Postgraduate Spotlight: Chelsea Reutcke

Chelsea is a final year PhD student in Reformation Studies. In this blog she shares what draws her to studying ‘overlooked figures in history’.

Raised in Cincinnati and Chicago on a steady diet of Agatha Christie and history documentaries, Chelsea dreamed of someday living in the UK. Her love for mysteries extended beyond the realm of fiction, and from age twelve she became fixated on figuring out and understanding the past. After deciding that forensic anthropology required too many biology classes, she fixed her sights on history. 

During her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she was drawn to overlooked figures in history as well as those whose stories had been overwritten by a popular narrative. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on the ‘afterlives’ of Anne Boleyn in Protestant and Catholic polemics. This in turn led to a fascination with the under-recognized Catholic priest and vitriolic writer, Nicholas Sander, and his scandalous history of the English Reformation. This became the subject of her 2014 MLitt dissertation, undertaken at St Andrews under the supervision of Dr Jacqueline Rose. When Chelsea returned to St Andrews for her PhD in 2016, she found the perfect continuation of this work in a thesis on the production and circulation of Catholic books in England. 

Chelsea is now in the final year of her doctoral studies on Catholic texts in Restoration England, again under the supervision of Dr Rose. As in her earlier studies, the themes of hidden figures and mysterious queens (in this case, Catherine of Braganza) feature heavily in her work. She continues to focus on historical networks and lived experiences, particularly of the obscure printers and booksellers in London who produced Catholic books. Her favourite is a Catholic bookseller by the name of Matthew Turner. Despite selling over a hundred different titles and being described by contemporaries as ‘that notorious popish bookseller’, little is known about Turner compared to many of his Protestant counterparts, making every detail about him an exciting discovery.

Chelsea loves bringing new life to a topic deemed uninfluential in the wider historiography and giving agency to a group usually discussed in terms of outside fear through her research. Even in the final stretch, her love for her topic has not wavered, and the many avenues for further investigation it yields has already resulted in two upcoming publications: one on the private interests of the enforcers of the 1662 Licensing Act, and the other on the patronage networks surrounding Catherine of Braganza. 

Meanwhile, she’s exploring new approaches to history and public outreach through her participation in the Bibliography for British and Irish History and the ongoing ‘St Andrews 1559’ project by Open Virtual Worlds, supervised by Dr Bess Rhodes. This year, the project produced a digital reconstruction of Holy Trinity parish church, of which Chelsea’s favourite detail is the little set up steps on the side of the main entrance.

Now living her childhood dream, Chelsea tries to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities offered by life in Scotland. She has danced in a Regency ball, shot arrows in a medieval castle, and even travelled to Stockholm on a cheap flight to see a live podcast about murder. Her bookshelves continue to be filled with history texts and murder mysteries, and she looks forward to the day those books will feature her name. 

Project: Esperanto & Internationalism, c. 1880s-1930

Blog written by Dr Bernhard Struck. Dr Struck is a Reader in Modern European History and founding director of of the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History at St Andrews. His research interests include the history of Germany, Poland and France in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, transnational and comparative history, the history of travel and cartography, and now Esperanto.

Ču vi parolas Esperanton aŭ vi estas muglo? Do you speak Esperanto or are you a muggler? (AKA a non Esperanto-speaker) Esperanto is an easy language to learn. Its grammatical rules are simple and few—in fact, there are only sixteen in total! It can be learned in 30 minutes (seriously, compare that to Czech or Russian). The vocabulary is built on a blend of Romance and Germanic languages (mainly), some Slavic and a logical structure of Latin-based suffices and affixes. Linguists say the effort to learn and converse in Esperanto is about 1/5 compared to French. So why not learn Esperanto?

The Aberdeen Esperanto Society, 1919
Part of University of St Andrews Special Collections

That question may have been on the mind of some 40 Esperantists that we see in a photo taken in Craibstone near Aberdeen in 1919. We do not know much about these 40 individuals, yet the photo is a microscopic lens into the fascinating and multi-faceted Esperanto world in the early twentieth century and into a new interdisciplinary and collaborative project “Esperanto and Internationalism, c.1880-1930”.

The Esperanto society in Aberdeen was founded in October 1904 at a time when clubs mushroomed across Europe: in Dundee, Montrose (and elsewhere in Scotland), in Pardubice, Kutné Hoře, and Prague in Bohemia, in Saxony, in Warsaw and western Tsarist Russia, in Finland, Catalonia, in the English Midlands, and rural Bavaria, as well as in the US, in China and Japan. The movement bridged generations, it brought together women and men, it attracted Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Free Thinkers. It attracted teachers, scientists, engineers, doctors, and later on workers and civil servants.

The language was created by the Polish-Jewish doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917). He grew up in Bialystok (today’s Poland) in Tsarist Russia. In the 1870s in Bialystok, with a large Jewish population, he would have heard Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew along with another handful of languages and dialects. As a young medical student in Warsaw the young Zamenhof witnessed the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1882/83 that raged across the region. It was against this backdrop of rising ethno-nationalist tensions, at a time of globalisation, internationalism, and nationalism, that Zamenhof published his first two Esperanto manuals, Unua Libro and Dua Libro in 1887/88, first in Russian, and swiftly translated into other languages. With Esperanto, Zamenhof and his many followers hoped (Esperanto translates as “the one who hopes”) to give the world a neutral, non-national communication ground for a better, peaceful future of mankind.

The photo of the Esperanto group from Aberdeen provides the backdrop to the research questions for our new project hosted in the School of History and at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History (ITSH): How did the movement spread? Who learned the language? How was Esperanto lived and organised at a local, regional, and transnational level? How did Esperantists live and communicate in Esperantoland a far-reaching, organised, yet non-territorial language community as teachers, engineers, and doctors, as Scots, Bohemians, Germans, Fins, and French? Were they internationalist, affiliated with other international organisation and attending the Universal Esperanto Congresses, or were they rather local-internationalists who did not attend congresses, but preferred to exchange postcards in Esperanto between Dundee, Bohemia, India, and Oslo?

The Esperanto project group. From left to right: Marcel Koschek, Manuela Burghelea, Pilar Requejo De Lamo, and Dr Bernhard Struck

Currently, the projects brings together four researchers with distinct, yet interrelated topics. Marcel Koschek joined us in September 2019 with degrees in History and Political & Social Sciences from the University of Würzburg and Bonn. He is working a PhD project “Local Internationalists. Polish and Central European Esperantist Networks between the local, national and global, 1880-1920s”. The projects aims to showcase how Polish Esperantists interacted in different spheres and examines their personal backgrounds, professions and interest.

Pilar Requejo De Lamo came to St Andrews in 2018 for an MLitt in Intellectual History and with a degree in International Relations from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. Her PhD is entitled “Early Esperanto Communities in Spain: Tensions between Local, Regional and National Organisations”. The aim of this PhD is to bring into discussion the development of the artificial language in 20th-century Spain, and particularly in Catalonia.

Manuela Burghelea joined the Esperanto-Project at St Andrews as a continuation of her Master research on Esperanto between universal ideals and local cultural practices. She holds a joint MA degree in Intercultural Mediation (Lille) and a Bachelor degree in Philology (Bucureşti). Manuela conducted European volunteer work in Esperanto associations in France and in the Netherlands and is currently administrating the online citizen media translation community Global Voices Esperanto. Her project is entitled “Wandering Language: Senses of Place and Belonging among Esperanto Millenials”. In a socioanthropological and historical perspective, the project analyses motivations, aspirations, and agendas of young Esperanto speakers in current day Rio de Janeiro.

Working on a monograph on Modern Europe. A Transnational History, 1760s-2000s (Bloomsbury) Bernhard Struck started reading around the Esperanto movement and fell in love (academically). Taking an explicit local and regional starting point, his own research focuses on Scotland, the Midlands, Saxony, and Bohemia in the early twentieth century. Beyond the transregional focus around these four Esperanto regions, his current interests revolve around Esperanto experts as ‘epistemic communities’ by looking at doctors, architects, city planners in the Esperanto movement.

QGIS map of all international congress visitors across Europe 1904-1913.
Photo courtesy of the Esperanto project

While research on Esperanto exists, the movement as such has never been studied as what it truly was: a cross-border, translocal, transregional, and, in fact, global community. While all of our projects follow discrete questions and local and national particularities, they follow an explicit transnational perspective: a spatial and scalar perspective that starts from the local and individual and builds outwards to the regional, national, and transnational. The project builds on a complex linguistic and far-spread archival base from local and private archives, to city archives, museums, and national archives. It has a spatial and Digital History component by data mining of sources and visualisation of local memberships, journal publications, and international congress participation.

We would like to thank a number of sponsors of the project: the University of St Andrews, the German Academic Exchange Service, (DAAD) the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the CEDIES (Luxembourg), ESF (Esperantic Studies Foundation).

Disability History Month Poster 3: Benjamin Lay

Benjamin Lay (January 26, 1682 – February 8, 1759) was a Quaker and an early campaigner for the abolition of slavery.  He was born in Essex, England and died in Abingdon, Pennsylvania, having followed a variety of professions including sailor and glovemaker. He achieved notoriety through his outspoken life-long protests against the enslavement of Africans. He spent most of his life in Philadelphia writing against slavery, haranguing Quaker slave-owners and attempting to get them to recognize the error of their ways.

The son of an Essex yeoman of modest means, Lay first encountered slavery when he and his wife spent two years between 1718 and 1720 living in Barbados. It was this experience that planted a deep hatred of slavery in Lay and, following his emigration to Pennsylvania in 1732, prompted his determination to speak out against it. In Philadelphia Lay kept up his opposition by a variety of means. He persuaded Benjamin Franklin to publish his anti-slavery book,  All Slave-keepers that keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates (1737). He also engaged in what might best be described as ‘guerrilla theatre’. Lay’s stunts included kidnapping the child of a Quaker slaveowner so that his co-religionist might understand what it was like as a parent to lose offspring to the slave trade. By placing a sheep’s bladder filled with pokeberry juice in a Bible, Lay also seemed to make it bleed when he stabbed it with a sword during a speech against slavery at a Quaker meeting in Burlington, New Jersey.

Lay stood at a little over four feet tall and, as his portrait shows, had a hunched-back and a protruding chest. His wife, Sarah, was also a person of short stature. His disability, along with his outspoken opposition to slavery, made him a curiosity in his time. He rejected mainstream society as much as it shunned him, and he spent the final third of his life living in a cave, making his own clothes, maintaining a vegetarian diet, and boycotting consumption of anything produced by slave labour. As Marcus Rediker has underlined with his recent biography, Lay was ‘a radical for our time’.

Suggestions for further reading: 

Marcus Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker dwarf who became the first revolutionary abolitionist (Verso, 2017)

Richard Vaux, Memoirs of the lives of Benjamin Lay and Ralph Sandiford, two of the earliest public advocates for the emancipation of the enslaved Africans(Philadelphia, 1815)

Lydia Maria Francis Child, Memoir of Benjamin Lay, Compiled from Various Sources (New York, 1842)

Disability History Month runs from 22nd November to 22nd December

Disability History Month Poster 2: Will Sommers


Disabled History can be found at the centre of Renaissance court life in the form of natural court fools, neurodiverse individuals who acted as entertainers and companions to royalty. Will Sommers (d.1560 Somer, Somers), one of the most famous fools of the Renaissance, was King’s Fool to Henry VIII. The importance of Sommers to Henry is demonstrated by his presence in the king’s private psalter which he commissioned French artist Jean Mallard to create between 1540-41. On folio 63v we see a realistic miniature that portrays the Psalm 52 passage: Dixit insipiens in corde suonon est Deus or The Fool Hath Said in His Heart, There is No God. Fool miniatures for this Psalm had traditionally not taken inspiration from real and natural court fools – this image, therefore, is a good example of the subversive nature of Henry’s psalter. Here, and throughout, Henry depicts himself as King David, comments in the margins and creates a book both signifying his faith and his power over England’s spiritual affairs. Henry’s choice to have Will portrayed here is another act of revolt against typical psalters in its depiction of a real fool. 

This was not the only image of Will produced:  the 1545 The Family of Henry VIII portrait used Will’s image for dynastic purposes. By contrast, in the psalter he is depicted, stooped back and all, mirroring the ageing king.  This image is not just artistically accomplished, but intimate as Will is inserted into Henry’s devotional practice: between ruminating over his Christianity and reading his psalms the King can see the face of his beloved fool.  This bond between King and Fool was remembered as late as 1608 when Robert Armin’s Foole Upon Fool related of Sommers,  “few men were more belou’d, then was this foole, whose merry prate kept with the King much rule” and through jokes, riddle and rhymes the king and fool would exile “sadnesse many a time”. The psalter’s depiction of the two men evokes one of these back and forth exchanges.  Will remained appreciated beyond Henry’s lifetime and through the reigns of his three children. Payments to Will’s keepers (like modern carers) continued, he participated in Edward VI’s Christmas 1551 festivities, was purchased a green silk coat by Queen Mary between 1554-1555 and attended Elizabeth’s coronation. He passed away on June 15th 1560 and was laid to rest at St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Sommer’s immortalisation in everything from the psalter to literature and portraiture would ensure his legacy as one of history’s most important court fools and neurodiverse people.

This poster is based on the research of, and was written by, Jessica Secmezsoy-Urquhart, a PhD student in the School of History.

Disability History Month runs from 22nd November to 22nd December

Further reading:

D.J. Gifford, “Iconographical Notes towards a Definition of the Medieval Fool”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes,37 (1974) 336-342.

Patrick McDonagh, Idiocy: A Cultural History (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008).

John Southworth, Fools and Jesters at the English Court (The History Press Ltd., New Ed. 2003)

James Gairdner and R H Brodie eds. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 20 Part 2, August-December 1545, (London, 1907) 488-504. British History Online, <

Enid Welsford, The Fool (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1935).

William Willeford, The Fool and his Sceptre (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1969).

Disability History Month 2019

This week marks the beginning of Disability History Month, which runs from 22nd November to 22nd December. To celebrate this, the School’s Equality & Diversity Committee has put together a series of six posters, each one dedicated to a historical figure or figures who lived with physical and/or intellectual disabilities or neurodiversity. These will be displayed in and around teaching rooms and staff offices in South Street, St Katherine’s Lodge, and the Arts Building. See if you can spot them all!

We hope that the posters will fire your interest to find out more about the fascinating people they describe, so we’ll also release blog posts here over the course of the month which will set out some further reading related to each case. The first one – on the mutilation of Justinian II – is below.

Disabling an Emperor: The Mutilation of Justinian II

The poorly-struck gold tremissis coin visible on the poster was minted in Constantinople between 705 and 711 CE. The two figures on the reverse, both clutching a cross, are named in Latin [I]USTINIANUS ET TIBER[IUS], identifying the emperor Justinian II and his young son, and co-emperor, Tiberius. Someone however has deliberately damaged the nose of the Justinian figure, clearly an act of dissidence and opposition, but also of artistic correction, for Justinian II had had his nose cut off and his tongue split when deposed in 695. His return to power a decade later was accompanied by great brutality and the intervening emperors were both beheaded. Why did Justinian II lose his nose rather than his head?

Contrary to popular belief, there was no long-standing tradition of nose-cutting – as opposed to the ubiquitous blinding – in Byzantium. The earliest instance involves the punishment of Athalarikos and Theodore magistros, respectively the illegitimate son and nephew of the emperor Heraclius, for plotting to murder the emperor and his sons in 637. Justinian II’s father Constantine IV had mutilated his two brothers, Heraclius and Tiberius, in 681 in the same way. This action may be connected to the prohibition found in Leviticus 21:18 on imperfect men serving as priests and it is striking that all of the figures who suffered this fate down to Justinian II were descended from Heraclius. Nose-cutting therefore may have been a form of permanent, visible disfigurement intended to delegitimise rather than to kill, intimating a remarkable respect for the Heraclian line. The tradition that Justinian II obtained a golden prosthetic appears only in a later eighth-century Italian source which maintains that Justinian II lost his arms and ears as well; this should be treated with caution. 

Suggestion for further reading: Patricia Skinner, ‘The Gendered Nose and its Lack: “Medieval” Nose-Cutting and its Manifestations’, Journal of Women’s History vol. 26 no.1 (2014): 45-67

Staff Spotlight: Dr Montserrat Lopez Jerez

Blog written by Dr Montserrat Lopez Jerez. Dr Lopez Jerez is a new addition to the School of History this year. Her research focuses on the economic history of developing regions, particularly colonial and post-colonial economic development in East and Southeast Asia. 

Montse in Luang Prabang

I am not sure if my academic career qualifies as conventional–it has definitely not been straightforward. Before my current work, I spent years studying natural sciences and almost applied to medical school. Instead, I opted for a quicker entry into the labour market and went for Business Administration, majoring in international economics in Icade, Madrid. I took advantage of the extra academic opportunities offered by the university while I was there, which eventually resulted in combining my studies with work in, among others, investment banking (ING Barings) and strategic consultancy (Arthur D. Little), as well as volunteer work.

By the time I graduated I was ready to move from Spain, and I was lucky enough to get a paid internship sponsored by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) to work for one year at the Commercial Section of the Spanish Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, followed by two years in Vientiane, Laos as a trade consultant. Witnessing the remarkably quick transformations taking place in the region and being part of the striking inequalities, I was bitten by an academic curiosity which led me to a Masters in Asian Studies at Lund University, Sweden. I specialised on Southeast Asia and carried out my fieldwork in Thailand under the supervision of Professor Christer Gunnarsson. Under his and Associate Professor Martin Andersson’s supervision, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the effects of factor endowments in influencing the developing paths of the two rice deltas of Vietnam from colonial times. I obtained my PhD in Economic History in 2015 and stayed in Lund as a lecturer at the Department of Economic History and the Centre for Asian Studies. I was again very fortunate as my dissertation won the Wallander scholarship granting me three years of research fellowship.

A map of French Indochina taken by Montse at the French Archives (ANOM) in Aix-en-Provence

Lund, especially the Department of Economic History, was home for fourteen years. During this time I worked mainly on my dissertation which is now a monograph titled Deltas Apart – Factor Endowments, Colonial Extraction and Pathways of Agricultural Development in Vietnam. As Swedish dissertations have an ISBN, its conversion into a book has not been forthright but it is one of my upcoming projects. Emanating from the dissertation, I have published four research pieces, of which the latest are on the modern transformation of Vietnam examining the linkages between rural transformation and inclusiveness (in Innovation and Development 2019) and one shortly forthcoming in an edited volume by CUP on the fiscal capacity of the colonial state in Africa and Asia (edited by Ewout Frankema and Anne Booth). Here I explore the formation and evolution of the French fiscal state in Indochina in relation to the paradox of being portrayed as one of the most extractive states (when it comes to taxation) while its revenues per capita are amongst the lowest in colonial East and Southeast Asia.

Since August 2019, I have been participating in a recently granted Lund-based project which aims at understanding what makes developing countries resilient to economic shrinking. This will run for three years. Simultaneously I am expanding my work on understanding and quantifying inequalities in rural economies and their effect in economic development in East and Southeast Asia.

My teaching in St Andrews reflects my academic interests, diverse and broad training, and experience of working in European environments while specialising in Asia. My honour modules are: MO3388 (the East Asian Economic Miracle), MO3355 (on colonialism in East and Southeast Asia), and MO4854 (Equality, Institutions and the Development of the Modern State).  I look forward to engaging in MO1008, HI2001, and the MSc in Economic and Social History next year.

When I’m not at work, I spend my time with my kids and other loved ones spread across the globe.

‘Prisoners or Patients? Criminal Insanity in Victorian Scotland’: an exhibition by Professor Rab Houston

Blog written by Professor Rab Houston. Professor Houston has worked at the University of St Andrews since 1983 and is Professor of Modern History, specialising in British social history.

Professor Rab Houston

‘Prisoners or Patients?’ is the latest part of a major project I began in 2016 to use the lessons of history to stimulate awareness of mental health issues in the modern world.

Using free podcasts, social media, public talks, and photo exhibitions of asylum and prison patients I tried to reach out to sufferers and those close to them, medical professionals, and anyone with an interest in what is the fastest growing diagnostic category in global healthcare. I did this using history because it is, I think, uniquely useful for enabling empathetic engagement.

William Porter, convicted of housebreaking and theft.
Image: National Records of Scotland

People a century or more ago seem very different to us. The rationale behind the photo exhibitions is that the further you get from an event or a person, the harder it is to know what they were actually like. The more you can keep of the physical reality, the more you keep of the mental reality. Seeing someone’s face engages us straight away, and then you begin to question why their image was taken. In this case it was because of a crime. What were their family circumstances? How did those around them see their mental state? Did they get a bad break or make a bad choice? How did the justice system deal with those who were not responsible because they were insane? What therapies were available to treat someone who went mad? All these steps draw us into a material world that is different to our own – but a mental world that is more familiar than we might think, because the combination of genetic predisposition and life-stresses that produce mental disorders was almost certainly the same in the past as in the present.

Britain’s present-day prison system was created by the Victorians. They built not only penitentiaries, some still housing prisoners, but also a national system of administration. What were called ‘criminal lunatics’ became part of an integrated system during Victorian times, rather than anomalies in both justice and health care. Perth Prison’s Criminal Lunatic Department was created to house the most seriously disturbed offenders from across Scotland, and it was the only facility of its kind until what is now The State Hospital, Carstairs, opened in 1948. 

Margaret Hunter or Beaton, convicted of killing her young son
Image: National Records of Scotland

The problems the justice system faced then were similar to today. How to identify whether someone really was mad or feigning insanity in hope of more favourable treatment? Where to put criminal lunatics to prevent them from harming themselves and others? How to balance the needs of society with the rights of individuals? How to help prisoner-patients recover and re-enter the community? Prison communities of all kinds had much higher levels of mental disorder than the general population in Victorian times, something which remains true today.

There are differences too. Victorians thought that institutions were the key to most social problems, whereas their successors today prefer smaller scale solutions. Most of the drugs now used to manage mental problems have only been available since the mid-20th century; Victorians had only sedatives and hypnotics. We have different ideas about the status of women and children, and the acceptability of violence in interpersonal relations. But the difference is not as crude as we might think. The Victorians knew about social issues and mental disorders, dealing with them as best they could by the standards of their times. The past really is another country, where they do things differently. We should respect their efforts, even if, ultimately, we ourselves choose to do things differently.

What does all this mean? The famous British historian G. M. Trevelyan once wrote movingly:

‘The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact, that once, on this earth, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another; gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at dawn.’

A body belt used to restrain a prisoner’s arms and hands. Restraints like this were used in all UK prisons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Image: National Records of Scotland

The exhibition helps us to reach out to them across time and to see ourselves and those around us in a different, more sympathetic light. It allows us to learn more about mental health through the lessons of history. Because we are all migrants through time.

The exhibition showed at the National Records of Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival (August 2019) and was part of the official Fringe program. Between now and the end of 2019 it will be in various Scottish prisons, The State Hospital Carstairs, and on display at a UK forensic psychiatry conference. The project runs until the end of July 2020.