The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic Class Trip

Blog written by Meg Hyland


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).


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.

Sharing 1780s ‘Fishy Fashion’: a 4th Year Case Study in Public History by Peryn Westerhof Nyman and Adam Hodges-LeClaire


Photo attrib. Noël Heaney, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0


Blog written by Adam Hodges-LeClaire

While most students will simply go to archives to conduct their research, others go further in their pursuits to understand the past. Adam Hodges-LeClaire, a fourth-year History Student, used his Honours courses to delve deeper into the eighteenth century, specifically the culture of sailors and fisherfolk in 1780s Fife. After engaging in the historical re-enactment community for many years, beginning summer museum work during university, and then sailing aboard the reconstructed frigate Hermione for seven months, he returned to St Andrews to build on these experiences. Currently, he is finishing his degree with a focus towards public history, and connecting wider audiences to ‘fishy fashion’ and the maritime past of the 1780s.

This course recently culminated in the performance of, “Are You a Pirate?!” (My Adventures as an 18th Century Sailor), an on-stage dissertation performed on 2 and 3 December at the Barron Theatre as part of the HI4997 course led by Professor De Groot. Adam, together with PhD student Peryn Westerhof Nyman led the audience through a whirlwind two hour tour of the materiality of eighteenth-century sailor fashion  and maritime material culture, using this focus to address larger questions in social history. To begin, scattered over the theatre seats were a range of accessories, from colourful cotton handkerchiefs to clay pipes, from London brothel guides to tarred pieces of hemp rope. All of these tidbits were cues to enter and explore the lives of sailors, as founded in Adam and Peryn’s dissertation research which combined archival, textual, visual, and material evidence. After the members of the audience had a chance to examine the various objects, the hosts then talked the audience through the many layers of their clothing as they dressed in a replica maritime wardrobe, explaining the different rationales of function and fashion behind each garment, and what they can tell us about fashion today as well as its centrality over 250 years ago.


Photo attrib. Amy Chubb, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Rather than subscribing to the idea that daily life in the past was drab, filthy, and unimportant for ‘serious’ history, Adam and Peryn clearly showed the garments’ practicality, as well as the scholarly connections of Georgian fishing attire to the present. For instance, changing linen body layers kept contemporary bodies clean without modern plumbing, and an incredible range of materials was sold and produced within a global pre-industrial marketplace. Leather breeches would protect the sailors from the hard labour of work on ships, and a woman’s stays would help her carry a heavy willow creel of fish on her back to market. But like today, clothes were not just practical: they were also evidence of an individual’s social position, their personality and the wider mores of the time.


Photo attrib. Amy Chubb, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The performance ended with a discussion on how historical empathy and expanding the range of available evidence historians use, can teach both researchers about the past and non-historians about their experience of popular history. A sailor’s life was not just about sailing, and far less about swashbuckling: it was about acting with agency, in making a living, and underpinning many of the economic, military, and political systems of the era. It was also about the remarkable communities left behind onshore, and the larger systems and forces which defined the lives of both, from the state regulation of fisheries, to the wider professional identity of an international subculture at sea. For the understanding of gender in particular, women’s centrality in this traditionally male focused area was also highlighted, particularly in relation to pre-industrial fishwives and to the controversy surrounding British naval impressment. As the title of the performance indicated, pirates may be the focus in current popular culture, but the reality is far more incredible – and historians can use new techniques and research methods to effectively share these stories with wider audiences.


Photo attrib. Nöel Heaney, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Undergraduate History Conference 2016

history-undergraduate-conference-group-photoThe 2017 Undergraduate History Conference is being held this weekend, 4 February with the theme “Identity in History” starting at 9:30 in our Old Class Library with Dr James Nott as the keynote speaker. We’ll have more to say about the conference in some postings ahead. Today Olivia Richey looks back at the conference last year in February, 2016.

I had the great honor of organizing the Undergraduate History Conference held in St. Andrews on the 6th of February 2016. This conference is the sole history conference in Britain completely organized by and for Undergraduate Students. The purpose of the Undergraduate History Conference is to facilitate a forum for Undergraduates interested in academic careers to research and present their work in a conference setting and have it published in a journal.

In selecting a theme for this year’s conference we wanted a theme that would excite conference attendees and allow for a great variety of submissions. While debating the merits of different topics we began to think about war. It has been a constant and powerful force in recorded human history and has affected almost every culture in existence, including ours today. Therefore, we believed it was an important topic to explore in the Undergraduate History Conference.

In our search for papers, we sought a diversity of locations and interpretations. We believed that in order to fully facilitate a discussion on war in history, the topics needed to be both broad and global. The time periods explored ranged from the Middle Ages, with a study concerning the Norman invasion of Italy and its effect on identity, to the 1980s, with an examination of Punk culture in East Germany as a form of war on accepted culture. The papers also examined different types of weapons used in war, from castles in the 11th century to atomic bombs in communist China in the 1970s. From the great range of topics, we delved into a deep and heated debate on the nature of war at the end of the conference in a round table discussion.

In addition, it was tremendously important to choose a Keynote Speaker that would match the sentiment of the conference. For this, Dr. Riccardo Bavaj was the clear choice. His presentation was based upon his newly released book Nazism: A New Introduction, which fit our search for novel interpretations of war. He spoke on the Volksgemeinschaft in Germany during the Second World War, particularly the relationship between Volksgemeinschaft and violence. His presentation served as an excellent example of how to conduct, create, and present research at the professional level.

Overall, the day was one of a great exchange of knowledge among all conference attendees. I would like to thank the participants of the Conference for devoting a great deal of their time to pursue history beyond the classroom. As well, the generosity of the History and Classics Departments of St. Andrews for their funding contributions, and the Dean of Arts at the University of St. Andrews, Professor Hibbert, for sponsoring the Dean’s Prize for the Conference.

Ronald Cant and the Establishment of Scottish History Teaching at the University of St Andrews

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


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

Today, Scottish history enjoys its rightful place as part of the history curriculum at the University of St Andrews: first and second year modules delve into Scotland’s past; there are honours courses devoted to the nation’s history; a Scottish Historical Studies MLitt is offered, and there are numerous PhD students researching a wide variety of Scottish topics. However, it was not until around the mid-twentieth century that Scotland’s first university offered the serious and permanent study of this subject to its students. Flying the flag for Scottish history at St Andrews University during this time was the historian Ronald Cant. Having been appointed mediaeval history lecturer in 1936, the historian almost immediately began his mission to single-handedly secure the study of Scotland’s past at this university. Although characteristically modest and unambitious, Cant was a pioneer who fought a long and lonely battle to gain recognition for his subject, with a Scottish history chair finally being created in 1974, the year of the historian’s retirement. Read more of this post

Monthly Round Up: July and August


Professor John Hudson of the School of History and Professor Lorna Hutson of the School of English have been elected Fellows of the British Academy

Staff Activity

Professor Rab Houston has launched the podcast series The History of Psychiatry in Britain since the Renaissance.

Dr James Palmer has written ‘Crossing the Continent’ for History Today, about pro-European historiography and political exiles after the Second World War

Members of the Universal Short Title Catalogue attended the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing annual conference, this year held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They presented their current research connected with a new initiative entitled ‘Preserving the World’s Rarest Books’. Supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, this new programme seeks to help libraries identify and conserve their rarest items. Professor Andrew Pettegree discussed ‘Survival and Loss in the Early Modern Book World’, Dr Graeme Kemp spoke on ‘Jacques Charles Brunet’s Manuel du libraire et de l’amateur des livres and the World’s Rarest Books’, while Dr Shanti Graheli discussed ‘Italian Books in French Libraries: Bibliophilie, Rarity and Survival’.

Recent Publications

Dr Tomasz Kamusella, ‘Nations in the Bubble of Social Reality: Language and all That’, Sprawy Narodowościowe, (2016), 48, pp. 1-21.

Several of Dr Tomasz Kamusella’s former undergraduate students also published articles in the same journal:

Maria Isabella Reinhard, ‘“An isolated case”: the Slovene Carinthians and the 1920 Plebiscite’

Hana Srebotnjak, ‘Tracing the decline of Yugoslav identity: a case for ‘invisible’ ethnic cleansing’

Michael Julian Emanuel Volkmer, ‘No Austrians in South Tyrol? Why the German-speaking community in Italy’s South Tyrol (Alto Adige) province is not usually called an Austrian minority’

Laidlaw Interns: Siân Burkitt and Tadek Wojtych

sianburkittSiân Burkitt

My Laidlaw project, called Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, supervised by Dr Aileen Fyfe, hopes to explore the social, cultural and economic history of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the scientific journal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The questions I wish to answer with this project (through exploring the archives of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in summer) are concerned with two aspects of the journal. The first relates to its editorial practices; in particular the way in which the Edinburgh journal was organised in comparison to its equivalent at the Royal Society in London. The other key question relates to the ways in which the Royal Society of Edinburgh funded and supported the journal.

The most exciting aspect of the project for me personally is the fact that the research I carry out over the summer will be making a contribution to Dr Aileen Fyfe’s project, ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the Social, Cultural and Economic History of a Learned Journal, 1665-2015’. It is a three year project, being carried out as part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary, which hopes to trace the history of the Philosophical Transactions and their larger impact in society.

My interest for this project comes from my interest in the history of science in general. Last semester, I studied the development of the atomic bomb, which drew my attention to the history of science. What I found particularly fascinating was the way in which scientists worked together across national borders, and identified themselves as being part of a global scientific community. This transnational element of science truly captured my attention and sparked my interest for my Laidlaw project. The scientific community is a global network that relies on journals such as Transactions to broadcast its ideas to the widest audience possible. Piecing together the history of this particular journal will therefore shed some light on the particular way in which scientific knowledge has been shared all over the world, regardless of borders, from the Enlightenment until the present day.


tadek.jpgTadek Wojtych

In a time of budget airlines, open borders, and Erasmus student exchange, most of us take study abroad opportunities for granted. Yet less than 30 years ago, with the iron curtain stretching from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, attending a foreign university was much more challenging. My project (Not so iron curtain. Interactions between international students and local people in Gdynia during the communist period, 1945-1989), supervised by Bernard Struck, is about the youths who plucked up the courage to apply, and about the people they encountered.

Communist Poland was a country with relatively closed borders. The society was ethnically homogenous, and a foreigner was not a common sight. My objective is to analyse the encounters between local people and the handful of international students in the city of Gdynia in the communist era. By carrying out archival research and conducting interviews with alumni and their lecturers, I want to find out how life in a racially, linguistically and religiously homogenous society affected the attitudes of Poles to foreign students. How did these contacts shape the identity of both students and locals? How was the Polish society perceived by incomers from more diverse countries (Canada, the USA), or from regions which had recently experienced foreign occupation (Korea, Vietnam)? My project aspires to be part of the broader reflection on how Europeans have treated ‘the Other’, how attitudes towards immigrants have been formed, and how contacts with foreigners affect the formation of local, national and transnational identities. Furthermore, insight into the historical background of intercultural communication can provide a meaningful contribution to the current debates about economic migration and the refugee crisis.

In the past few weeks I had a chance to meet the rest of the Laidlaw cohort and some of the last year’s interns, including my mentor, Alice Zamboni. We all represent a wide range of disciplines, and so the conversations that we had made me look at my plans and aims for the summer from new perspectives. I am grateful for the encouragement I received from those who took an interest in my project. In particular, I would like thank my supervisor, Dr Bernhard Struck, for his kind support and unfailingly inspiring discussions.


Getting the most out of your first year – Undergraduate View

Firstly, we want to say a huge welcome from the School of History to all of our new students! To mark the start of the new academic year, we will be publishing guest posts from students in the School covering their advice and tips on getting the most out of your time here. Today we are delighted to hear from Lauren Hossack, who is a fourth year joint-honours student in History and English, on getting the most out of your first year as a historian at St Andrews.

Photo attr. Daniel Peckham, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Photo by Daniel Peckham, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Getting the most out of any subject, and university as a whole, is really all about balance. You’ll hear this said a lot over the next four years, but as someone due soon to emerge from the other side, I can tell you: it’s all true.

Learn how things work. I can’t say enough how worthwhile it is to spend time reading through and familiarising yourself with course content, structure, assessment criteria and the school’s standards for things like essay layout. These will differ in other subjects so be aware of how the school wants you to present your work, as it can mean the difference between gaining and losing marks. On a related note, you’d be surprised how long it can take to format essays, so be sure to allow plenty of time (a good few hours) to do this before you submit them.

At the same time, don’t expect to know it all. Sure, information is there and no one but yourself can make you read it, but remember that it takes time to adjust to studying at university level. Cut yourself some slack and allow yourself time to relax away from an academic setting. I mean it when I say that establishing healthy, balanced attitudes to study and leisure time early will serve you well later in your degree.

That said, scheduling your time is key, and something else that will be ever more pressing as you progress into Honours. Self-discipline is needed, and again, no one is going to do this for you. The biggest favour you can do yourself is to establish a routine. It can help to view your studies as a 9-5 job – this distinguishes between academia and any extracurriculars you might have.

Always, always, always be prepared for tutorials. Make sure you’ve done the reading, even if you didn’t really understand it. Note down what you can anyway, and be prepared to share it. If you’re not entirely comfortable with the topic, contributing early on can be useful so you can get your thoughts out there before the discussion runs into unfamiliar territory.

Attend lectures! This sounds so obvious, but as the semester wears on, it can be tempting to just not turn up. Sure, a lot of lecturers will make notes available online, but these will be in summarised form, assuming you have the information that fleshes them out. The most effective way to get this information is to go to the lecture and hear it explained. If you’ve missed a lecture then don’t be scared to ask someone to share their notes, though it’s always better to have your own where possible.

Figure out where, when and how you study best. Of course, reading is inescapable, but all the better if you can place yourself in an environment that allows you to get it done. When taking notes, bear in mind you’ll look back at them later on, so make sure they’ll be useful, and present them in a way that can help you remember them. CAPOD has lots of resources to help you with your studies, and the library website has lots of information about how to find resources. Don’t be afraid to make use of these – they’re there to help you do your best.

Never be afraid to ask questions. Tutors are there for you to approach them with concerns related to the class. If they have office hours attend them, or speak to them at the end of tutorials. If you have an issue with your studies, you can contact the school president ( who can advise anonymously and help you resolve any academic problems you might have.

Photo by Graeme Paterson, CC BY 2.0.

Photo by Graeme Paterson, CC BY 2.0.

Most of all, take care of yourself. If you start to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that everything is new, and you can expect to trip up while you get used to it. In this respect, it’s helpful to connect with people in your tutorial, or fellow historians in your hall of residence. They’ll likely be feeling the same as you, and you can support one another through the year. Organising study groups can be a particularly good way to get more discussion time in beyond the allotted tutorial hour, and a great way to study for exams. This kind of support network can become a vital place for you to vent any frustrations, and the university’s Nightline service is always ready to lend an ear to your worries.

In History, as in any subject, there will almost certainly be weeks you don’t enjoy and topics you aren’t hugely interested in, and this is ok. The aim of first and second year is to get a taste of what’s on offer in Honours, and to develop the skills needed to succeed at that level. Here’s another truth: if you’re prepared to make the effort, you will reap the rewards.