‘The Bubble’: St Andrews, Fife, and Scottish links to Slavery

The Spence Project is a new undergraduate-led research initiative which seeks to uncover St Andrews’, Fife’s, and Scotland’s links to slavery. We are made up of six fourth-years from the Schools of History, Philosophy, International Relations, and Economics. We founded the project early in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter brought questions about race and oppression to the forefront of public discourse, and we wanted to contribute meaningfully to conversations that were happening. We felt that we could do this best by addressing these questions raised by Black Lives Matter in the context of academia, something that we are all familiar with as University students. Specifically, it had not gone unnoticed to us that although a number of British and American universities have been investigating their historic ties to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, St Andrews was not amongst them. We felt that the renewed interest in issues of injustice generated by Black Lives Matter presented a unique opportunity to redress this imbalance.

With the use of digitized public archives, academic articles, and an untold number of books we can say without a shadow of a doubt that St Andrews—both town and University— had connections to the Slave Trade. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act freed hundreds of thousands of enslaved people across the British Empire and compensated slave-owners for the loss of their property. That same year, the British government spent £20 million pounds, then approximately 40% of the state’s total annual expenditure, to fund the Act.  According to a 2018 Freedom of Information request made to the government, this debt was not repaid until 2015. The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London maintains a database through which one can find the names and addresses of those who were compensated by the 1833 Act. Owing to the current closure of archives, we used this database as a starting point for our research.

Photo credit: Cathedral West End, St. Andrews, Cathedral East End Original engraving, engraved by W. H. Lizars after W. Banks. 1850. British Library

It was through this database that we learned about John Whyte Melville, who appears as a beneficiary of the 1833 Act. Melville owed much of his wealth to a relative named General Robert Melville, a cousin of his father and a colonial administrator. In his lifetime General Melville owned a number of plantations such as Melville Hall in Dominica and Carnbee in Tobago. In his lifetime General Melville was the governor of Grenada, the Grenadines, Dominica, St Vincent and Tobago. The general was an influential colonial administrator, responsible for the colonization of most of the British West Indies – paving the way for the exploitation of the island’s inhabitants. Melville inherited and managed General Melville’s ‘Melville Hall’ estate in Jamaica, and its enslaved people, from 1818 to 1834. The physical legacy of the Melville family and by extension, the slave trade, marks the town; with their money, the Melvilles constructed fountains, landscaped estates, and more in and around St Andrews. These structures still exist and are maintained today, inherited by various businesses and groups in Fife, including the University of St Andrews’ Court, yet their connections to the Melvilles is little-spoken about. The story of the Melvilles is but one of many which exemplifies how covert, yet pervasive, links to slavery can be in any place.

Aside from emphasising these difficult histories, we also wanted to bring to light more uplifting stories in the community. In our research, we also learned that there was local support for abolitionism. After reading an article published by Professor Julia Prest (St Andrews), we learned about the story of David Spence/Spens, whom our project is named after, and how the people of Fife supported him in his petition to gain his freedom. Spence, whose birth name was Manasela Embenka, was purchased for £30 in Grenada by a Scotsman named Dr David Dalrymple. In 1768, owing to illness, Dalrymple returned to his home in Fife, bringing Embenka back with him. In Fife, Embenka acquired the new name of ‘David Spence’ and was baptized by Harry Spens, the minister of a local church in Wemyss in 1769. Subsequently, it was on the basis of his baptism that Spence argued in the Edinburgh Courts that he was now ‘by the Christian Religion Liberate … set at freedom from my old yoke bondage & slavery’. Unsurprisingly, Dalrymple was unhappy with this and lodged a case to ensure Spence’s continued servitude.

News of Spence’s story quickly travelled round the village of Wemyss. Days later, through an act of compassion and brotherhood, the miners and families of East Wemyss, bonded slaves to the land until 1799, quickly organised a collection of money to pay for lawyers in the hope of freeing him. Yet before the courts could rule on the matter, Dalrymple died, and with no master to sue for Spence’s continued enslavement he finally became free. He eventually settled down, married, and had a family in or around the East Fife area. In 1780, the minister Harry Spens was made a professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews. He was later twice elected as Rector. Overall, the solidarity surrounding Spence’s case was inspiring to us, and it was surprising to hear that barely anyone knew about his story. In light of this gap-in-the-knowledge, we thus want to use the project as a platform to raise awareness of Spence’s story and the Fife community’s history of supporting people in the face of oppression. By doing so, we hope that we’ll motivate people to take action against injustices they see in their own lives.

Researching the links between slavery and St Andrews has been an arduous and, occasionally, an emotionally-taxing ordeal. Nevertheless, this project has also been greatly rewarding. We’ve honed our research skills, to be sure; but apart from this, managing the project has often involved regular contact with various university academics and administrators in several countries. Working on The Spence Project has given all of us a much deeper insight into the workings of academia and research more generally. Whether we’re delving into digitised archives, parsing old dissertations and manuscripts, or rifling through massive databases, our time on the project has allowed us to grow as scholars above and beyond what we’ve already gained from our academic coursework.

Moreover, starting The Spence Project has given us a platform to address the idea of ‘public history’, and more specifically the question of how we ought to teach history. After all, what is the point of writing history if nobody engages with or learns from it? This issue proved to be especially salient for our project as slavery and oppression are topical and important subjects that must be done justice. Because of its importance, we quickly recognised the need to do more than just write papers and articles about Scottish links to slavery. We needed to innovate and change the ways in which we communicated and broke down abstract ideas to non-historians. Only by doing this could we get as many people thinking about the research we were conducting and thus make an impact.

The challenge of communicating history in innovative and engaging ways is one that we are still grappling with today. We’re beginning, therefore, with a staple of academia — a panel discussion group. But we hope that once the project continues and more people get involved with it, we can all pool our collective imagination and achieve some really interesting things. Between the six of us, we floated around ideas of creating a walking tour of St Andrews, highlighting different places and people that had links to slavery in the town. We also considered creating a pop-up exhibition, perhaps in collaboration with Scottish artists. Nevertheless, as fourth years we understand that time is running out for us; our time in St Andrews has almost drawn to an end, and that limits what we can actually achieve in a normal year, let alone in the current, highly-limiting circumstances. But this time constraint shouldn’t stop us from thinking big. Indeed, it might even be better to be overambitious to set a precedent for future years and to give younger students ideas to work with when they take over the project. Overall, the issue of how we ought to communicate history to the wider public made us rethink the ways in which we talk about the discipline. In turn, this has led us to think of some really interesting ideas for the project. These are ideas that, even if we don’t get round to doing them this year, provide future members—and hopefully historians—with ample food for thought.

The Spence Project members, clockwise from top left: Manhattan Murphy-Brown, Charmaine Au-Yeung, William Zhang, Joe Ehrlich, Dylan Springer, Luke Simboli.

Thus, in the short time that we’ve spent working on the Project, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned more about St Andrews, Fife, and Scotland and their position within the global slave trade, and we’ve also learned a lot about doing history. In particular, it has taught us that researching history sometimes means uncovering, discussing, and analysing dark and uncomfortable truths. We encourage those reading this blog and following our research journey to look at St Andrews and/or their homes in new ways. While it may be difficult, we hope that the reader of this blog can join us in our journey of reconciliation and learning. In fact, our aim is not to paint a portrait in black and white: we also hope, as the extraordinary narrative of David Spence demonstrates, to bring to light stories which uplift and inspire. Over and above this, it’s vitally important that we, as students, staff members, or residents of St Andrews, understand the myriad ways that our home is connected to the wider world.

Finally, special thanks are due to Dr Emma Hart, Dr Bernhard Struck, Dr Kate Ferris, Dr Milinda Banerjee, Dr Akhila Yechury, Dr Katie Stevenson, and Dr Ian Smith for guiding us through the process of creating a research initiative. Without their help and support, there is no way that The Spence Project would be where it currently is. As undergraduates, the process of starting up a research initiative from scratch was daunting. Overall, we hope that The Spence Project continues its work after we’ve all graduated, and that it encourages other undergraduates who may be interested in starting up their own research initiatives to do so.

The History Society Undergraduate Conference 2019

Blog written by Ruth McKechnie

This year, the History Society’s Annual Undergraduate Conference returned for its fifth year. Once again, talented and inquisitive undergraduate historians showcased their research and presented their own unique take on the theme of ‘History and the People’. This year’s participants considered a wide range of topics and interpretations, from Soviet warfare to the commemoration of anniversaries today. Speakers Jacob Baxter, Fiona Banham and Benjamin Claremont are all currently in their fourth year, while Grant Wong is only in the second year of his studies. These students were joined by Professor Ali Ansari of the Middle Eastern History department and Dr Sarah Frank of Modern History.

Professor Ansari presented a thought-provoking exploration of how history relates to the formation of public policy, and he outlined some of the challenges he himself has faced within the public sphere. Dr Frank gave a paper on the experiences and popular images of prisoners of war, with particular emphasis on colonial German captives during the Second World War. However, the true highlight of the day were the undergraduate speakers. Each student gave an insight into an area of history that resonated with them.

Jacob Baxter, presenting ‘The Anniversary Today; Possibilities, Pitfalls and the People’, provided a striking consideration of the impacts that anniversaries can have upon historical engagement with the public. He skilfully brought St Andrews and the commemoration of the University’s 400th year to the forefront of this paper. Following this, Grant Wong gave a truly educational foray into the lives of re-enactors, and the length to which they will go to prefect their craft in his paper ‘A Search for Purpose: The Power of Performance in Civil War Re-enactment.’ Special attention was devoted to the role of women and minority groups within this practice.  ‘Children of the Holocaust in Popular and Collective Memory’, delivered by Fiona Banham, was a poignant and thoroughly considered insight into how the images and insights of children impact the public perception of the Holocaust. This paper received much praise and prompted more than a few tears from the audience. Benjamin Claremont’s presentation of ‘Losing the Forest for the Trees: Military Myopia in the Western Popular Understanding of Soviet Warfare’  focused on the impact of misinformation surrounding historical phenomena. Using exceptional example, he explored how myths can seep into common consciousness through platforms such as YouTube and popular media.

After the papers were delivered, the Deans Prize was won by  Jacob Baxter and his thoroughly delightful presentation. The conference was closed by a roundtable discussion, in which presenters, committee members and members of the audience participated in a lively debate. This final event marked the end of a day jam-packed with truly excellent work and thought-provoking ideas, which will hopefully facilitate further discussion. The History Society wishes to say a big thank you to all who made such a great day possible, with a special thanks to keynote speakers, student presenters and the School of History. Each of the papers presented will soon be available in History Society Undergraduate Conference Journal, and I would thoroughly recommend reading these spectacular examples of student research.

The History Society’s 2019 Interdepartmental Quiz

Blog written by Glenn Mills

The winning team!

January 30 saw the eagerly awaited return of the History Society’s Interdepartmental Quiz. The evening was a paradoxical mixture of light-hearted fun and ferocious competition as we pitted representatives from the Modern, Mediaeval and Classics departments against one another in a war of the wits for the prestigious IDQ Trophy. This year, Dr Bess Rhodes, Dr Sarah Frank and Dr Emma Hart represented the Modern History department; Dr Robert Cimino, Dr Alex Woolf, and Professor John Hudson defended the currently reigning mediaevalists; Dr Dawn Hollis, Dr Andrea Brock and Dr Jon Coulston formed the Classics team. Alex and Jon are veterans (having routinely competed to defend or retrieve their departments’ glory!) but it was equally pleasing to see so many new faces in the quizzing arena and we hope they will be keen to return next year.

The evening’s events took off with a general knowledge round in which the mediaevalists gained an early lead, correctly identifying cynophobia as the fear of dogs and Quagadougou as the capital of Burkina Fasco. The St Andrews round showed a balanced performance, with Alex Woolf naming St Peter as St Andrew’s brother, Bess Rhodes exhibiting a comprehensive knowledge of Andrew Melville Hall, and Jon Coulston demonstrating an impressive familiarity with the artefacts in the MUSA. The ancient and middle eastern rounds proved surprisingly perplexing for all of the teams. The precise date for the eruption of Vesuvius descended into loose guesswork, while the dissolution of the Knights Templar remains an area in need of some revision.

The three teams stumbled their way through an agonising pop culture round, in which only one of Ariana Grande’s ex-boyfriends in her song ‘thank u, next’ was identified by all nine contestants. However, Meghan Markle’s television career and the 2019 Oscars saw much wider success. The medieval round proved equally troublesome, although Alex Woolf and John Hudson’s knowledge of Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark and the Hereford mappamundi earned the mediaeval team a few points on their home turf. The music round witnessed a passable group performance of ABBA’s Super Trouper and Andrea Brock demonstrated the Floss dance with consummate skill. The final two rounds on modern history and science brought the evening to a tidy conclusion.

By the end of the night, the Mediaeval team achieved a decisive victory and the IDQ trophy has thus been returned to St John’s House, where it will stay under the guardianship of the school administrators, Dorothy Christie and Audrey Wishart. The IDQ continues to be a highlight for many students and we are pleased to say that this year saw a record turnout. Many thanks are due to the History Society Committee, who have offered invaluable help with the planning and logistics of the event. In particular Academic Officer Sophie Rees showed her diligent commitment, communicating regularly with staff, organising the venue and compiling questions, and President Harris LaTeef bravely took up the gauntlet of quizmaster. A final word of thanks must be extended to the academics who participated in the quiz, despite the administrative chaos of week one, and to all of the students in attendance. We hope next year’s quiz will be received with equal enthusiasm.

MO4806 Britain and the Thirty Years’ War Class Trip

received_10159932845395136.jpegBlog written by Rachel Beattie

During Spring break, the class of MO4806 ‘Britain and the Thirty Years’ War’ ventured to Stockholm to visit a wide array of historical museums and archives. Over three days we visited five contrasting archives and museums, each giving a slightly different perspective on the Thirty Years’ War.

We began by visiting the old town of Riddarhomkyrkan and Riddarhuset (The House of Nobility) where we were lucky enough to be given a tour. In addition, we heard about how the House functions, as well as being shown the specific plaque for each person ennobled, a great many of which were Scots. In the afternoon, a few of us went to the National Archives of Sweden and under the guidance of several PhD students, we learnt how to engage with archival sources and how to beneficially use them within our studies.

received_10159932845440136The following day we ventured out to the Armemuseum (The Army Museum) which brought the class into contact with a wide array of artifacts. The group went around the different rooms, such as the one on camp life, the trophy exhibition, as well as the presentation of several flags and banners. Each exhibit brought the war to life in different ways, but it was only a taste of what was to come in the afternoon. The class ventured out to the museum vaults, where we had the incredible opportunity to see and interact with artifacts from the period. Ranging from flags, to war drums, and from muskets to swords, we were able to see first-hand see these objects which undoubtedly brought the war into our hands and history to life. It was an unforgettable and beneficial experience for understanding the Thirty Years’ War.

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We began our last day by visiting the Krigsarkivet (the Military Archives). During our visit the archivists brought out different documents, from Swedish Muster Rolls full of British regiments, to maps and orders of battles. Following this, we headed to the spectacular Vasa museum, which houses a ship from the Thirty Years’ War. The Vasa had sunk on its first voyage, and subsequently it has been reconstructed and a museum built around it. To walk around a ship of its stature and grandeur was an incredible way to finish off the trip, leaving us speechless.

The opportunity to engage with historical artifacts and interact with documents within archives brought the history of the Thirty Years’ War to life. The ability to walk round Stockholm and see the history in the buildings, as well as Brits intertwined within the museums was an unforgettable experience, and a great way to further study and understand the period of the Thirty Years War. In total contrast, a few of us even took the time to further enhance our museum experience in Stockholm by visiting the Abba Museum.

The Undergraduate History Conference

Blog written by Sophie Rees

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Ruth McKechnie, winner of the Dean’s Prize

On Saturday 10 February, the University History Society hosted its fifth annual (and most-well attended to date) Undergraduate History Conference, held in the Medieval Old Class Library. The Conference is one of the Society’s flagship events, and one that we as a committee are immensely proud of. The first of its kind in the UK, the conference aims to enable undergraduate historians to engage independently and critically with historical topics that interest them. Year upon year, it provides a challenging but supportive environment in which to explore those interests, test ideas and develop professional and academic skills. It does not constrain students to a mark scheme, or award them points from 1-20. Instead, the conference nurtures independent academic thought, integral for the development of skills vital for dissertations and beyond.

This year’s theme, History and Memory, was well received by applicants and the wider community, and nurtured this sense of personal engagement. The tension between scholarly accounts of the past and collective memory in shaping a personal, political and national historical consciousness has often been perceived as obscuring ‘the facts’ from view. However, it is from the struggle between personal recollections and the official narrative that the patchwork of history slowly begins to be stitched together. Memory as a historical method can appear both useful and useless. It gives flavour to bland official narratives yet is hampered by its brevity and fractures. Yet, the comprehension of memory as a valuable historiographical tool is the key to ensuring that history is never forgotten.

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Attendees at the Undergraduate History Conference Dinner

The day started with a fascinating key note speech by Professor DeGroot, who gave an address entitled ‘The Burden of Memory and the Need to Forget’. Ranging from personal recollections to a national perception of Blackadder, DeGroot’s address neatly interlinked private and public understandings of memory, before contemplating on the triviality of both what we remember and what we choose to forget. This was followed by our five undergraduate speakers, who spoke on topics as varied as Stolpersteine to Polynesian sexuality. There was a great sense of audience engagement and a reciprocity of ideas, as spectator and speaker alike were drawn into interesting debate. This was accompanied by copious amounts of biscuits and cups of university branded tea (a particular favourite among students and staff alike), as we all mulled over the curious construction of historical memory. After the final speech, the committee adjourned to decide which participant would be voted best speaker, whilst Professor Colin Kidd led an open discussion on the central themes with students in the Undercroft.

This year’s recipient of the £100 Deans’ Prize is Ruth McKechnie, for her fascinating discussion of sectarian tension in ‘The Glasgow Conundrum: A discussion of how socio-cultural prejudices affect the perception of history’. We are so grateful to everyone who attended the event, with particular thanks to our five fabulous speakers: Ruth, Victoria, Philip, Zoe and Hayley. The History Society looks forward to our next undergraduate conference, where we hope to relocate to a larger venue and host even more insightful speakers.

September Round Up

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Image attrib. Explorathon, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

News

Congratulations to ISHR and SAIMS who are both celebrating their tenth anniversary this year!

Congratulations also to recent School of History graduate Nishant Raj, who is the 2017 “Europe Regional Winner” for the History category in the Undergraduate Awards for his essay, ‘Pork, Power and Protest: Control and Resistance in the Pork Trade in Occupied Shanghai’

Staff Activity

Dr Rory Cox gave a public talk at the L.A. Louver art gallery on the ethics of war. The talk accompanied the exhibition ‘Reign of Fire’ by artist Ben Jackel.

Professor Elena Marushiakova and Professor Veselin Popov took part in the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Gypsy Lore Society and Conference on Romani Studies in University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus with the presentation “Commencement of the Organized Roma Civil Movement”. Elena Marushiakova was also involved in the Academic committee preparing the Conference and presented the Opening Presentation.

Professor Elena Marushiakova, Professor Veselin Popov, and Dr Aleksandar Marinov have presented their ERC advanced grant project Nr. 694656 “Roma Civic Emancipation Between The Two World Wars” at European Researchers’ Night, Explorathon St Andrews

Professor Richard Whatmore presented the plenary lecture ‘Adam Smith and the end of Enlightenment’ at the  University of Palermo conference ‘The Thought of Adam Smith through Europe and Beyond’

On September 6, Konrad M. Lawson gave a workshop tutorial introducing database design for historians together with Roberto Sala entitled ‘Do you need a “base” for your “data”’ at the 5th GRAINES Summer School – ‘History and its Sources After the Digital Turn’ at University of Basel

Professor Aileen Fyfe presented the closing presentation ‘The Social Dynamics and Structural Biases of Peer Review, 1865 to 1965’ at the 8th International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, which took place on September 10

From 23 to 26  September Professor Elena Marushiakova and Professor Veselin Popov have participated as academic advisers and commentators in the Second Summer School for PhD students of the Network of Academic Institutions in Romani Studies in Prague, Czech Republic

Recent Publications

Rory Cox, ‘Expanding the History of the Just War: The Ethics of War in Ancient Egypt’International Studies Quarterly 61 (2) (2017): 371-384.

Royal Historical Society Prizes for St Andrews

ashley.jpgThe Royal Historical Society awards a number of prizes every year to scholars of all levels in order to encourage further research. This year, a great number of (former) St Andrews scholars received prizes – congratulations to all the winners!

MLitt student Ashley Atkins was awarded the Rees Davies Prize for his dissertation ‘The Authorship, Function and Ideological Origins of the Claim of Right of 1989’. The thesis was supervised by Professors Colin Kidd and Roger Mason, and the judges described Ashley’s argument as “thoroughly convincing, superbly demonstrated on the basis of a range of primary and secondary sources, and written with remarkable lucidity, elegance and panache.”

The David Berry Prize was awarded to Dr Malcolm Petrie for his essay ‘Fear of a “Slave State”: Individualism, Libertarianism, and the rise of Scottish Nationalism c.1945-c.1979’. The judges commented that “it is a profound work of scholarship with real historical significance on a subject that has received little scholarly attention. […] The author does a wonderful job in providing a clear narrative in a style which both the academic and the lay reader can appreciate.”

Three former St Andrews students also received prizes. Dr Claire Eldridge, who completed both a Master’s degree and a PhD here, won the Gladstone Prize for her new book From Empire to Exile: History and memory within the pied-noir and harki communities, 1962-2012. Dr Andrew Smith, who also attended St Andrews for a Master’s degree, was shortlisted for the same prize with his book Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and modern FranceDr Richard Sowerby, now at Edinburgh, was shortlisted for the Whitfield Prize for Angels in Early Medieval England.

Class Trip ‘The German Hercules’: Martin Luther and Germany

Luther 2017 1.jpgBlog written by Ffion Bailey

Our intrepid historical adventurers set off from St Andrews bright and early on a fine Thursday morning for a few days of Lutheran fun, neither ‘celebrating’ the ‘jubilee’ of the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, nor embarking on a pilgrimage to buy Lutheran relics (or Playmobil figurines), but commencing an exploration of the places that were key to Luther’s Reformation.

Our journey began with a walking tour of the Wartburg, where Luther hid under the protection of Frederick the Wise after the Diet of Worms. Although disappointed by the lack of donkeys at the castle, which welcomed Luther in his day, buses were an adequate substitute for our enthusiastic bunch to reach their destination. Despite feeling rather worse for wear after tasting some German beer(s) the previous night, the brightly reconstructed nineteenth-century rooms, castle views and interesting gift shop souvenirs rallied the group. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Eisenach house offered further entertainment later in the day, where highlights included the hanging pods designed for listening to some of the composer’s greatest hits, and one class members’ debut as a pedal pusher in a musical demonstration.

Our study and research continued after hours, as the Leipzig crew sampled the local nightlife with traditional German beers and food, as well as finding a Scottish bar to remind us of home, thus successfully emulating Luther’s alcohol-laden table talks.

Luther 2017 2.jpgOur adventures brought us next to Wittenberg, a town at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation, although seriously lacking in much hustle or bustle today. Must-see sights included the brand new and well-equipped train station which welcomed us and set high hopes for our day in Luther’s university town. We also visited the famous doors of Castle Church, redesigned in the nineteenth century, where Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses, the beautiful Cranach the Elder Wittenberg Altarpiece, and of course Luther’s house. From receiving a stern and disapproving look from a member of staff when we held a Luther’s works story time in the Luther Room, to learning all about the animals the family kept at their home, and reading the many interesting pamphlets from Luther’s day in the printing room – hours of fun were had at the Luther House. This was undoubtedly the best part of everyone’s trip, with two members of the class particularly taking their time to soak up all the facts and learn about each display in minute detail, to everyone else’s delight…

The fun continued in Berlin, where some of us attended a number of church services to truly immerse ourselves in Lutheran theology, and others explored art galleries, set off sightseeing and getting lost around the Brandenburg Gate, and found the best place for breakfast. However, our planned itinerary later that day was cruelly cancelled due to the distraction and disruption of striking staff at all Berlin airports, which left everyone extremely disappointed to miss another museum visit. The solution of course was clear and we found a quaint bar to help drown our travel-dispute-related sorrows. Online comments stated that the barman was Mephistopheles himself, and that the basement bar was a parallel universe, although these claims can be neither confirmed nor denied.

Luther 2017 4.jpgGetting back to the UK became our next class mission. Collectively, we missed seven flights, had a further six cancelled, caught trains from Berlin to Hamburg, Vienna and Amsterdam, and even booked non-refundable hotel rooms mistakenly for seven months in advance in the Dutch capital – if anyone would like to buy these rooms from us please get in touch. With our numbers dwindling and seemingly re-enacting ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, or perhaps Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (minus the murder element and basically unlike the plot at all) the three remaining adventurers still stuck in Berlin desperately tried to return to St Andrews. Punished with flight delays and the Forth Road Bridge closure, we finally returned to The Bubble after twenty-eight hours of travel, where we will continue to study Luther from a safe distance. Dispersed across Europe, all members of the infamous 2017 Luther field trip could now truly understand Luther’s difficulties traveling through Germany.

Our thanks go to Dr Heal for organising the trip, showing us the sights, and most importantly getting us home. Half the class having converted to Catholicism, and all being very reluctant to leave Scotland for the foreseeable future, this was all in all a very successful trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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