Dr Katie Stevenson’s Erasmus exchange to Utrecht


Drift: the heart of the humanities at Universiteit Utrecht

In mid-October, Dr Katie Stevenson, a late medieval historian in the School of History, spent ten days on Erasmus teaching exchange to Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. Utrecht University was founded in 1636 and is one of the world’s leading institutions. Katie visited the Department of History & Art History in the Faculty of Humanities, based in Drift and opposite the University Library, an ultra-modern facility inside Louis Napoleon Boneparte’s former palace in the city.

While in Utrecht Katie taught late medieval history to undergraduate and postgraduate students and offered an individuele opdracht on chivalry and the Order of the Garter in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. Katie also gave a lecture to the departments of English, History & Art History on ‘the Battle for Arthur in Anglo-Scottish Relations, c.1500’.

The School of History at St Andrews offers postgraduate exchanges with Utrecht as part of the Erasmus scheme. Katie is the third visitor to Utrecht from St Andrews; Dr James Palmer visited on staff exchange, and his doctoral student Joanna Thornborough spent several months researching there in early 2013. Click here for more information on the Study Abroad schemes for History students.

Call for Applications: ISHR Visiting Research Fellowship 2014-15

st_andrewsThe Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews invites applications for the ISHR Visiting Research Fellowship in Scottish Historical Studies, to be taken up during either semester of the academic year 2014-15. The fellowship may last between one and five months, with preference given to applicants requesting a longer residency.

The Institute of Scottish Historical Research was founded in 2007 under the directorship of Professor Roger Mason, and draws together the excellence and expertise of nearly twenty historians of Scotland, including Prof. T.C. Smout, the Historiographer Royal in Scotland.

The ISHR provides an intellectual and social focus for staff and a thriving community of postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers working on all periods of Scottish history from the early Middle Ages to the present. The Institute hosts a number of events throughout the year attracting delegates and speakers from all over the world, including a fortnightly research seminar series, workshops and conferences with an emphasis on new discoveries and directions in historical enquiry.

The Institute has several major collaborative research initiatives under its auspices. Past projects have included the Scottish Parliament Project and the History of the Universities Project. Ongoing and current projects include the Scotland and the Wider World Project, and the Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern Europe Database, and most recently the Scotland and the Flemish People project which commenced in AY2012-13.

The Fellowship is open to any academic in a permanent university post with research interests in any aspect of Scottish history in any period. It covers the cost of return travel to St Andrews from the holder’s normal place of work, together with a substantial subsidy towards accommodation while the holder is resident in St Andrews.

St_Andrews_Castle_ScotlandThe Fellowship carries with it no teaching duties, though the Fellow will be expected to take part in the normal activities of the ISHR during their stay in St Andrews. For more information on the Institute please visit the ISHR website at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/ishr/. You will also be invited to lead a workshop, give a research seminar paper or other suitable activities depending on the length of your stay. Fellows are provided with computing facilities and an office, normally in one of the School of History buildings. The university library has an exceptional collection for Scottish historians, including vast electronic resources and excellent holdings in the Special Collections department. Major national libraries and archives are within easy travelling distance, as are the university libraries in Dundee, Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

You should send a letter of application by 6 December 2013, together with an outline of the research and/or writing in which you will be engaged during your time in St Andrews.  You should also enclose a CV, together with the names of two academic referees, who should submit their references by the closing date. All correspondence should be addressed to the Director of the ISHR, Dr Katie Stevenson, by email to kcs7@st-andrews.ac.uk.

The closing date for applications is 6 December 2013.

Further enquiries may be addressed to the ISHR Director Dr Katie Stevenson (kcs7@st-andrews.ac.uk) or to other staff in the ISHR.

History-English PG Liz Hanna wins two funding awards

Liz HannaLiz Hanna, a joint HistoryEnglish PhD student, has won two awards in recent grant competitions.

The first is a grant from the Catherine Mackichan Trust to support further study of John of Fordun’s fourteenth-century Chronica Gentis Scotorum. The grant will allow her to consult two manuscripts of the chronicle from the British Library in order to examine the progression of Fordun’s depiction of King Arthur in the extant manuscripts of Chronica Gentis Scotorum.

Liz’s second award is a Barron Bequest from the International Arthurian Society British Branch. The Barron Bequest is a substantial contribution towards tuition fees.

Liz is jointly supervised by Dr Katie Stevenson in History and Dr Rhiannon Purdie in English. She is a member of both the St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies and the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

ME3303 visit Edinburgh museum collections

Holyrood PalaceOn 26th April, the class of honours module ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland went to Edinburgh, viewing Holyrood Palace before visiting the National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Portrait Gallery. Students Hazel Blair, Charlotte Coote, Lillah Kennedy and Jess Meagher reflect below on their visit.

To complement our studies of Renaissance kingship as articulated in architecture, iconography, and royal spectacle, we began our Edinburgh visit by walking down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyrood House. This palace was constructed by James IV, at the site of Holyrood Abbey, just before the king’s marriage to Margaret Tudor in 1503. When compared to the architecture of the great fortification at Edinburgh Castle, what was most striking about this royal residence was its sheer lack of defensive features. Although the king built turreted round towers flanking the entrance to the courtyard in keeping with late medieval Gothic style, the non-existence of arrowslits clearly testifies to the idea that this building was primarily a propagandistic expression of the king’s learned taste and European aspirations. Imperial crowns were used in the palace architecture, as in the architecture of St Giles’ Cathedral further up the Royal Mile, in order to emphasise the magnificent power of the king at home and abroad.

Most impressive was the sculpture topping the fountain in the Holyrood Palace forecourt. A later replica of James V’s fountain at Linlithgow Palace, its intricate iconography betrays the multifaceted nature of Renaissance kingship. Heraldry, royal lions and unicorns echoed the Stewarts’ royal authority and chivalric honour, while aristocratic pursuits like falconry are also displayed. This sumptuous decoration not only implies a very modern Scottish taste for continental style, but also articulated the crown’s wealth. These were the kind of messages James was keen to convey to his new queen, and most importantly to her father, Henry VII, and the rest of the English court.

ME3303 Beaton PanelsThe ‘Kingdom of the Scots’ exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland contains a variety of items that relate to the Renaissance in Late Medieval Scotland and provided a good background and visible, material feel for the period as a whole. Of particular interest were some of the carved wooden Beaton Panels and Stirling Heads, the latter of which related back to our earlier class visit to Stirling and its exhibit on their reconstruction. Both of these pieces showed artistic innovation moving away from the flatter style of medieval art. Coinage from this period also manifested Renaissance influences in Scotland, showing some classical influences in monarchical displays of power (such as one of the coins of James III that pictures him wearing an imperial style crown). Seeing these items gave a useful sense of their scale, artistry and detail as well as a great visual insight into the material culture of the period.

During our time exploring the Scottish Renaissance we looked extensively at the impact the Low Countries had on culture in Scotland. Examples predominantly focused on sixteenth century art and how this became relevant as a way to illustrate Renaissance ideas: a new quest for knowledge and the aim of acquiring that which had been the original. The Trinity Altarpiece, by Netherlandish painter Hugo van der Goes, was one of the main works we had examined in our studies, and visiting the National Gallery of Scotland was a special opportunity for us to see this magnificent piece of work first-hand. Made for Trinity College Church in Edinburgh, it was originally a triptych, however the central part was destroyed by the iconoclasm (during the Reformation period) and today the remains consist of four panels. These panels, depicting scenes of James III, Queen Margaret of Denmark, Sir Edward Bonkil and the Trinity, were brought to life as we saw the works for the first time in the flesh. Staring at the altarpiece for a lengthy period, we absorbed the painting, and as a class could appreciate all those elements we had learned about throughout the semester. It was a truly great experience which was enjoyed by all!

 Me3303 trinity panels

Following our visit to the National Gallery, we continued our artistic immersion in the Renaissance period of Scottish history through exploring the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. We went to its exhibition on Early Stuart Britain, seeing individual portraits of some of the influential political figures that we had been studying such as James III, Anne of Denmark, James IV and Mary of Guise. These portraits encapsulated ideas of Renaissance kingship and queenship, again tying back firmly to our studies on royal display and spectacle. The portraits we saw included the Abbotsford House portrait of James IV in 1507. As with the Trinity Altarpiece panels, seeing these portraits up close rather than as resized and reprinted photographs in an article added to our appreciation of the purpose of the paintings and allowed us to more closely relate to the source material for our period.

ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland is a 3000-level module offered by Dr Katie Stevenson.

UG Hazel Blair awarded essay prize by Groundings Ancients

Groundings Ancients

Third-year honours Mediaeval History student Hazel Blair has been awarded the prize for the best essay published in the new undergraduate journal Groundings Ancients. The prize was judged by the academic advisory board of the journal, made up of academic staff of the four ancient universities of Scotland. Hazel was awarded the prize by Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor of Glasgow University, and presented with a cheque at the launch of the journal at the University of Glasgow last week.


Groundings Ancients, which is an offshoot of the Glasgow University undergrad journal Groundings, chooses twelve undergraduate arts and humanities essays to be published in each issue, three each from the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen.

Hazel’s article is called ‘The end of time in sixth century Francia: Bishop Gregory of Tours’ Histories’ and was written for Dr James Palmer’s honours module ME3232 Mediaeval Apocalyptic Traditions c.400 – c.1200 in semester 1 of 2012-13.

The journal and Hazel’s article can be accessed online on the Groundings Ancients website or in hard copy at the British Library and the University of Glasgow’s Library and Archives, The Bodleian, Cambridge, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, and Trinity College Dublin.

The academic advisory board of Groundings Ancients includes the School of History’s Dr Bernhard Struck.

In summer 2013 Hazel will take up an Undergraduate Research Internship awarded by the University of St Andrews and to be supervised by Dr Katie Stevenson.

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.


ME3303 Class Trip to Stirling Castle & Palace

IMG_0417On 8 March, the students of honours module ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland visited the Castle and Palace of Stirling, along with Dr Katie Stevenson. The Great Hall and the Royal Palace were built during the period covered by the module and there is module coursework linked to the visit. Students Hazel Blair, Charlotte Coote, Nancy Gross, Lillah Kennedy, Rosie Maxton and Jess Meagher reflect below on their visit.

“Our visit to Stirling was a valuable experience because it gave us the chance to get a tangible sense of the atmosphere of the Scottish renaissance court and its culture, which we have been studying with Dr Katie Stevenson in our module ‘The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland’.  The most recent restoration works at Stirling, carried out by the Historic Scotland Stirling Castle Palace Project, have sought to authentically re-create the castle’s palace (after the completion in 1999 of the restoration of the Great Hall) in the style of their original 16th century construction. Given how altered these spaces had become since their inception (the palace even functioned as a military depot until 1964), the project’s work has been crucial in recovering the Stewart buildings in order to bring to life Scotland’s place within the wider currents of the Northern Renaissance of the 16th century.”

IMG_0406“After a tour of the museum, we visited the castle’s Great Hall. A large rectangular room measuring 600m2, James IV’s hall was completed around 1503. It was used predominantly as a ceremonial space, and was a fascinating structure for its time, particularly in relation to the power and authority of the King. Space and light were used to emphasise this prerogative, and the design contained influences from the Northern Renaissance. It was a marvellous piece of architecture in its day, and to stand within it now as students studying the Renaissance in Scotland was incredible.”

IMG_0419“After a photo in front of the elite dais at the far end of the hall, we crossed to James V’s Palace via a bridge that he constructed between the two buildings. Again, here we could see (as we’ve studied) how James V’s building of the palace was a demonstration of his power as king. Being there in person, it was clear how he used art and architecture to augment his reputation. The building itself, constructed around 1538, enclosed the upper square of Stirling Castle, reorienting the principle buildings at Stirling around a quadrangular inner courtyard in imitation of contemporary European style, displaying James V’s cosmopolitanism and conceptually connecting Scotland to developments on the Continent. Our immediate impressions on walking into the restored Palace rooms were of luxury and expense, and it was shocking to hear that the restoration project had only the resources to produce just a fraction of the extent of the original luxury.”


IMG_0424“This experience really brought home what we had read about chivalric pomp and ceremonial displays of power and learning in the Renaissance. What stood out especially were the beautifully restored Queen’s Bedchamber and Inner Hall, where we saw a triptych exemplifying religious art and personal devotion, and the more secularly themed reconstructed tapestries displaying colourful hunting scenes featuring the Stewart family’s signature unicorn. Going as a class made the experience especially rewarding since together we could relate what we saw to different aspects of the course that we had each individually looked into. Alongside Katie’s valuable expertise, this contributed to a dynamic and enjoyable academic discussion.”

“Finally, after a class photo, we visited the Stirling Heads Gallery. The Stirling Heads are a series of carved oak medallions depicting a wide range of historical and mythological characters, which originally decorated part of the ceiling of the royal apartments of Stirling Palace. The ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall at the Palace contains colourful painted replicas of the Heads as they may have looked. This provided a fantastic visual insight into the richness of the sixteenth century decoration as well as a much better understanding of the Heads as a singular piece of decorative art. Having seen the replicas in situ, it was rewarding to be able to look at some of the originals up close. This gave a useful sense of the scale and detail of the heads. Experiencing the contrast between the originals and the replicas provoked interesting thoughts about how the appearance and vivid colouring of the Heads has changed over time and the importance of the context that they are viewed in.”

IMG_0432“When we visit historical sites now, particularly in Scotland, we are often accustomed to bare, grey stone. These experiences impact upon our wider perceptions about the Middle Ages, contributing to popular understandings that life in medieval Scotland was a dark and dreary affair. Even though, as students of history, we might read that this perception is false, there is nothing more enlightening than to experience a fragment of this history in person. And so, it was truly enlightening to get a real sense of the intricate workmanship and artistic endeavour that went into the construction of the Great Hall and Palace at Stirling. This is testament to the importance of heritage sites and reconstruction projects to history in both academic and public spheres.”

For more information on the module ME3303 The Renaissance in Late Mediaeval Scotland, please click here.