Exhibition review: ‘Scribes and royal authority: Scotland’s charters 1100-1250’


Exhibition review: ‘Scribes and royal authority: Scotland’s charters 1100-1250’, National Records of Scotland (Matheson Dome, General Register House), 5 April-17 May 2017

The idea of an exhibition examining subtle changes in administrative documents may not immediately appeal to the general public. In a way, this is true: how and why legal documents were written, what patterns are evident and how they reflect an emerging form of scribal standard could be topics at risk of putting off even a determined casual observer. A new exhibition (open for six weeks) at the General Register House, Edinburgh does very well to outline exactly why this assumption is incorrect.

Charter by King Maclcolm IV

Charter by King Malcolm IV

Often the history of twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Scotland is the story of leading monarchs: David I, Malcolm IV, William I. They are credited with introducing out-of-the-box (assembly required) institutions to the kingdom – ‘feudalism’, burghs, reformed monastic foundations, foreign settlers, castles. This ‘Scribes and royal authority’ exhibition turns the focus instead to those individuals and the materials they produced in the phases of transformation of the kingdom.

The exhibition makes no bones about the scarcity of the surviving evidence from this era of Scottish history; the panels accompanying the exhibition outline in admirable though depressing detail how much has been lost forever. The monasteries of the south-west (Dumfries and Galloway), for example, are wholly unrepresented in our reckoning of charters – the legal documents at the heart of this exhibition – in this early period.

The low volume of evidence has not hindered the piecing together of the story of how and through what means Scotland was ruled as a medieval kingdom. A total of fourteen charters from two important landholders in the period (Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh and Melrose Abbey in the Borders) tell how incidental changes and trends reflect the choices made by the scribes of charters. The large, calm handwriting of monastic scribes, who more often than not penned religious texts instead of legal documents, developed into a more business-like form as they borrowed and mimicked the style of royal scribes. Decorative flourishes, peculiar letter forms or more restrained writing bring out not only these developmental patterns but also the characters and attitudes of the people themselves – several of the charters were by the same scribes. How these changes reflect

The rarity of these documents, and that they have never before been assembled for public view, should be emphasized too. It is fantastic to be able to look at document that are almost 850 years old, and so clearly pick out recognisable and unfamiliar names and places. Seleschirhe for Selkirk, Gilandrea the dapifer (‘meat server’) and Castellu puellar – ‘Castle of the Maiden’, Edinburgh itself. Though the exhibition is small, it is rich in content and worth taking time to experience in its fullest. At £5, the exhibition catalogue is a little flimsy, but is worth the price for the high quality images of the charters on display and the commentary on handwriting.

Those with an interest in the wider project, of which the exhibition forms one output, should visit http://www.modelsofauthority.ac.uk/.

William’s research is funded by the AHRC, in partnership with RCAHMS

Funded PhD Studentship on Indyref 2014



Application deadline: 8 May 2017

The Faculty of Arts and Humanities is pleased to invite applications for this fully-funded AHRC PhD Studentship (fees and subsistence at current AHRC UK/EU rates). The studentship includes a 6-month placement at the National Library of Scotland.

The Studentship: 

The 2014 referendum on Scottish independence was clearly a major historic event. How will it enter the historical archive, and the stories told by future researchers and citizens about the meaning of ‘indyref’ 2014?

This PhD project will explore a series of questions and challenges related to the National Library of Scotland’s ‘Collecting the Referendum’ project, an ambitious two-year project to collect the documentary record of this event in a wide range of formats: print and digital, social media and websites, archives and moving image.

These questions include: 

  • To what extent, and via what practices, was the indyref ‘remembered’ even as it was being experienced? (That is, how did campaigners and commentators try to position 2014 within stories looking back on it from the future?)
  • How was the indyref collected (and made collectible) in the midst of the campaign?
  • How did its self-conscious ‘historic’ quality affect the way indyref 2014 was documented and recorded?
  • How will future researchers interpret records and narratives of 2014 which exhibit this self-conscious ‘historic’ quality, i.e. which seem to ‘memorialise’ indyref in advance?

The student’s doctoral work will investigate both the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of indyref collecting. It will examine how archives of the 2014 referendum are constructed and used (both physical and digital), and the various factors that shape how the makers and users of such collections view the narrative possibilities and complexities presented by their materials.

While the student will have freedom to shape the exact parameters of the project, it is likely to involve research into recent Scottish political history, archive studies and digital collecting. Some awareness of relevant cultural and narrative theory, and digital humanities research methods, is preferred but not required.

The PhD student will be jointly supervised by Dr Scott Hames at the University of Stirling and Dr Amy Todman at the National Library of Scotland, with input from a wider supervisory team including Dr Peter Lynch (Stirling; expert on Scottish politics and referendums) and Eilidh MacGlone (NLS web archivist). Collaboration with the Scottish Political Archive, based at the University of Stirling, is an additional dimension of the project, supported by our archivist Sarah Bromage.

At Stirling, the student will join a lively community of PhD students linked to the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies. At the National Library of Scotland, he or she will have the opportunity to work closely with curators and web archivists, and gain valuable research and technical skills.

How to Apply: Applicants should have a good undergraduate qualification and a relevant Master’s degree in any related field of expertise. Experience of the following areas of study is particularly welcome: history, archive studies, politics, cultural theory, digital humanities, cultural studies, Scottish studies. You will have some experience of relevant research methods (but note that research training is a key part of the studentship).

NB the AHRC rules governing this scheme note that if a student does not have experience of formal postgraduate study, they may be eligible for a studentship only if they can demonstrate evidence of sustained experience beyond undergraduate degree level that is specifically relevant to their proposed research topic, and could be considered equivalent to Master’s studyApplicants in this category (i.e. without a Master’s qualification) should include with their application a 1-page statement outlining the ‘specifically relevant’ skills, experience and knowledge they have gained ‘beyond undergraduate degree level’, that ‘could be considered equivalent to Master’s study’.

For further details on eligibility criteria, including UK residency, applicants should check the AHRC website (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/).

The application: Applicants should submit:

  • a summary curriculum vitae (max 2 pages)
  • an example of recent academic writing (e.g., MSc/MLitt chapter or undergraduate dissertation)
  • a short statement (1 page) outlining your qualification for the studentship, and initial thoughts on how you’d approach the project
  • the names and contact details of two academic referees

Submit your application via email to Dr Scott Hames (scott.hames@stir.ac.uk) and Dr Amy Todman (a.todman@nls.uk). Applications will close 8 May 2017 at 4pm. Please ensure your referees are able to provide (on request, via email) an academic reference by 19 May, 5pm.

As noted above, applicants without a Master’s qualification should submit an additional 1-page statement outlining their ‘specifically relevant’ skills, experience and knowledge that could be considered equivalent to Master’s study.

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 23 May at the University of Stirling.

Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Dr Scott Hames (scott.hames@stir.ac.uk) and Dr Amy Todman (a.todman@nls.uk) for ‘further particulars’ of the project, or with informal queries.

Finding Belgian Refugees through the digital archive

Wednesday 22 March saw the launch of the first in a series of workshops, run as part of a new project ‘Uncovering civilian war trauma among female Belgian refugees in Scotland during the First World War’. Delivering her lecture ‘Finding Belgian Refugees through the digital archive: developing and using First World War digital collections’, Professor Lorna Hughes, Chair of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow, provided a fascinating insight into the world of archival digitisation. Using examples from her own research into Belgian refugees in Wales during the First World War, Professor Hughes showed us how close engagement with an ever-growing collection of digital archives could ‘give voice to those on the margins of the past’, in this case the Llanfair Belgians.







To an audience of historians, researchers and archivists, Professor Hughes told the story of the Lienknechts and the Gubels, Belgian refugees who arrived in the village of Llanfair in 1915. Describing some of the techniques employed to unearth their story, for example searching digested newspaper collections to identify data clusters, Professor Hughes enhanced what we can learn about refugees from, at times, impersonal official documents with local, individual responses to the arrival of Belgians during the First World War. From letters detailing the creation of the Llanfair Belgian Refugees Committee to ‘Thank You’ cards from those refugees for the people of Llanfair’s ‘great kindness’, it became clear that, by going beyond official documents, the story of wartime refugees in Britain can be much-enhanced.

Following Professor Hughes’ lecture, and continuing the theme of digitisation of Belgian refugee archives, workshop participants were invited to look at a selection of collections held at the Mitchell Library relating to Belgian refugees in Glasgow. Dr Irene O’Brien, Glasgow City Archivist and Andrew Gilbert, Assistant Archivist, Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives, produced a range of materials which joint project coordinator Dr Jacqueline Jenkinson had identified as illustrating linked records which may benefit from a digitisation project. These included the Glasgow Corporation Belgian Refugees’ Register 1914-15, Poor Law Registers and asylum admission registers 1914-18 to demonstrate the variety of sources that can be used when researching the story of Belgian refugees in Glasgow and the surrounding areas, and in particular when exploring indications of war trauma on the Belgians living in Scotland.

Illustrating the richness of the material, our attention was brought to the stories of Angeli Vrebos and John Witineur, seen in the accompanying photograph, two Belgian refugees admitted to Gartloch Asylum during the First World War. Described in the records as ‘foolish, troublesome and demented’ and ‘dull, stubborn and sensitive’ respectively, the hardship and trauma that dominated the stories of Vrebos and Witineur is etched on their faces and captured by the photographs taken upon their admittance to the asylum.

Overall, the afternoon was a fantastic introduction to the story of Belgian refugees in Scotland during the First World War and, we hope, successfully whetted the appetite of the attendees for future events, the next of which will take place on Wednesday 19 April, 2-4pm, at the University of Stirling, Division of History and Politics, Pathfoot Building, room C1/2. Joining us from the University of Kent, where she is currently Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Professor Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Pennsylvania State University, will speak on ‘The sudden experience of defencelessness: civilians facing invasion, Belgium, 1914’. A buffet lunch, served from 12.30, will precede this event. This event is free but, for catering purposes, we ask that you please register by sending an email to l.c.robinson@stir.ac.uk by 10 April 2017.

Launch of exciting new collaborative network!

Uncovering civilian war trauma among female Belgian refugees in Scotland during the First World War

We are pleased to announce the launch of a series of workshops, run as part of a new project ‘Uncovering civilian war trauma among female Belgian refugees in Scotland during the First World War’. An exciting collaborative venture funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the project intends to stimulate research on the timely subject of civilian war trauma via a case study of female Belgian refugees in Scotland during the years 1914 to 1918. Preliminary research shows that among Scotland’s c. 20,000 wartime Belgian refugees were dozens who applied for poor law assistance. Early analysis of these cases indicated 40% of female and 25% of male Belgian refugee applicants were diagnosed as suffering ‘insanity’, yet they presented with symptoms of trauma. Four events, held throughout the year at locations in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, will further examine these findings and offer attendees an insight into a range of topics including the settlement and treatment of Belgian refugees in Scotland and the notion of ‘shell-shock’ in First World War Britain.

The first of these four workshops, ‘Finding Belgian Refugees through the digital archive: developing and using First World War digital collections’, includes a lecture from Professor Lorna Hughes, Chair of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow, and will take place on Wednesday 22 March 2017, 2-5pm, at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Lunch is provided from 1pm. Attendees will also be given the opportunity to view a range of resources on Belgian refugees held at Glasgow City archives.

This event is free but we would be grateful if you could indicate your intention to attend by emailing l.c.robinson@stir.ac.uk.

We look forward to welcoming you to our inaugural event!

James Hogg, diaspora and the short story

Duncan Hotchkiss, a Stirling PhD student working on the short fiction of James Hogg, has written a research blog for the Four Nations History Network.


It includes some fascinating insights into Hogg’s place in the emigrant imagination explored in Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock:

Hogg’s short stories, in their content and in their material existence, embody dialogue between lowland Scotland and places far beyond ‘the view from Castle rock’. Munro’s stories offer an imagining of emigration which operates between the ‘real’ (her own family’s experience) and the fictional. Hogg similarly exploits that gap between the ‘real’ and the ‘fictional’, and in doing so his short stories give an insight into how ‘imagined communities’ are continually forged and re-forged through processes involving the interaction between the vernacular and the printed word.

Click through for Duncan’s Four Nations blog.

(Some related work on Scottish-Canadian emigrant identities (in the fiction of Alice Munro and Alistair MacLeod) has been published by the shameless author of this post. It can be found here.)


James Hogg’s Unconventional National Tale


The Scottish Studies Research Group at Stirling has settled into a regular fortnightly routine, and the standard of presentations thus far is inspiringly high. At our last meeting on 1 June, Dr Barbara Leonardi presented a compelling paper based on an article that will see publication later this month in Studies in Scottish Literature, entitled ‘James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeck: An Unconventional National Tale’. On a personal level, having known her for about five years, it was nice to finally see Dr Leonardi present her work!

Barbara%27s Picture for Blog.1

Dr Barbara Leonardi

Barbara is an Early Career Researcher working on the Stirling/South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg, and her presentation argued that Hogg’s thematic choices in the short novel The Brownie of Bodsbeck work to subvert the traditional national tale. As Barbara explained, the conventional national tale follows Edmund Burke’s conception that the bourgeois family should form a neat and instructive representation of the nation, and in this case, the British Empire. In this conception, peasants and women are figured as the infants of Burke’s family-nation. Walter Scott notably employs this marriage plot in Waverley, as an ideological reconciliation of Scotland and England. In Barbara’s reading, Hogg challenges this paradigm through numerous subversive choices of theme, event and character. Brotherhood becomes a central trope in place of romantic love, with Katharine’s Lowland father forming a bond with a Highland soldier. At the same time, Katharine herself doesn’t engage in marriage with the potential ‘hero’ of the novel, and takes no lover, further disrupting the key symbolic relationship of the national tale. Katharine is the agent and moral locus of the text, helping the Covenanters and thus transgressing an unjust law in defence of human rights.

s048Barbara went on to discuss the dialogue of the text, analysing the apparent dichotomy between Catherine’s faultless English and her peasant background, and the broad Scots of her father. While some reviewers were uncomfortable with this clash of voices, in Barbara’s reading this amounts to a Bakhtinian approach to ‘multivocality’ through which Hogg rejects the centre/periphery division of the imperial ethos and suggests a new, inclusive Britishness based on the validity of working class, rather than bourgeois, ethical values. In this way, Katherine becomes ‘a meritorious symbol for the Scottish nation’, and further exemplifies the way Hogg was thinking ahead of his times. Barbara’s compelling paper will be accessible online after its publication later this month

Typically for these Scottish Studies Research Group meetings, the presentation provoked a lively informal discussion of Hogg, the national tale, covenanting history, publishing and editorial factors in relation to Hogg’s work, and the emasculation of an Episcopalian priest (this latter point occurs in the text)! These discussions have become a real high point of the group’s meetings, often ranging across disciplines (this week literature, publishing, history…) and giving a real sense of interconnectivity between researchers. If you’re working in the field of Scottish studies, no matter the stage of your research, at Stirling or elsewhere, please do come along to the next meeting or get in touch via email; discussions are informal, welcoming, and usually inspiring. The date of the next meeting is to be confirmed, but will be publicised via the Twitter account of the Centre for Scottish Studies (@stirscotstudies). We hope to see you there.

Scottishness in Early Sound Cinema, 1927-1933


Last Wednesday the Scottish Studies Research Group met for a fascinating presentation by PhD candidate John Ritchie on ‘Sir Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe: Being Scottish in Early Sound Cinema’. John’s talk was based on his wider research, which focuses on  how Scottishness is represented in films produced during the Transition to Sound period, from 1927 to 1933.
 Will Fyffe
John started by introducing the twin figures of Sir Henry “Harry” Lauder (1870 –1950) and Will Fyffe (1885 –1947). Both were music hall artists that became international stars in the first decades of the twentieth century, as suggested by how American tribute acts to the former preceded his arrival in the United States. John gave examples of how  Lauder and Fyffe were encouraged to record their music hall acts and stage routines for early sound films.

John then explored the performance of Scottishness as central to Lauder’s and Fyffe’s theatre practice. Although Lauder’s personification of Scottishness was more convincing, Fyffe’s too made a point of being identifiable as Scottish. In particular, costume and accent were used to signify Scottishness in music hall and sound film alike. Against a backdrop in which tartan costume became the signifier for nationality,the kilt was the most important element of the mise en scène. As for language, while Lauder’s voice came to represent Scottish language abroad, Fyffe too strove to realise Scottishness through language, but drawing on the east coast vernacular. The ways in which Lauder’s and Fyffe’s personification of Scottishness played to stereotype explains how the former could easily become a target of criticism for Hugh MacDiarmid, who resented  how Lauder’s (hugely popular) performances provided an inaccurate, simplistic and derogatory representation of Scotland.


Sir Harry Lauder

A very interesting interdisciplinary discussion was sparked by John’s presentation, in which we were able to discuss parallels between film critics’ take on Lauder, still influenced by MacDiarmid’s loathing of his performances, and literary critics’ approach to the Kailyard school of Scottish fiction, similarly informed by MacDiarmid’s caustic rejection. We also enjoyed learning more from John about the transition to sound film in Scotland and the state of archival resources around the topic, while hearing some fascinating anecdotes about his research journey and findings.


Our next meeting will take place on Wednesday the 1st of June, at 5pm, Room A7, Pathfoot Building. We will hear from Dr Barbara Leonardi, a post-doctoral researcher here at Stirling, about ‘James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeck; An Unconventional National Tale’. All members of the Stirling research community, as well as Scottish studies enthusiasts from beyond, are very welcome to attend.