Reflections on my research

A thousand words on my first fortnight of research. I begin with some notes on the opportunities the Laidlaw Scholarship provides to those involved. I then outline my goals of the research and how I will achieve them. I finish with the broader results of my time as a Laidlaw scholar.

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My makeshift working setup. I was lucky enough to find an old exam desk in a charity shop!

On 12th February 2020, I received an email informing me that I had been accepted onto the Laidlaw Scholarship. I knew immediately that this would be a high point of my time at St Andrews, an especially substantial achievement considering the huge enjoyment I have had in my two years at the university. Like many others I’m sure, I was not overly optimistic about my chances of success, such was the prestige of the scholarship and the charisma and talent of the others I met at the interview stage. Exceeding my own expectations was therefore a big contributor to my delight at acceptance. Yet since then, Laidlaw have helped me expand my own self-belief beyond recognition in such a short space of time. I have repeatedly learned to exceed these expectations because I have learned that aspiring to success is a good thing. My outlook has developed entirely during this time, and I hope it will continue to do so throughout the rest of the scholarship and beyond. Above all, I have met some brilliant people, whose research is exciting and diverse. All of this I thought beyond me just a few months ago. For this new outlook, I am extremely grateful and excited.

When I began my time with Laidlaw, I laid out two key goals I wish to achieve by the end of the second summer. The first is to use the research to engage the people of the village in the historical writing process by informing them of their own history. My research project was commissioned by the custodians of the Kingsbarns Church. They wished for a pamphlet history of the church, which was built in the 1630s. The university’s Special Collections, an annex of the Library, holds the original minutes of the kirk sessions from the inception of the parish to the mid-nineteenth century. I will be using these to create the history of the church itself, but also to delve deeper into the story of the village. In the Early Modern period, the village church was the centre-point of village life. Those who worked in the clerical sphere, despite their obvious biases, were key figures in daily village life. Their insights give modern historians a great opportunity to reconstruct a picture of ordinary lives in a period of extreme upheaval and change in Scotland and Britain. While the sources are held in St Andrews, and therefore unavailable to me at the present time due to the Coronavirus crisis, I have spent the last two weeks teaching myself techniques for historical research. These have included training in palaeography – the skill of reading old handwriting – and in oral history in anticipation of interviews with modern custodians of the church. Having the chance to investigate these sources at first hand, to pull back the curtain or shine a light into an often obscure past, is extremely exciting for any historian.

I am grateful for Laidlaw for giving me the opportunity to act as a messenger to the people of Kingsbarns, so they can engage in the history of their village in an exciting way. This links to the second aim, which was to encourage a close connection between my research and leadership components. In one of our regular meetings, my supervisors and I mentioned the possibility of using the leadership summer to host a launch event and series of community-based history talks in the village of Kingsbarns. These outreach projects will allow me to organise and execute public events, link my communication skills to the research I completed, and represent the university and the Laidlaw organisation in a public sphere. In our Global Induction Session, Lord Laidlaw spoke of the close connection between research and leadership. I agree with him entirely. Personally, I could not play the role of a speaker who has little knowledge of what they are speaking about. I think the best and most trustworthy leaders are the ones with intimate knowledge of their role and its requirements. While this idea is still early in its conception, I am excited to develop it further and to confront the challenges it brings head on.

The research component of the Laidlaw Scholarship has been incredibly exciting for me. The opportunity to conduct independent research has been unlike anything I have experienced before in my undergraduate study. While my project was pre-defined, I could not have chosen a more interesting field of research myself. The narrative of the history of a local church near St Andrews provides a fascinating glimpse into Early Modern Scotland, it is true. More interesting for me, however, has been the opportunity to engage with primary sources on a scale that I have never been able to before. The chance to engage with two experts in this field, Drs Amy Blakeway and Jacqueline Rose, has further allowed me to explore the realities of research in a really fulfilling way. Our weekly Teams calls have been a highlight of my research period so far!

I have always viewed my time at university as a pathway towards this kind of research, either as a dissertation in my final undergraduate year, or in graduate research. As such I have been searching for chances to take part in research projects of this kind throughout my undergraduate career, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be at a university that encourages this pursuit of knowledge as zealously as St Andrews does. Without the new confidence I have discovered through the Laidlaw experience, however, I am unsure of how far I would have pursued this novel research. While I have limited background in the field I am researching, the Laidlaw Scholarship has taught me to pursue this knowledge because it is new. Laidlaw has allowed me to engage with the unknown, and has given me the opportunity to reach my potential. While I am still only a short way into my time as a Laidlaw Scholar, I already feel I have accomplished a lot and discovered more about research. I am incredibly excited to continue this further.

James Samuel

Student, University of St Andrews

I am a third year Medieval History and Art History student at the University of St Andrews. My areas of interest vary but fields that have interested me in the past have included: late medieval and early modern religious history in western Europe; social and labour history in the nineteenth and early-twentieth century; and the history of early modern art and architecture in northern Europe. My research project is under the supervision of Drs Amy Blakeway and Jacqueline Rose. Titled 'History, religion and community in North East Fife', I am going to investigate the history of Kingsbarns church, close to St Andrews. This will mean investigating the large collection of archival material held both in St Andrews and Kingsbarns. I hope to use these records to understand a wider social history of the village across three centuries, with a focus on how local communities reacted to the religious and political turbulence of the period. It is important to widen our perspective on these events, which have for too long been over-saturated with the powerful voices at the expense of ordinary people. In my second summer, I hope to disseminate these findings among the community. One of the most popular forms of history in society today is the tracing of family histories and ancestry. I hope to create a 'Who Do You Think You Are?' style conversation amongst local people in Kingsbarns to aid their knowledge of their community and engage more people in the study of history and the past.

4 Comments

Go to the profile of Gwendoline
Gwendoline 4 months ago

Lovely! 

Go to the profile of James Samuel
James Samuel 4 months ago

Thank you, Gwen! 

Go to the profile of Inkindi Mutoni Sabine
Inkindi Mutoni Sabine 3 months ago

This is Amazing!

Go to the profile of James Samuel
James Samuel 3 months ago

Thank you!