Postgraduate Spotlight: Darren S. Layne

DSCN3948Originally from the suburbs of Detroit, Darren Scott Layne spent much of his life in and around the San Francisco Bay Area before making good on his childhood threat/dream of invading Scotland. He came to study in St Andrews by a circuitous route that meandered between business and academia, using one as a tonic for the other to the minimal detriment of both. The academy was never on his docket until a perfectly-timed, late-night history course in community college took him by the scruff of the neck and shook him awake, and the rest…well, is history.

Darren obtained his BA (High Hons) at University of California Berkeley where he focused on the Eastern Front in World War II and 18th-century Jacobite Britain under the late, great Tom Barnes. He worked for a few years before moving to Edinburgh in 2003 to undertake his MSc (Dist) in Scottish History, narrowing his study to the role of impressment and coercion within the Jacobite ranks in the Rising of 1745. After moving back to San Francisco to tan up his ivory-tower-whitened skin, the clarion call of a terminal degree beckoned him back to Scotland where St Andrews saw it fit to allow him entry into the Scotland and the Wider World Project under the keen eye of Professor Steve Murdoch.

Darren’s doctoral project is a secret blend of Scottish History and its application within theIMG_6277 Digital Humanities, alchemically distilled into an ambitious study called The Jacobite Database of 1745. JDB1745 is a prosopographic examination of the social history of Jacobitism that seeks to answer many questions about the agencies of Jacobite support and constituency. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, its goal is to eventually house every name that can be associated with Jacobitism in the years 1740-1759. Beyond the findings that will make up his doctoral thesis, Darren’s curation of JDB1745 is destined to be a life-long project that will provide a significant contribution to the discipline of Jacobite Studies for historians and genealogists alike.

In addition to his academic duties, Darren is the current curator of the Twitter and Facebook accounts for the Institute for Scottish Historical Research at St Andrews, as well as the webmaster for The Scottish Society for Northern Studies. He is a keen advocate for green Open Access and digital preservation, and strongly supports technology education at all levels of learning. He transcribes historical documents for digitization at Scotland’s Places and Papers of the War Department, and once a year he helps to organize a historical wargaming day for the National Trust for Scotland at the Culloden Battlefield.

IMG_5621Aside from spending long stints at the archives where he has been reprimanded more than once for smelling the documents too enthusiastically, Darren has spent twenty years in the analog gaming industry and dedicates much of his time to the running of his business in San Francisco, the venerable Gamescape North – a hub of hobby and community for hundreds of people. He is an avid painter, a student of pugilism, and cares more than he should about the San Francisco 49ers. He currently lives in Edinburgh with a librarian, a few dozen fountain pens, and two aging California cats who can barely remember what laying in the sun was like.

Follow the Jacobite Database project at the website above or on Twitter and Facebook, and feel free to keep your eye on Spines of the Thistle, a Virtual Research Environment for Jacobite Studies that is currently in development.


Postgraduate Spotlight: Dawn Jackson Williams

IMG_7920aDawn Jackson Williams grew up in a small hamlet near a small village near a small town in the middle of rural Suffolk, which perhaps explains why the small town of St Andrews feels like a veritable metropolis to her. From an early age she was interested in history, particularly in moments of drama and tragedy, ghoulishly absorbing every book about the Titanic disaster and the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine on Mount Everest in 1924 that she could get her teenaged hands on, foreshadowing her current twin interests in the history of landscape and the history of emotion. She undertook her undergraduate degree in History at Oxford and completed the MPhil in Early Modern History at Cambridge, before coming to St Andrews to undertake her PhD under the supervision of Dr Bernhard Struck. She likes to joke that not only has she managed to collect the three most ancient universities in the British Isles, she has also done so in order of foundation. This was a complete accident, but she is very happy that it has resulted in her ending up at St Andrews.

Christ Healing the Blind Man, by Philippe de Champaigne, c.1655-1660; hardly an image of 'mountain gloom'.

Christ Healing the Blind Man, by Philippe de Champaigne, c.1655-1660; hardly an image of ‘mountain gloom’.

Dawn’s PhD research is focussed upon European reactions to mountains and mountain-climbing before 1750. When she first became interested in the topic she was struck by the tension between the current commonly-held belief that people in early modern Europe found mountains distasteful, and the number of sources from before 1750 – or even before 1650 – that attested to significant levels of mountain activity and, indeed, appreciation. However, the embedded perception of early modern ‘mountain gloom’ has meant that relatively little research has been done to recover the ways in which people actually thought about or interacted with mountains in the early modern era. Dawn is therefore interested in asking a number of questions in order to reconstruct a picture of the relationship between people and mountains before 1750, including: what did people know about mountains, what did they do in mountains, and did they perceive them as having any utilitarian and/or aesthetic value? She finds the topic fascinating because it requires her to interrogate and step outside of unspoken and often unconsciously-held ‘modern’ ways of thinking. For example, her MPhil research on a related topic suggested that although the early moderns often perceived ‘usefulness’ as a quality which imparted aesthetic value to an object, the modern perception that utility and beauty are distinct or even mutually exclusive had led many historians to disregard any positive comments about the utility of mountains as irrelevant to the question of whether or not they were visually appreciated.

Team-members of the 1924 Everest expedition.

Team-members of the 1924 Everest expedition.

Dawn’s other research has included an edition of the letters of Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756), an early Anglo-Saxon scholar, and a study of the cultural preconceptions of Tibet as expressed in the sources relating to the early Everest expeditions (1921-1924), both of which she ultimately hopes to publish. She feels strongly that academic research should be disseminated beyond the real and metaphorical walls of the academy, a conviction which she recently used to excuse the immensely enjoyable process of writing a chapter on Chinese history for a forthcoming edited volume entitled A Game of Thrones and History. She will also shortly be giving a lecture on her research to the Alpine Club in London.

Beyond her research, Dawn is both the co-convener of the Early Modern and Modern History Postgraduate Forum, and the Communications Intern for the School of History, which means that most people in the School probably know her best as the person who gently nags them either for copy for the blog or paper proposals for the forum. Running the EMMH Forum – which is intended to provide postgraduates with a space for supportive academic discussion, as well as opportunities for socialising – has proved to be a particularly satisfying experience.

Outside of her academic and administrative duties, Dawn pursues a somewhat eccentric variety of hobbies. She is a member of the St Andrews Renaissance Singers, plays for the ‘Snidgets’ (the university Quidditch team), and attempts to write fiction, recently participating in the month-long challenge of NaNoWriMo. For slightly less active relaxation she watches sci-fi, and detective shows with her husband. As the topic of her thesis might suggest, she is also a keen hiker and – when time and funds allow – occasional mountaineer.

Dawn blogs about PhD life at The Historian’s Desk.

Twelve Ph.D. scholarships available in the School of History for 2013-14 entrants


The School of History is pleased to announce that it has around twelve Ph.D. studentships available for 2013-14 entrants, including AHRC studentships, 600th anniversary Ph.D. scholarships, and School of History Scholarships. Notifications of interest and applications close in early 2013. For more information on these please visit:

In addition to this, the Scotland & the Flemish People project is offering a scholarship for an entrant in 2013-14. For more information visit: