Mediaeval St Andrews day workshop – January 2014

On 14 January the School of History hosted a one-day workshop on mediaeval St Andrews. The workshop was organised by Dr Michael Brown, Dr Katie Stevenson and Dr Alex Woolf, and there were thirty participants drawn from a range of disciplines including history, art history, literary studies, architectural history, archaeology and linguistics. Researchers came from the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Guelph and Trinity College Dublin and discussion benefited from the input of postgraduate researchers, professional archaeologists, archivists and other scholars.

The workshop centred on four principal themes – St Andrew, the Church, the burgh and the university – and each session was led by an invited authority, Dr Simon Taylor of the University of Glasgow on St Andrew, Prof. Ian Campbell of the University of Edinburgh on the Church, Prof. Elizabeth Ewan of the University of Guelph (and currently ISHR Visiting Research Fellow) on the burgh, and Dr Norman Reid, Head of Special Collections, on the university.

The organisers’ research interests in mediaeval St Andrews emerged after several years of teaching the honours option ME3309 Mediaeval St Andrews, the first fully team-taught honours option available to History students. The structure of the teaching and assessment for this module encouraged Drs Brown, Stevenson and Woolf to consider the present state of knowledge and understanding of St Andrews from its earliest settlement to the years before the Reformation in 1560. While the School of History prides itself on its research-led teaching, it is also important to recognise teaching-led research; the students of ME3309 past and present have been crucial to the inception of this project.

Over half of the workshop participants are contributing to a forthcoming volume Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City to be published in the St Andrews Studies in Scottish History series with Boydell & Brewer in 2015. The January workshop was generously supported by the School of History and the St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Gender & Transgression Conference 2013

SAIMS Postgraduate Organisers of the Gender & Transgression Conference: Eilidh Harris, Laura Tompkins, Mike French, Anna Peterson and Miriam Buncombe

SAIMS Postgraduate Organisers of the Gender & Transgression Conference: L-R Eilidh Harris, Laura Tompkins, Mike French, Anna Peterson and Miriam Buncombe

May 2013 saw the return of the Gender and Transgression in the Middle Ages Postgraduate conference, hosted by the St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies and supported by the School of History. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the conference, the conference was expanded across three days.

The PG sessions at this year’s conference covered a broad range of subject matter and disciplines, from ‘Gender and Religious Identity’ through to ‘Cross-Dressing in the Middle Ages’. The conference was able to boast a truly international participation this year, with speakers from all over Britain, Europe and America.


Prof. Pauline Stafford gives the keynote lecture

Prof. Pauline Stafford giving the keynote lecture

A session sponsored by the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature, provided an excellent opportunity to bring together institutes with an interest in the medieval period; a lively discussion following the session spilled over into the first wine reception of the conference, also sponsored by CMEMLLProf. Pauline Stafford (University of Liverpool) gave this year’s keynote address, speaking on ‘Reading Gender in the Old English Vernacular Chronicles’. The paper was extremely well received, and Prof. Stafford’s involvement throughout the conference was greatly appreciated.


Conference participants visiting University Library Special Collections

Conference participants visiting University Library Special Collections

The expanded time frame of the conference allowed for some St Andrews-focused activities on the Friday afternoon. The Special Collections department ran an excellent session on some of the library’s most interesting medieval documents. A second group enjoyed a walking tour of mediaeval St Andrews with Dr Alex Woolf and was rewarded for their bravery in the face of torrential rain with a quick pint in the pub afterwards!  After a mentally (and for some physically!) stimulating day everyone was ready for the conference meal, this year held in the Golf Hotel.

The conference ended with a particularly stimulating round table discussion led by Prof. Frances Andrews. This highlighted many key themes that had arisen over the past few days, and was instructive for spotlighting strands for consideration in future years.  Feedback from post-graduates and staff alike has once again been very positive and the organisers hope that the conference can continue to go from strength to strength.

Spotlight on Alex Woolf

Alex Woolf in Iceland in 2012

Alex Woolf in Iceland in 2012

Dr Alex Woolf arrived in St Andrews in 2001 after serving four years at the University of Edinburgh as Lecturer in Celtic and Early Scottish History and Culture. His career began inauspciously, having dropped out of a degree in Scandinavian Studies at UCL after only one year in 1983. He returned to university studies three years later, taking a Joint Honours degree in Medieval History and Medieval English at the University of Sheffield in 1989. He remained in Sheffield as a postgraduate in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory until 1995 when he took up a lectureship in Archaeology at the University of Wales Lampeter.

Pictland to Alba

Since leaving school Alex has been lucky enough never to have to think very hard about anything that happened after the middle of the thirteenth century and is more interested in the first millennium BC than he is in the Later Middle Ages. He is perhaps best known for his work on the Picts, including his 2007 monograph From Pictland to Alba and an article published in 2006 demonstrating that the core Pictish kingdom, Fortriu, was in fact in a completely different part of Scotland than had previously been thought. He is trained principally as a multidisciplinary Anglo-Saxonist and spends a great deal of time thinking about Anglo-Saxon geography.

You can listen to Alex speaking at a workshop on The Battle of Brunanburh Revisited at the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, University of Nottingham, on 26 October 2011. Click here for the audio.………………………………………………………..


Alex with PGS

Alex teaches at all levels in the school and currently runs Honours modules on the Gildas and the Ruin of Britain, Britons and Saxons, Adomnán and his World and is introducing a new Special Subject on Norway in Saga Times. He was, until recently, director of the St Andrews Institute for Mediaeval Studies.



You can see Alex in a video as part of the University of Reading’s Researchers’ Night in September 2011. Here Alex is is speaking about the links between Reading Abbey and the Isle of May in Scotland.

Alex in the Reading Researchers' Night video about the Isle of May and Reading Abbey

Alex in the Reading Researchers’ Night video about the Isle of May and Reading Abbey

For more on Alex go to and

Honours Module ME3309 Mediaeval St Andrews visit to MUSA

This week students taking ME3309 Mediaeval St Andrews, the honours module co-taught by Drs Alex Woolf, Michael Brown and Katie Stevenson, visited MUSA to see the collections on the early history of the University. Curatorial trainee Naomi Muir spoke to the group about the display of the objects as well as the history of the collection. Students have the option of writing a small assessment exercise on the Papal Bull of Benedict XIII, which is one of the gems held by Special Collections, or the Mace of the Faculty of Arts, one of three of the finest university maces to have survived from medieval Europe.