Postgraduate Spotlight: Kevin McNamara

Kevin McNamaraKevin McNamara grew up in the small town of Castlebar in the rural and rugged west of Ireland. One of his earliest memories is of hiding at the back of a Maths class in Primary School, re-reading his history book from cover to cover. Unsurprisingly, this interest led to his first adventure into the world of humanities at the University of Limerick in 2006, focusing on a joint honours degree in English Literature and European History. During his final year, he worked on the development of the German ‘Bewegungskrieg’ concept in the interwar period for his dissertation under the supervision of Dr. Ruan O’Donnell. In 2010, Kevin moved to the University of St Andrews to study for a MLitt in Modern History with a specific focus on the rise of Nazism in the Weimar Republic. Following his dissertation, which examined the issue of whether consent or coercion formed the basis of support for the National Socialist regime, Kevin decided that the University of St Andrews offered the ideal launch pad for an academic career and began his PhD under the watchful eye of Professor Conan Fischer in September 2012.

Kevin’s doctoral project focuses on the network of British consular posts in the Third Reich between 1933 and 1939. This project examines consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution in local and regional sectors of the Third Reich and the influence that these despatches had upon Anglo-German diplomacy during the interwar period. The fact that reports generated by the British Embassy in Berlin were in part derived from consular dispatches allows this project to discern how significant Nazi anti-Semitic persecution was to the British Government and what influence this data had upon Anglo-German diplomacy. The project will therefore go beyond local consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution to establish what the interaction was between the network and the Embassy, and consider how the resulting range of viewpoints influenced British policymaking at key junctures.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

As the project adopts a thematically-based approach, the deficiencies within any one consular district will be offset by evidence from elsewhere in the network, thus facilitating a balanced and objective study. Kevin’s doctoral project will therefore evaluate the reports on anti-Semitic persecution from six consular districts in Nazi Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which will be subsequently examined in the wider context of the consular network in the Third Reich. In terms of their scope and range, the consular service offers a wealth of uncensored diplomatic material and must be considered as a fundamental instrument of data-gathering in the Third Reich. In examining reports of anti-Semitism from the local consular officials to the Foreign Office via the Embassy in Berlin, the bottom-top approach will give insights into the context and underlying rationale of British external policy with each new phase of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.

Aside from his doctoral project, Kevin is a fellow of the Leo Baeck Institute in London which has provided a platform from which to present research findings and to engage in current trends in German historiography.  Furthermore, as his doctoral project contains a vast quantity of data from the local regions of the Third Reich, the Fellowship programme has allowed for extensive dialogue with eminent scholars to establish a contextual framework in which consular despatches could be gathered and formulated for the British Government.

Outside of his academic life, Kevin has a keen interest in all types of sports, in particular racquetball. He has represented his club, province and country with a national rank of Number 2 throughout his junior career. In 2004, he won his first and only all-Ireland title and, later that year, a gold medal in the Doubles event at the European Junior Championships in Amsterdam, Holland. For less energetic activities, Kevin loves reading, travelling and watching political dramas, and hopes one day to transform the experiences of a local consular official in the hostile world of the Third Reich into a visual project. Currently on the Erasmus exchange programme with the University of Bonn, Germany, Kevin can be found most days at the History Department on the banks of the Rhine River or trying to speak the native language (with an Irish accent), to the puzzlement of his German counterparts.

Spotlight on Conan Fischer

conanphoto (2)Conan Fischer is New Zealand born and lived in Australia, England, and Germany before eventually settling in Scotland in 1979. He studied at the University of East Anglia, where the presence of two outstanding academics, Michael Balfour and Volker Berghahn, motivated him to specialise in German history. He went on to complete a DPhil at the University of Sussex on the Nazi Stormtroopers’ rank and file membership, supervised by Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, before moving first to the University of Aston in Birmingham (1976), then joining Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (1979), followed by the University of Strathclyde (1989), and the University of St Andrews (2010).

He authored and edited a series of books and articles focusing on Nazism and Communism as oppositional movements in the inter-war German Republic; the first of these, Stormtroopers. A Social, Economic and Ideological Analysis, 1929-32 (1983), is reappearing this year in the Routledge Library Editions: Nazi Germany and the Holocaust series. In addition to further research-based works on Nazism/Communism, such as The German Communists and the Rise of Nazism (1991) and (ed.) The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Classes in Weimar Germany (1996), Conan has always been keen to write for a broad readership, completing a commissioned textbook for the Manchester University Press New Frontiers in History series: The Rise of the Nazis (1st edit. 1995, 2nd edit. 2002). He is contemplating an extended third edition in due course.

Conan Fischer bookThis work on Nazism saw collaboration with colleagues in Germany and England, including Jürgen Falter (FU Berlin & Mainz) and Detlef Mühlberger (late of Oxford Brookes University) and he was also a keen advocate for the European universities’ Erasmus and Socrates-Erasmus exchange schemes. He set up a multilateral staff exchange, which for him opened the way to invaluable links with Hans Mommsen, Klaus Tenfelde, and Wolfgang Helbich at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

By this time Conan’s research was turning towards the Weimar Republic’s struggle for survival immediately after Germany’s defeat in the First World War. He focused on the history of a protracted Franco-Belgian military occupation of Germany’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr District from 1923-1925. Once seen simply as an effort to extract reparations, it is increasingly accepted that French objectives extended to the break-up of Germany, through the creation of autonomous or even independent Rhenish (and Bavarian) states. The resulting struggle saw the Ruhr’s civilians engage in a grim campaign of passive, civic resistance against the occupiers, at enormous personal cost and ultimately at great political cost to the German Republic. The resulting monograph, The Ruhr Crisis 1923-1924, appeared in 2003.

Conan Fischer book 2Yet, in the midst of the Ruhr crisis, there were glimmers of hope, of a mutual recognition on both sides of the Rhine that things could not go on like this, that Franco-German rapprochement was central to Europe’s peace and security. Conan is now completing a second ‘Franco-German’ book, A Vision of Europe: Franco-German Relations during the Great Depression 1929-1932, which accentuates the more positive aspects of relations during this time. It investigates the sustained effort by Paris and Berlin to forge a bilateral customs, business and social union as the cornerstone of a united Europe, which culminated in a formal agreement in September 1931. During 1932, for a complex mix of reasons, the whole scheme crashed and burned. The official records of this story fill metres of shelf space in the foreign office archives in Berlin and Paris, yet have been virtually ignored by historians – possibly too focussed on the rise of Hitler.

Aside from this research-based work, Conan collaborated with Alan Sharp (University of Ulster) to organise a major conference on the aftermath and consequences of the 1919 Versailles peace treaty between Germany and the Allies, the proceedings of which appeared in 2005 as a special edition of the journal Diplomacy and Statecraft, and then in edited book form as After the Versailles Treaty. Enforcement, Compliance, Contested Identities (2008). By then he had been commissioned to write a general history of earlier twentieth-century Europe for the Blackwell History of Europe series, which appeared in 2011 under the title Europe between Democracy and Dictatorship 1900-1945.  Perhaps predictably, this book has quite a lot to say about Nazism, and places the Franco-German relationship centre stage in Europe’s recent story.

Conan has always enjoyed teaching and postgraduate supervision and during his career has offered a wide range of undergraduate classes on European and German history, and on historiography. Since arriving at St Andrews he has enjoyed lecturing on several undergraduate courses, most recently on Themes in Late Modern History (MO1008), but his teaching has focused on the postgraduate Late Modern History MLitt programme, including a contribution to the module Crossing Borders; European History in Transnational Perspective (MO5710). He is also currently supervising two PhD research students, one working on inter-war British diplomacy and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, and the other on the role of rumours in the Third Reich’s wartime Jewish ghettos.

Out walking on the North Glenshiel Ridge (centre, white floppy hat).

Out walking on the North Glenshiel Ridge (centre, white floppy hat).

Beyond university life Conan has pastimes which sometimes look suspiciously like outgrowths of things academic. This includes an obsessive interest in politics, for a decade as a party political activist, and then in a more informal way. This has stretched to running and writing up the proceedings of an international, British Council funded conference in Germany, ‘Scotland: Prospects for a Nation Reborn’ which took place in the immediate aftermath of the 1997 devolution referendum. Conference verdict? ‘Ça depend.’ But leaving aside politics, Conan loves film, travel, living in Edinburgh, and is a keen hillwalker: the Skye Cuillin have been survived thanks to a no-nonsense guide and there are just 19 Munros to go.

Leo Baeck Fellowship awarded to PG Kevin McNamara

Kevin McNamaraThe 2013 Leo Baeck Fellowship, organised by both the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes and the Leo Baeck Institute London, has been awarded to Kevin McNamara of the School of History. Mr McNamara will take up the fellowship to work on the doctoral project “In the Service of His Majesty’s Government: The British Consular Network in the Third Reich between 1935-1939.”

Mr McNamara’s doctoral project will focus on the network of British Consulates in the Third Reich in association with their headquarters at the H.M. Embassy in Berlin. The study will analyse the British consular reports on anti-Semitic persecution during the period 1935-1939 and the influence that the dispatches had upon British Foreign policy towards the National Socialist regime. As the project will focus exclusively on the Jewish population from British consular dispatches, this project will be the first of its kind to analyse the reports from Nazi Germany but also Austria and Czechoslovakia in the interwar period as main targets for repression. The information on anti-Semitic activities retrieved from local and regional consular posts has the ability to indicate a clear line of discourse on British appeasement policy.

The fact that the despatches from the H.M. Embassy were highly influential in the Office of the Prime Minister allows this project to ultimately understand how significant the anti-Semitic persecution in the Third Reich was to the British Government in the interwar period. Thus, this project aims to cast a new light on the ‘history of everyday life’ in the Third Reich and will provide a new interpretation of British appeasement policy based on Nazi domestic strategies to which no firm consensus can be found.

As the international Leo Baeck Fellowship programme is designed for doctoral candidates pursuing research into the history of German-speaking Jewry, the regular workshops and common intranet will provide a platform to present research findings and engage in current trends in German historiography.  Furthermore, as this doctoral project will contain a vast quantity of data from the local regions of the Third Reich, the Fellowship programme will allow extensive dialogue with eminent scholars and establish a contextual framework in which consular despatches could be gathered and formulated for the British Government.

Kevin McNamara’s research is supervised by Prof. Conan Fischer.

The History Society’s Annual Interdepartmental Quiz 2013

Each year a handful of only the bravest tutors make their way to the History Society’s Interdepartmental Quiz (IDQ). The quiz pits the brains of Ancient, Mediaeval, Modern and Scottish tutors against each other in a battle to be crowned IDQ champions.


The teams this year were: Dr Jon Coulston, Mr Risto-Matti Sarilo  & Mr Emerson Stevens for Ancient History; Professor Chris Given-Wilson, Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker and Dr Katie Stevenson for Mediaeval History; Professor Conan Fischer, Dr Kate Ferris and Mr Nick Blackbourn for Modern History (defending champions) and for Scottish History, Professor Colin Kidd, Dr Christine McGladdery and Dr Jacqueline Rose.

There were five rounds; four based on the respective historical periods of the teams and a general knowledge round. Each team was given the chance to answer questions relating to their own historical period. If a team could not answer the question the other teams could use their buzzers (in this case a tambourine, a horn, a bell and a frying pan) to grab double points.IDQ_Nessie

After a hard fought battle, and some dodgy historical re-enactments by the History Society committee, Scottish History took the lead with an impressive 24 points, beating Medieval (19pts), Ancient (18pts) and Modern (5pts) and claiming IDQ victory for 2013.IDQ_ScottishWinners

Can Scottish hold on to their victory or will someone else claim supremacy in 2014? We’ll have to wait and see.