque exploitation, having no knowledge of housework, and not being enough of a feminist. A spatial analysis of Schütte-Lihotzky’s design with attention to the prehistory of the kitchen in central Europe in my most recent article suggests, however, that while the Viennese designer could by no means remedy the dominating middle-class gender ideals of her time, her design of the ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ reflects her aim to spatially streamline the labor of the woman worker in the context of the deteriorating political and economic climate of post-war central Europe.

Schütte-Lihotzky was the only woman to join the city of Frankfurt’s design programme ‘The New Frankfurt’, which was tasked with remedying the post-war living-space squalor of Weimar Germany. Her contribution—the kitchen—achieved two things: one, it guaranteed a minimum of sanitation, hygiene, and air quality as well as ventilation and lower humidity for the lower strata of society; two, it provided women working domestically with a room of their own.

Figures 1, 2, 3: Three views of Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

Schütte-Lihotzky’s design changes were small but significant. The architect built a desk and chair into the centre of the kitchen under the kitchen’s window, allowing the working woman to sit or rest. Until that point, central European kitchens had been largely devoid of permanent seating areas, forcing workers to remain standing. When a worker in a kitchen sat down in nineteenth-century depictions, they did so on a temporary stool for such purposes as plucking a chicken, not to write, read, or rest. She included plumbing, a metal sink with two compartments—one for washing, one for rinsing to support hygiene ideals—collapsible workspaces, and storage facilities for crockery on the walls as well as in fitted cupboards, a standard feature of many kitchens in the twentieth century. Finally, she made space for a removable iron stove that could be easily replaced should technology advance (and was easier to clean than the brick-and-mortar ovens of the previous century). The room was accessed via two doors. The original design still stands, albeit in renovated form, in the Ernst May Haus Museum in contemporary Frankfurt am Main.

In some ways, Schütte-Lihotzky’s design presents the historian with a host of social work specific and politically gendered assumptions encoded in brick and mortar, reflected in the architecture and spatial organisation of her kitchen. Some have noted that Schütte-Lihotzky planned the Frankfurt kitchen ‘exclusively’ as a workspace. Others have associated her design with ‘Taylorism’ and highlighted its prioritisation of effectiveness, comparing the architect’s actions to producing ‘factory’ conditions. Yet others noted that although the lone and isolated housewife’s tasks were varied, in contrast to repetitive Fordist production conditions, Schütte-Lihotzky’s architecture still relegated women to a role similar to that of factory workers. It is finally often pointed out that she had never cooked or managed a household before joining the Frankfurt Housing project; these formulations accuse her of studying and reducing women to exploited labourers in the domestic sphere.

While criticisms of exploitative gendered domesticity are indeed necessary, Schütte-Lihotzky’s critics omit that the architect sought to buttress the difficult everyday life of working women whose economic and political context she could not change. After six decades of a rise in gendered domesticity, the design provided a degree of independence for work—practical and mental—as well as rest for the working woman, within the parameters of contemporary social-democratic economics and gendered politics. Schütte-Lihotzky, argued: ‘My work was based on the idea of women who worked and not in cooking itself’ [emphasis added]. Ample space was a luxury, which meant the designer had to use the reduced available area effectively. The placement of the chair by the window and the two opaque doors in turn broke any hypothetical panoptic supervision by removing the housewife from the outside gaze. Women could sit at a window and gaze outside—the act of seeing in itself an exercise of power and consumption. Having the option to close a door allowed the food worker to control this space without outward supervision.

Schütte-Lihotzky operated under the understanding that leftist party politics would cater to working women’s needs; they did not. The city council for which she worked was tied to the Social Democratic party, which failed to champion gendered egalitarianism and prioritised male workers’ rights. Her kitchen design thus reflects a social democratic feminist negotiation within general party lines at the time: a spatial construction which sought to give the female worker a room of her own, even as it embraced rather than problematised labour from the perspective of a leftist worker. She argued she ‘had never concerned [her]self with cooking in my life. Nowadays this is seen as feminist but it was not feminist at all’. Instead, cooking was a practical necessity, a task which should not be gendered, but instead should foment solidarity among workers across the genders irrespective of spatial location. That the party failed to ratify this silent gendered workers’ contract and recognise women as workers equally was not a dimension for which the architect carried blame. Neither did Schütte-Lihotzky assume that women would not hold professional occupations outside the home. The effectiveness she aimed to facilitate in kitchens aimed less at exploiting women than at helping them survive the demands on their time.

Figure 4: Removable iron stove-top combination in the Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

In my most recent article, I examine the gendered prehistory of kitchen work in central Europe—with unexpected findings. In central Europe the kitchen was not always gendered, or even necessarily a room. Elites in the nineteenth century in general preferred to employ men, making the many rooms which castles dedicated for cooking and food preparation preferentially male domains. Workers and poorer rural populations in turn often lived in single-room homes, where kitchen areas were inseparable from living, working, or resting areas—meaning that there was no room to gender the space. It was primarily the middle-class with its gendered domestic ideals after the 1860s and their idealised nineteenth-century Roman architectural designs who championed the idea of gendered domesticity in a single room and successfully spread the ideal throughout society. The notion that women’s work should unfold in a private feminine sphere rather than in a masculine public sphere coincided with a drop in house-staff numbers due to industrialisation, which forced middle-class women to take on more household tasks.

Schütte-Lihotzky’s ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ deeply affected twentieth-century western kitchens which derived modernist spatial design elements from this architectural nexus. I argue that this did not solidify the success of the idea of a kitchen as a gendered room. Politics and society had already solidified this work allocation by 1900 in central Europe and elsewhere. Instead, contemporaries and scholars have been spatially blind to the surreptitious nuances of her work and texts to contest the broken gender relations of her period and its leftist politics through architecture. More recent designs since 1924, in turn, from studios and lofts to open-concept kitchens, continue to renegotiate and destabilise the limits and limitations of our spatial, gendered, public and private ideas, ideals and practices—in the unexpected shape of brick and mortar.


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.

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.

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Loughlin

Blog written by Dr Felicity Loughlin. Dr Loughlin is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of St Andrews, where she is working on the ‘Learning & Unbelief’ strand of the After the Enlightenment project. Her research and teaching interests lie in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of Scotland and Europe, c.1650–c.1850.

I came to St Andrews as a postdoctoral Research Fellow in September 2018. I’ve spent over two happy years here as part of the After the Enlightenment project team. Before that, I was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, where I wrote my thesis on the Scottish Enlightenment’s fascination with ‘pagan’ (non-Abrahamic) religious cultures. I’m now working on transforming my thesis into my first book, The Scottish Enlightenment Confronts the Gods: Paganism & the Nature of Religion.

More generally, I’m fascinated by the history of religious belief, which has profoundly shaped how individuals view the world and their place within it. I’m especially interested in how religious thought and ideas about religion have contributed to long-term patterns of intellectual and cultural change. Joining the After Enlightenment project has allowed me to pursue these interests in the context of nineteenth-century Scotland.

The project aims to explore Scottish intellectual life, c.1789–1843, reconstructing the legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment’s debates in three fundamental areas: natural philosophy, political economy, and religion. My contribution belongs to the religion strand and focuses on unbelief. Working with a variety of colourful material (anti-infidel apologetics, freethinking newspapers, court records, catalogues of infidel bookshops, and scientific, literary, theological, and historical writings), my research seeks to answer several interlocking questions. What did unbelief mean in the early nineteenth century? How far did unbelievers continue the religious debates of the Scottish Enlightenment? In what ways did they take unbelief in new directions? And how did infidelism, and the civil and ecclesiastical responses it elicited, transform the Scottish religious landscape?

Pamphlet produced in 1824 by the Edinburgh Freethinkers’ Zetetic Society, found in the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh. Credit: Felicity Loughlin

Strikingly, unbelievers are at present almost entirely absent from existing historiography on nineteenth-century Scotland. Yet from the 1820s, unbelievers of various stripes – including sceptics, deists, and atheists – acquired unprecedented visibility in Scotland’s urban communities. Freethinking societies were formed in numerous towns and cities, attracting hundreds of members from the middling and lower classes, and infidel bookshops appeared in Glasgow and Edinburgh, prompting the last blasphemy trials in Scottish history. Numerous scientific and literary works were also accused of endorsing or fomenting unbelief, including the writings of the phrenologist George Combe (1788–1858), the writer Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), and the publisher Robert Chambers (1802–71). Christian thinkers engaged actively with the perceived rise of unbelief, responding diversely with abhorrence, qualified respect, or sympathy. Strikingly, shared commitment to issues such as freedom of speech, ultimately led to tentative alliances between certain religious and non-religious groups. Debates on religion were often framed in highly emotive language, and I’ve recently become especially interested in probing the emotional as well as intellectual factors that determined changing belief positions and relations between believers and unbelievers.

Outside of work, I very much enjoy walking along the coastal and forest paths of the beautiful Fife countryside. I’m also an enthusiastic (if rather unskilled) knitter, an activity that became particularly attractive in the cold winter months. A great advantage of living in the vicinity of St Andrews is proximity to its excellent selection of cafés, and I very much look forward to partaking of their tea and cakes once again when they reopen!

Staff Spotlight: Bridget Heal

Blog written by Professor Bridget Heal. Professor Heal’s research focusses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. She has published two monographs: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648 (2014) and A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany (2017).

I came to St Andrews in 2002. Before that (long, long ago) I studied history and art history in Cambridge and London and had a postdoctoral research position in Cambridge. St Andrews has been home for nearly 20 years now, and I’m very grateful for the colleagues and students who make it such a fantastic place to live and work. As a historian of Germany, I try to spend as much time as possible there. I’ve lived in Nuremberg, Munich, Cologne and most recently Berlin. Much as I love St Andrews, it’s great to escape to a big city now and again. My son, Tom, was born in 2007. Because of my work he’s spent 3 years living in Berlin and has developed a strong liking for Currywurst.

A bronze statue of Martin Luther, in front of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Ad Meskens. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

My research focuses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. I’ve always been particularly interested in images, and in the ways in which historians use visual evidence. My first book, based on my PhD, drew on both visual and textual sources to investigate what happened to the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary during the Reformation era. My second explains why Lutheranism, a confession that is usually understood as being built around the spoken and printed word, made such extensive use of images. It originated in my desire to explain seeming paradoxes like the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden, a Lutheran church that deployed the visual idioms of the Catholic baroque and was compared by eighteenth-century observers to St Peter’s in Rome. If you want to know more, I wrote a blog.

Epitaph for Christian Lehmann and Euphrosyna Lehmann, born Kreusel, parish church, Scheibenberg (Saxony). Credit: Bridget Heal

I’m working now on a very different project: a religious history of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). During my research on Lutheran art I came across a wonderful set of sources written by a pastor, Christian Lehmann. He served in a small mining village in southern Saxony for 50 years from 1638-88 and witnessed the worst predations of the war and its difficult aftermath. I am using his writings and the records relating to his parish as the basis for a book that examines the role of religion in the survival and recovery of individuals and communities during Germany’s first ‘Great War’. Lehmann’s writings are excellent to work with, as he recorded all kinds of interesting things, from local gossip to ghost stories. And he had nice handwriting – something historians of early modern Germany can never take for granted.

Since lockdown, and the temporary end of research trips to Germany, my main achievement has been the acquisition of a kitten, Clio. I’m hoping that someday she’ll grow into her role as a muse of history and stop bouncing off the furniture. In the meantime, she’s made some star appearances on Teams…