Transnational History Retreat, 22-24 January 2014

The Centre for Transnational History recently hosted an inter-semester retreat by Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands. One of the PGs researching in the centre, Dawn Jackson Williams, reports on a trip that combined enlivening intellectual discussion with taste bud-challenging whisky tastings…

Members of the retreat on Kenmore Hill (photograph: Alexander van Wickeren).

Members of the retreat on Kenmore Hill (photograph: Alexander van Wickeren).

The Transnational History retreat began, appropriately enough, with its 24 participants travelling from various points around the globe to reach Loch Tay, with scholars arriving from Vienna, Basel, and the United States. The group included PhD students attached to the Centre for Transnational History, staff members teaching the Crossing Borders Masters module and a number of their MLitt students, and representatives of the cross-European GRAINES network and steering committee. The retreat was also attended by members of the Heirs to the Thrones project.

The base for activities was Morenish House, once a laird’s dwelling near the shores of Loch Tay. Once the fire was burning well its cosy living room made the ideal setting for the first organised discussion of the weekend, on global history and the circulation of knowledge. This was followed by a stubbornly un-transnational, but very delicious roast dinner. Such fortifying fare was very much necessary, as the group was then treated to a whisky-tasting session under the tutelage of the Director of the Centre, Dr Bernhard Struck. The transnational nature of the modern whisky trade was discussed (Scotch whisky is, apparently, aged in casks previously used for Bourbon in the States) and various attendees were mildly chastised for their lack of their appreciation of an especially peaty Islay whisky.

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The view from Morenish House (photograph: Alexander van Wickeren).

The following morning it was agreed that such a rarely fine Scottish day as could be spied through the windows could not be wasted indoors. The majority of the group made for the easterly lip of the loch, from where they launched a brief venture up Kenmore Hill. Breathtaking views of snow-covered Ben Lawers were had from the high point, and as there so happened to be a distillery in the area the group descended to enjoy a tour at Dewar’s World of Whisky in Aberfeldy. The tour guides responded admirably to a barrage of questions regarding the embeddedness of their production within a wider global trade in spirits…

Upon returning to Morenish House the retreat split up into two groups, to discuss, respectively, cities and urban spaces, and questions of spatial and temporal scale in history. In the latter group a reading from the American Historical Review inspired an intense debate regarding the place and potential role of ‘deep time’ within historical narratives. After the session members of the GRAINES network discussed plans for forthcoming summer schools. The closing dinner, appropriately enough considering the proximity of Burns’ Night, took the form of haggis, neeps, and tatties.

After the dispersal of part of the group the following morning, a smaller cohort with neither flights nor other pressing business to hasten towards took a leisurely route back to St Andrews, with a visit to the partially ruined cathedral of Dunkeld, rounding off the retreat in aptly historic style. All in all, the two days provided valuable formal discussions but also, perhaps more importantly, they also provided the time and opportunity for participants to share their thoughts and ideas in a variety of contexts. The retreat also looked forward, as plans were set into motion for a GRAINES summer school in Vienna this summer, and another in St Andrews in 2015.

Reformation Studies Reading Weekend 2013

Burn House Photo 1-6b393e7cc3Staff and postgraduate students enjoyed the Reformation Studies Institute’s annual Reading Weekend at The Burn near Edzell from 29 November to 1 December.  Attendees included PhD students, Masters students on the programmes in Reformation Studies, Early Modern History, and the History of the Book, and a group of staff and students from the University of Aberdeen.

As well as exchanging ideas and hearing seminar papers, participants also visited Brechin Cathedral, where they were given a tour about the history and fabric of the building by the Reverend Roderick Grahame, a graduate of the University of St Andrews, and Donald McGilp.  They heard how Episcopalian and Presbyterian ministers locked one another out of the church after the Revolution of 1688, they surveyed the Round Tower, and worked off some of The Burn’s excellent food by climbing the steps of the Square Tower.

Burn Reformation StudiesThe Weekend also witnessed the annual challenge of the quiz posed by the MLitt students, who seized the opportunity to expose embarrassing gaps in the knowledge of the PhDs and staff.  While managing to unscramble anagrams of famous Reformation figures, to put the street names of St Andrews in order from West to East, and showing a disturbingly high level of knowledge of Charles V’s 77 titles, such basic facts as when Calvin was made a citizen of Geneva or when Jan Hus was burned tripped up the staff.  However they did manage to win, decisively.  Very decisively.  They welcome applications from potential PhD students who can give them a better run for their money next year.