Spotlight on Michael Brown

Michael BrownBorn and raised as a man of Kent but with mixed Scottish and New Zealand parentage, Michael Brown first came to the University of St Andrews as an undergraduate in 1983.  After taking his MA (1987) and PhD (1991) at this hallowed institution he was released into the community and embarked upon a tour of the British Isles.  He held posts at the University of Aberystwyth (1993), Strathclyde (1994), University College Dublin (1995) and Aberdeen University (1996) moving on before he could do too much damage.  Whilst employed by Aberdeen, Michael resided in Cork, which is perhaps the longest possible academic commute in these islands.  He returned to St Andrews in 1997 as a lecturer in Scottish History, was made reader in 2004 and professor in 2014.

Michael’s research interests reflect the itinerant nature of his career path.  After his PhD on crown-magnate relations in the personal reign of James I of Scotland (1424-1437), which he turned into a political biography of the same pivotal, if unpleasant, ruler, James I, published in 1994. Michael next wrote a study of The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Scotland 1306-1455 in 1998.  He then published The Wars of Scotland 1214-1371, volume four of the New Edinburgh History of Scotland in 2004.  His recent publications have encompassed a wider geographical perspective.  His book, Bannockburn: The Scottish Wars and the British Isles (2008) sought to demonstrate that the battle was an event of significance well beyond Scotland.  This work linked in with interests which had begun when Michael worked at Aberystwyth on fourteenth-century Wales and on his awareness of Ireland as a distinct but related model for comparison with late medieval Scotland which developed from his spell living and teaching in the Irish Republic.  Ultimately these strands came together in his recent book, Disunited Kingdoms: Peoples and Politics in the British Isles 1280-1460 (2013).  This is a study of the way in which trends towards the creation of a single political hierarchy in the isles were reversed in the later middle ages and the distinct character of the four lands was entrenched in this period.  After the activities of June, he is currently Bannockburned out.

Michael’s teaching reflects this interest in late Medieval Scotland and the British Isles.  His module The Castle in Medieval Scotland 1100-1550 (ME3142) has long been popular, particularly for its away day which ploughs across central Scotland in search of majestic (and not so majestic) sites.  He also teaches Age of Conquest: Edward I, Scotland and Wales (ME3304) and is launching a new module Kings and Rebels: Realms and Borderlands in the British Isles 1360-1420 (ME3312) which aims to bring out the contrast between arty kings and hairy wild men in far-flung parts of the isles.  Michael is currently part of the Medieval St Andrews project which is creating an app which will allow visitors to navigate and obtain information the medieval sites of the city.  Michael’s involvement in this is a matter of hilarity to those who know his inability to deal with anything more advanced than a tin opener and his role is solely on the information side of the project.

Michael lives in rural Fife with his wife, Margaret Connolly, who teaches in English and History, and their two children.  His hobbies include looking for his errant border terrier, Archie, and driving his children around.

St Andrews Historian at Identity, Independence, and Interdependence Workshop 26 May 2014

298px-University_of_Edinburgh_logo.svgSt Andrews historian Dr Michael Brown – who researches late medieval Scotland during the Wars of Independence and its aftermath – will be leading discussion at a workshop in May. Michael Brown’s recent books include Bannockburn: The Scottish War and the British Isles, 1307-1323.

In the run up to September’s referendum, the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh is hosting workshop on identity, independence, and interdependence in historical perspective. Drawing on a range of disciplinary approaches and evidence from a variety of places and periods (from the prehistoric to the modern), this one-day meeting will examine the relationship between a community’s sense of identity and its political independence.

Dr Michael Brown will be joined by Professor Ewen Cameron (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Alison Cathcart (University of Strathclyde). 

Attendance is free and all staff and postgraduates, but interested parties are asked to please register their attendance by 15 May.

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.

Dr Michael Brown and Dr Katie Stevenson on BBC Radio Scotland

Recently the Black Dinner of 1440 at Edinburgh Castle inspired a shockingly violent scene in the highly-successful television series Game of Thrones.

Recently the Black Dinner of 1440 at Edinburgh Castle inspired a shockingly violent scene in the popular television series Game of Thrones.

Two medieval historians at St Andrews will feature in the coming weeks on the new BBC Radio Scotland series Tales of a Crimewriter. The series focuses on the ways in which the violent episodes during the rule of the Stewart dynasty in Scotland provide inspiration for the arts in different forms, including opera, novels and plays. On Wednesday 4 December Dr Michael Brown can be heard in the first episode of the series, James I, and on Wednesday 11 December he will be joined by Dr Katie Stevenson in the second episode on James II.

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.