Curiosity, Empire and Science in Eighteenth-Century France Class Trip

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Maggie Reilly (Zoology Curator) explains some of the taxonomic challenges faced by the Hunterian’s curators. Photo attrib. Sarah Easterby-Smith, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Blog written by Jamie Hinrichs, PhD student

On 8 March, Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith’s undergraduate module ‘Curiosity, Empire and Science in Eighteenth-Century France’ travelled to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. Additional members of this expedition included a visiting lecturer from the School of Art History and a few postgraduate students – of which I was one. Although the holdings of the museum were unlikely to relate to my PhD thesis topic, and although I was lacking contextual knowledge of the eighteenth century and notions of “empire”, what historian-in-training could resist an invitation to a museum? Furthermore, what human being could resist an invitation to spend a day in a museum with Dr Easterby-Smith? I certainly could not.

The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum, founded in 1807. It was built upon the bequest of Dr William Hunter (1718 – 1783), a physician and anatomist by trade and a devoted collector at heart. His wide array of curiosities illustrates the exchange of ideas that lay at the heart of the Enlightenment era. Hunter collected with the purpose that the items would be used within an institutional environment in the future. Within his will, Hunter included provisions for the University of Glasgow to build a museum to hold his collections and stipulated that the collection would be kept together as a whole after his death.

The historic value of collections in general was put best by one of the curators:

“The history of collecting is not just about the past, but about our present.”

Visiting the Hunterian Museum reminds us that primary resources are truly a menagerie, a mix of preserved insects, herbariums, minerals, taxidermy, coins (the narrative and portraiture found in each), preserved medical specimens, military medals (and the story each one tells), shells, sketch books, paintings, journals, letters, personal book collections, and more. Collections like the Hunterian’s, are the circus-spectacular of the of the primary resource world – prepare yourself to marvel at its curiosities.

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Maggie Reilly and Anne Dulau (Art Curator) discuss the sloth specimen. Photo attrib. Sarah Easterby-Smith, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

While the collection itself is certainly impressive, what’s perhaps even more impressive is the degree of devotion and passion the collection’s curators displayed. Our group was treated to a full day of engagement with specialists who gave us mini-lectures on each part of the collection. They presented the information almost as if they were boiling over with excitement to tell someone a long-held secret.

For the history student, visiting a museum collection like this and engaging with those that work with these materials daily, illuminates history as a vibrant field of future career possibilities. The overall experience shed light on the grand array of potential employment paths that involve historical research beyond the traditional route of becoming a professor. For example: you might become a numismatic expert (with a silver pocket watch), develop an exhibition on British historic military medals (even though you studied twentieth-century, cultural European history), take charge of shifting through thousands of shells in a historic collection to discover which belonged to the original collection (thereby playing Sherlock), fascinate wide-eyed visitors by explaining just why there is a pig with two bums in a glass display case (and yes, it was born that way), and risk your life by handling a taxidermized sloth which, should you break the specimen’s skin, would leak arsenic on your hands (gives a new thought to the connotation “slothful”). Anyone who says history is dead, dull, or dreary is truly misinformed.

Articulating the fast-paced nature of working in a museum, subliminally comparing it to a journalistic lifestyle, one curator said:

“That’s museum life. You finish one project and immediately dive into the next with little time for reflection.”

The experience provided me with plenty to reflect on. If you are past due for a dose of curiosity and want a peek through different windows into the past, I highly recommend an expedition of your own to the Hunterian Museum.

ISHR Reading Weekend 2017

 

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Photo attrib. Ellen Colingsworth, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On April 7, the members of the Institute of Scottish Historical Studies traveled from various places to the Burn in Edzell for the highly anticipated ISHR Reading Weekend 2017. Mlitt students, PhDs, postdocs, professors and former lecturers were all part of this fantastic event, and with the sun shining brightly upon arrival, the weekend was off to a great start.

The Friday started gently, as after tea, cakes and dinner, the Mlitt students associated with the Institute presented their preliminary plans for their theses. Sarah Minnear spoke about her exploration of gendered bloodfeud in Scotland, especially the role of women in these conflicts. In examining both urban and noble contexts, a fuller picture of this violent practice will emerge. Daniel Leaver talked about his research about the early twentieth century Scottish National Party, analysing the extent and variety of ideas the party had about Scottish Independence. By studying party leaders’ documents and other political writings, a clearer idea of the legacy of this period for the SNP’s thought can be discussed. After probing questions had been answered, the group dispersed to play games, have a drink and catch up with one another. Read more of this post

Undergraduate History Conference 2017

identity historyPuravi Kumar

This year I was very lucky to organise the Undergraduate Conference in St Andrews that took place on the 4th February 2017. As a society, it is one of our bigger events and we believe that it is an important way to engage those students interested in continuing with a career in academia. Thus, allowing them to present a research paper in a proper setting as well as having their papers published in a journal.

This year’s theme was “Identity in History”, which generated a lot of interest with applications and attendees to the conference. Considering the geopolitical affairs of 2016, the notion of identity had been prominent in most minds and was partly a reason to pick such an intriguing topic. However, identity has been present throughout history and one that continues to be debated in various contexts. Therefore, it became somewhat of an easy choice and we decided that this was an important topic to explore in the Undergraduate History Conference.

Overall, the day was a great success and an interesting experience for all those involved. I would like to thank the speakers again for their hard work and contributions as well as the generosity of the History Department of St. Andrews for their funding contributions.

Sophie Rees

My presentation at the History Conference focused on the oxymoron of female identity that was created and sustained in 1950s America by the American media. In the tumultuous aftermath of war, and in a desire to restore patriarchal stability, a restrictive image of a white, middle-class housewife became the female ideal, and forged an essential component of modern female identity. This idea inherently domesticated woman soon became popularised through the mass consumerism of the 1950s, and as such, the original white, middle-class women felt they lost their own individuality in the process. From this feeling of helplessness, the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s was forged, pioneered by Friedan, the archetypal white-middle class freedom fighter. In my paper, I therefore argued that the inherent problem of female identity in the 1950s was its failure to reconcile the individual with the mass, and the mass with the individual.

 
This was my first time presenting at a History conference, so naturally I was a bit anxious, but the inclusive and accepting atmosphere put me at ease. Everyone seemed to really engage with the topic that I presented, particularly in light of the current feminist uproar in the US, and asked lots of pertinent questions. I left the day with a greater understanding of a wide range of diverse topics, and felt empowered to go on to complete further historical research. After my undergraduate degree, I hope to pursue a postgraduate degree in gender history, focusing in particular on the role of women in the Ancien Régime in France. I would strongly encourage anyone thinking about pursuing further historical studies to take part in the Conference, as it is a fantastic public speaking opportunity and reaffirmed my desire to pursue the academic profession.

history identity.pngNatalia Zdorovtsova

At the Undergraduate History Conference, I spoke about the transient radical identity which was assumed by the Sans-Culottes during the French Revolution. This topic is of particular interest to me, as the French Revolution presented the politically and economically precarious conditions from which a robust, culturally unique Sans-Culotte subculture could emerge. In our current situation of global economic and social uncertainty, one cannot help but notice the emergence of radical groups, the members of which choose to adopt the social and ideological characteristics of their beliefs as the core, defining traits of their individual existences. It would be interesting to further investigate the psychology which drives identity-building, as well as the societal conditions which make it possible for such groups as the Sans-Culottes to thrive and continue to self-define.

In addition to this, I would like to expand my research into the topic of scientific empiricism. How has the pursuit of scientific inquiry and data-gathering been approached throughout the ages? What ideologies and technological advancements warranted the development of a universal scientific method? These are some of the questions which I seek to explore next in my research.

The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic Class Trip


Blog written by Meg Hyland

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Photo attrib. Frances Andrews, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Just as a cold snap descended upon St Andrews, our Special Subject class left the auld grey toon behind for five incredible days on a tour of mendicant Italy with Professor Frances Andrews. In her module The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic, we have been studying these three thirteenth century saints through close reading of the texts that flowered around each of them in the wake of lives, characterized by intense religious fervour. After a great deal of planning, we were able to take our research out of the classroom and into the medieval cities where these individuals lived, preached, prayed and died.

Where else to begin our journey through medieval Italy than the city to which all roads lead? Rome was not built in a day, but we certainly tried to walk it in one. Although our feet ached by the end of the day, the payoff was a whirlwind tour of the city’s medieval mendicant landscape (and an impressive Fitbit step count). Visiting the city’s medieval churches brought fresh clarity to many of the issues we encounter in the sources. The chandelier-decked nave of the Franciscan church Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the glittering cosmatesque pillars of the Lateran cloister, for example, served as architecturally didactic emblems of the eternal tension between the ideals of apostolic poverty and the “beauty of holiness” that plagued the medieval church.

The texts we labour over in the library came to life nowhere more vibrantly than in Assisi. The translation of Clare’s body up the mountainside from her monastery to San Giorgio in the hot Italian summer takes on a new physicality when you have scaled the steep path yourself. The delight in the natural world that inspired Francis to compose The Canticle of Creatures is easily shared by anyone watching the sunset over the olive groves beside San Damiano. Perhaps the most incredible match of experience to text was in the Upper Basilica of San Francesco. Medieval history has never been so tangible as when we gazed upon the phenomenal frescoes on the walls while Frances Andrews read us the passages of Bonaventure’s Life of Francis that inspired each image in a whisper (so as not to arouse the ire of the policeman patrolling the pews).

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Photo attrib. Juan Salmoral, CC-BY-ND-ND 2.0

Of course, the landscape has changed since the time of the mendicant saints, sometimes dramatically – there were probably not so many gelaterias in Innocent III’s Rome, nor such affordable pizza places in Dominic’s Bologna. The museums of Perugia and Bologna house a concentration of valuable religious art so dense that it would have overwhelmed the medieval mind. But other things remain the same. A kitten scurries around the monastery where Clare once told a cat to bring her a towel. The Pantheon still lets the rain in through the roof. Beneath the layers of modern industry and ornament, a more ancient bedrock remains, from the Etruscan stones of Perugia to the tiny church of the Porziuncola huddled beneath the dome of the vast later basilica.

To study medieval history is often an exercise in the imagination, building up in the mind an image of people and places remote in space and time. On this trip, however, we had the incredible opportunity to see for ourselves the incredible art and architecture that these charismatic figures inspired their followers to commission. We are grateful to Frances Andrews and the School of History (not to mention anyone who patronized our library bake sale) for giving us this opportunity. Our thanks are also due to the people in archives and museums who helped us access the primary sources and those who showed us great hospitality: the Dominican archivist in Rome, the director of the museum of the Porziuncola, Professor Giovanna Casagrande and Amilcare Conti. All of these people enabled us to experience first-hand the rich physical world that the early mendicants inhabited, adapted and created.

Monthly Round Up: December and January

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The Heirs to the Throne project has launched a podcast series: a selection of the finest ‘Heir of the Month’ essays will be made available as mini-lectures.

A Companion to Intellectual History, edited by Professor Richard Whatmore and Dr Brian Young, has been selected as an ‘Outstanding Academic Title’ by Choice Magazine and has been included in the magazine’s annual list in its  January 2017 issue. Dr John Clark also contributed a chapter to this volume.

Dr James Nott has been awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh grant for a series of research workshops on how historians can best collaborate with artists, museums and others working in Scottish cultural institutions. The workshops will be held in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee.

Arthur der Weduwen has won the Elsevier/Johan de Witt Thesis Prize for his master thesis, titled ‘The development of the Dutch press in the seventeenth century, 1618 – 1700’. A two volume bibliography, Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, based on this same thesis will be published in May.

Anne Rutten was awarded the 2016 Dorothy Dunnett Academic History Prize for her essay ‘And There Was Proof: James II, the Black Douglases and the Fifteenth-Century Power of Documents’.

Staff Activity. 

On 2nd December Dr Nina Lamal gave a talk at the IHR Low Countries Seminar in London. The talk was entitled ‘The Low Countries in the news: Italian information networks on the Dutch Revolt’.

On 5th and 6th December Dr Shanti Graheli gave two guest lectures at the University of Udine, entitled, ‘Il mondo del libro antico in un guscio di noce: introduzione all’USTC’ and ‘Dove i libri sono tutti monadi. Benvenuti a The World’s Rarest Books.’

On 9th January, Dr Tomasz Kamusella talked on ‘The Normative Isomorphism of Language, Nation and State’ in the Institut für Osteuropäische Geschichte at the Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria. On 10th January, Dr Kamusella spoke on ‘The National Silesian Movement in Postcommunist Poland: Between Democracy and Nationalism’ in the Institut für Slawistik at the Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria. He also spoke on the same topic onn 13th January for the Ústav politických vied SAV (Institute of Political Sciences) and the Ústav etnológie SAV (Institute of Ethnography) in the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Dr James Palmer contributed to the Radio 3 Sunday Feature ‘Apocalypse How’ on 15th January.

Dr Nathan Alexander gave a talk, entitled ‘Debating Nonreligious Identity: A Historical Perspective’ to the Dundee branch of the Humanist Society of Scotland on 16th January.

On 16h January, Dr James Nott delivered a talk on ‘The Dance Hall and Women’s Emancipation in Britain 1918-60’ at Shoreditch House, London.
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From 18 to 20 January Professor Elena Marushiakova and Professor Veselin Popov took part in the MigRom Final Conference as invited key note speakers with an opening presentation entitled “Migration vs. Inclusion: Roma Mobility from East to West”.

On 22nd January, Dr Emily Michelson published an article in the Times Higher Education blog, entitled ‘Historians make the best healthcare workers.’

On 27 January Sarah Easterby-Smith gave a paper entitled ‘Picturing Banks’s networks: patrons, scholars and botanical merchants’ at an AHRC workshop at the National Portrait Gallery, London, on ‘Science, Self-fashioning and Representation in Joseph Banks’s Circles’.

On 28th January Dr Konrad Lawson gave the talk “From the Regional to the Global: Pan-Asianism to World Federalism in the Aftermath of Japanese Empire” at a Leiden University symposium on Global Regionalism as part of the Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar.

Recent Publications

David Allan, ‘“Winged Horses, Fiery Dragons and Monstrous Giants”: Historiography and Imaginative Literature in the Scottish Enlightenment’ in R. McLean, R. Young and K. Simpson (eds.), The Scottish Enlightenment and Literary Culture (Bucknell University Press, 2016).

Colin Kidd, The World of Mr Casaubon: Britain’s Wars of Mythography, 1700-1870 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Julia Prest and Guy Rowlands (eds.), The Third Reign of Louis XIV, c. 1682-1715 (Routledge, 2016).

Publication Spotlight: The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707

Blog written by Dr Jacqueline Rose

politicsofcounselIs it true that behind every successful ruler there is an exhausted adviser? It has certainly often been the case that ‘evil counsellors’ have been blamed for bad government. But if grumbling about special advisers looks like a distinctly modern phenomenon, think again.  Such figures have often operated in the shadowy world of political manoeuvring, whether characterised as benign mentors or cunning manipulators—or both.

For much of history, the role of the adviser was idealised. This was the case in much of the period covered by the contributors to the recent volume on The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707. This was an era in which good counsel was seen as the way to foster good rule; that is, where a monarch governed for the common interest and common good, and not tyrannically, for their own private benefit or wilful pleasure. Counsel evolved to meet the needs of this age of Anglo-Scottish warfare and unions, dynastic and religious upheavals, and developments in local, national, and colonial government—not forgetting the adaptations in advisory practices required to fit each new monarch’s personality.

Using the poetry, drama, government records, and political treatises of the period, contributors to the volume examine ideas about advice and the role it played. Some instances of political failure come up—James III of Scotland, killed during a rebellion in 1488, and Charles I, executed in 1649—are the most prominent. But there are also signs that rulers could be open to advice, at least on some points, some of the time.

Appropriately, contributors to this volume benefited from each other’s counsel through a workshop held in St Andrews in May 2014, which was made possible by the British Academy’s award of a grant from the Browning Fund and a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant; and by support from the School of History and the Institutes of Scottish Historical Research, Intellectual History, and Reformation Studies. Alongside the editor, the volume features chapters by St Andrews-based authors Michael Brown and Roger Mason, and one by Claire Hawes, at the time a PhD student here and now based in Aberdeen. This reflects how suitable a base St Andrews is for the larger Politics of Counsel research project from which the workshop and volume derived.

While substantial in its own right, the volume aims to create a framework for future research on political advice—past, present, and future. It provocatively suggests ways in which even ‘failed’ advice might actually contribute to political life. So the next time you hear on the news that the power and influence of ‘spads’ has been criticised, don’t assume it’s a symptom of the decline of modern politics. Bad advice may just be an age-old excuse: easy to make, but deserving of sharper analysis.

Ronald Cant and St Andrews

 

Blog post written by Sarah Leith, former Mlitt student and starting her PhD at St Andrews in September

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Photo reproduced with the kind permission of the Strathmartine Trust, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

As you wander along North Street, pause for a moment beneath the looming tower of St Salvator’s chapel and if you look down at the ground, you will find the Protestant martyr Patrick Hamilton’s initials visible amongst the cobble stones. The dreaded ‘P.H.’ pinpoints the position where the sixteenth-century martyr was burnt at the stake and it now marks the area where students fear to tread, lest they fail their degrees. Continue eastwards and your eyes will meet with the imposing grey ruins of a mediaeval cathedral, which used to welcome monarchs and pilgrims but now attracts coaches full of tourists from all over the world. Take a left along North Castle Street and cast your eyes upwards to the window of the Castle from which Cardinal Beaton’s body was hung in 1546. A sense of Scotland’s past is unavoidable as you traverse St Andrews’ mediaeval streets today. Ronald Cant, the University of St Andrews’ first lecturer in Scottish history was dedicated to the preservation of this historic townscape as well as the promotion of St Andrews University’s history.

From his appointment in 1936 until his retirement in 1974, Cant was devoted to securing the teaching of Scottish history at St Andrews University but he also held a passion for the history of the university itself. He penned works regarding the university’s past and as Keeper of Muniments, he was undeniably the ultimate authority on this topic. The historian is best known in the university today for his The University of St Andrews: A Short History. It is a must read for anyone intrigued by any aspect of the University’s past, from its fifteenth-century founder Bishop Wardlaw to the building of the 1970s University Library in which, incidentally, can be found many copies of the work. However, although his articles concerning the Scottish universities’ influence upon Scotland’s Enlightenment continue to be authoritative Cant’s academic output was on the whole, limited. (1)

Rather than extensively publishing articles in scholarly journals, as did his contemporaries, Cant preferred to produce small booklets for the benefit of heritage societies. His Festschrift is dominated by these small publications and a perusal of this list hints at his dedication to the preservation of historic towns across Scotland. (2) Cant was also a key figure in the founding of the St Andrews Preservation Trust in 1938 and he played an invaluable role in saving St Andrews’ historical domestic buildings from demolition. (3)

Clearly devoted both to the University of St Andrews and to the Auld Grey Toon, Cant was also eager to promote Scottish history outwith St Salvator’s ivory tower. Strolling through the cobbled streets and wynds of St Andrews or venturing out from his home on Kinburn Place and along the viaduct, Cant stopped to speak with this person and with that person, whether an academic or a local. He would engage those passing by with interesting facts, such as his belief that Cardinal Beaton’s tomb lies under the grass in front of South Street’s Madras College. With ease he straddled that grey area between town and gown as day and night he frequently filled lecture halls with both students and locals, the latter waiting with anticipation for his enthralling talks held on Friday evenings.

Ronald Cant must be remembered and praised for his role in the establishment of the permanent study of Scottish history at the University of St Andrews and for his extensive work concerning this university’s own history. He should also be lauded both for his protection of St Andrews’ tangible history and for his outreach to the local community. Indeed, without his vision and preservation work, the historical centre of St Andrews, which we all enjoy wandering around and exploring today, would very likely look quite different.

(1) R.G. Cant, ‘The Scottish universities and Scottish society in the eighteenth century’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 58 (1967), pp.1953-1966; Ronald G. Cant, ‘Origins of the Enlightenment in Scotland: the universities’ in R.H. Campbell and Andrew S. Skinner (eds), The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment (Glasgow, 1982), pp.42-64.

(2) Dugald MacArthur, ‘Bibliography of the Works of Ronald Gordon Cant’, in G.W.S. Barrow (ed.), The Scottish Tradition: Essays in honour of Ronald Gordon Cant (Edinburgh, 1974), pp.259-263.

(3) Elizabeth Williams and John Lindsey, Saving St. Andrews: A Short History of the St. Andrews Preservation Trust (Fife, 2003).