Current PhDs and MRes students

Please see below.

Stephanie Baker, PhD candidate

Topic: Research into Medieval Scottish Food, specifics of time and food type being determined

‌Supervisors: Professor Richard Oram and Dr Alasdair Ross

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are (Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)

Food, while not the most important cultural marker, is a unique part of culture that reflects both biological need and cultural wants. It is the fuel that moves individuals through their lives and defines groups and relationships. While not a complete mystery, compared to elsewhere in medieval Europe not much effort has been put into researching the food of medieval Scotland. My research goals are to remedy this oversight and discover the details and sources of the medieval Scottish diet.  This search will include prepared meals and items as well as the resources used to make these meals.  I am especially interested in fermented, baked, and aged items and will be focusing on these as is possible.

My long-term research passions have always rested in food and food culture. I completed my undergraduate dissertation on the increased popularity of sushi outside Japan and my Master’s on Medieval Scottish livestock. 

Benneth Esiana, PhD candidate

Topic: Investigating the Carbon Store of Anthropogenically Deepened Urban Soils in Scotland

Supervisors: Dr Paul W. Adderley and Professor Richard D. Oram

In Scotland and around the world, past geoarchaeological investigations have identified anthropogenically-deepened soils in urban, peri-urban and rural settings and interpreted them in respect to past site activity. Centuries of application and accumulation of bio-waste materials (human and animal waste, slaughter house and fish-gutting wastes) and other additives such as turf, peat, fire residues, etc., have created a significant store of organic rich materials (Carbon). The implications of management change and the fate of these soils in the environment has received relatively little detailed investigation.

My research seeks to investigate the fate of these bio- wastes and organic by-products in and around a set of medieval urban settlements. It also simultaneously attempts to develop an understanding of the historic patterns of settlements through the stratigraphic study of taphonomic processes of urban regoliths. Given the long-term historical record of the application of bio-waste to locales from the late medieval period to the nineteenth century in Scotland, an understanding of the long-term fate of these materials can be developed by combining multiple evidence types i.e. documented records of the application of bio-waste materials combined with a range of soil-based methodological tools such as X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), magnetic susceptibility technique, differential pyrolysis, Carlo-Erba 1108 elemental Analyzer (C:N) amongst others. Characterising turnover rate of these carbon-rich soil materials under different environmental conditions would contribute both to the understanding of ‘deep urban soils’ and enhance our ability to construct a more accurate picture of carbon reserve/store in Scotland

My future research plans are to build upon the foundations of my PhD, collaborating with environmental agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and industries to provide valuable information in the development or revision of national-level climate change mitigation policy and management practises across a range of historical landscapes, and in doing so contributing to the global knowledge base.

Education: B.Sc. (Hons) Biology and Environmental Science (University of Stirling)

Ben Fanstone, PhD candidate

Topic: The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in colonial Kenya

Supervisors: Dr Phia Steyn and Dr Paul Adderley

I began my student life by studying a BA in history and an MA in international relations at Leicester University, where my research focused on the theoretical connections between the environment and violent conflict. This is a topic that gains occasional media coverage with alarmist projections of possible scenarios like 'water wars' in Africa, although these usually lack historical precedent. Upon beginning my M.Res in environmental history at the University of Stirling I took this topic further by applying theoretical models of adaption to environmental change, which include the possibility of conflict, to the colonial period of Nigerian history. This research allowed the way in which colonial rule used the environment, specifically state forestry, as a tool for both economic and political dominance to be highlighted, but also showed the resourcefulness and adaptability of African peoples that allowed them to avoid violent conflict.  The discipline of environmental history is well suited to this topic, allowing the integration of traditional document analysis with scientific investigation of the land.

I am now continuing my research at the University of Stirling by beginning a PhD entitled “The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in colonial Kenya”, investigating the development of the colonial forestry department in Kenya in terms of how it related to the other sections of the colonial administration and how its twin goals of forest conservation and sustainable timber harvesting were met, or not, in the face of competing demands for agricultural land both from indigenous Africans and the white settler community. This will yield new insight into whether scientific forestry was truly a coherent ideology that guided colonial forest control or whether it was merely a theoretical ideal that bore little resemblance to the reality of colonial forestry. The findings of such a study have continued resonance today, as many forest communities in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America are currently experiencing the encroachment of state or private forestry onto their lands. The population displacement and destruction of traditional ways of life that this is causing have numerous antecedents in the colonial period of African history.

Vicki Hodgson, PhD candidate

Topic: The Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus and its estates

Supervisors: Dr Alasdair Ross and Dr Michael Penman (AHRC-funded)

I have just begun the first year of my PhD and my topic is the medieval abbey of Coupar Angus, encompassing its economic, environmental and social history. One of the main focuses of my research will be the degree to which the abbey conformed to Cistercian ideals and the extent to which it was forced to abandon the concept of separation from the lay world. Determining this will involve analysis of the abbey’s landholding and the methods of exploitation employed. Through use of the surviving evidence it will be possible to not only outline the estates held by Coupar Angus, but give an indication of their composition and contribution to monastic income. In addition, there was a commercial side to the exploitation of resources and I will be investigating the extent of Coupar Angus’ involvement in all types of trade. Aside from the economic and environmental aspects, the other main focus of this study will be determining the lay and ecclesiastical networks of the abbey, particularly through an examination of witness lists. This will include an investigation of the lay patronage granted to Coupar Angus, along with the ecclesiastical relations of the abbey. Moreover, the tensions between the abbey and the secular Church hierarchy will also be explored. My aim is to advance our understanding of how Scottish monastic life operated, in addition to contributing to a wider understanding of the functioning of the Cistercian order.

Education: BA (Hons) History (Stirling University) and M.Res in Historical Research (Stirling University)

Katy Jack, PhD candidate

‌Topic: The Political and Local Consequences of the Decline and Fall of the earls of Mar

Supervisors: Dr Alasdair Ross and Dr Alastair Mann

Having spent the majority of my formative years living in Saudi Arabia, I returned to the UK on a permanent basis when I was 15. Finishing my secondary education at a boarding school in Cumbria, I began an undergraduate degree at Stirling University in Scottish History, which I completed in 2011. I then remained at Stirling to undertake the Masters in Historical Research, which I have recently completed and am now beginning my PhD.

My research interests lie mainly in the exercise of power and lordship in medieval Scotland, focussing on the north east of Scotland. My undergraduate and M.Res degrees analysed the lands and lordship of the families of Gordon and Forbes respectively, paying particular attention to the bitter feud which existed between the two families between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries.

My topic, a continuation of research done for both my undergraduate degree and my Masters, seeks to explore the political and local consequences of the decline and fall of the earls of Mar in north-east Scotland during the fifteenth century, which families the crown chose to raise up to replace them, and the struggle for territorial dominance that followed. This proposed study is a departure from the dominant historiographical focus on ‘living’ earldoms or lordships in medieval Scotland and Ireland, but its purpose is not to concentrate on providing a history of the earldom of Mar, but focus on the extinction of the native line of earls and the consequences which followed their downfall. By predominantly building my study around the ‘decline and fall’ of the Mar earls, I am hoping to provide an insight into a theme which is often incorporated into wider studies seeking to provide a broad analysis of the history and organization of a medieval earldom or lordship over a large period.

Education: BA (Hons) Scottish History (Stirling University) and M.Res in Historical Research (Stirling University)

Sven Leman, PhD candidate (2013-)

‌Topic: British Pre-Colonial Cartography of West Africa (1749–1841)

Supervisors: Dr Phia Steyn and Dr Paul Adderley

‘I spread the map of Africa before him, and tracing a line from Cairo to Sennar, and from thence westward in the latitude and supposed direction of the Niger, I told him that was the route, by which I was anxious that Africa might, if possible, be explored.’ (Henry Beaufoy instructing John Ledyard, 1789)

The eighteenth century witnessed the expansion of European interaction across the globe and the flowering of intellectual practice in the metropolitan centres of the Old World. However, as the people, geography, flora and fauna of strange and foreign places were recorded and absorbed into the archive of popular knowledge, Africa remained an enigmatic mystery. The great quests for the River Niger and the city-states of the interior fascinated Britain at a time when the most reliable sources for the region’s geography were hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years old. Innocent quotes like that above demonstrate how little was known of the trials and obstacles facing any traveller planning to simply journey across the width of Africa in blind search of fabled rivers and towns.

By focusing on the cartographic element of Britain’s developing knowledge of and interaction with West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I aim to demonstrate that there is a historic narrative that can only be understood from the perspective of how that region was mapped. The process of map-production is one of data-acquisition, reception, interpretation and publication, all processes that are heavily rooted in the intellectual, political and economic contexts of the day. Improving standards of observing and recording geographical information throughout the period in question also contributed to the use of maps by the state and individuals. In this period, maps evolved from being items of illustration and decoration, to scientific texts that contributed to the geopolitics of nations.       

The parameters of my study encompass the trajectory of several themes relating to Britain’s relationship with West Africa (such as: the Slave Trade, colonisation, abolition, legitimate commerce and international competition). More importantly though, this study is contained within the history of two maps. Beginning with the blank map by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1749), famously emptied of unverifiable information, it represents not only the empirical qualities of European Enlightenment but also a challenge to all who would fill in the details. My research ends in 1841 with James McQueen’s masterpiece designed to accompany the disastrous plans of the abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton who masterminded a doomed ascent of the Niger to secure anti-slavery treaties with African leaders. Whilst this final map was highly regarded as the most accurate of its day, the failure of the expedition marks a milestone of Britain’s interaction with West Africa in the final decades before the Conference of Berlin in 1884/5 and subsequent European colonization.

Education: BA (Hons.) first class (University of Stirling, 2011); MRes (Historical Research) Environmental History, with merit (University of Stirling, 2012)


Shaun Wallace, PhD candidate

Topic: Black Literacy and Slave Rebelliousness in the United States South, c. 1790-1810

Supervisors: Dr Colin Nicolson (University of Stirling), Dr Ben Marsh (University of Kent), Dr Emma Hart (University of St Andrews)

Shaun is an ESRC-funded Ph.D. research student at the University of Stirling where he works on a project that examines the relationship between black literacy and slave rebelliousness in the American South, c.1790-1810 in the states of Maryland and Georgia. This formative period witnessed social and political upheaval as the republican evocation of principles such as liberty and citizenship contrasted with the reality that at the dawn of the new republic there were over one million disenfranchised African-American slaves. Legislation accompanying slavery’s prolongation in the South promoted slave illiteracy and curtailed slave mobility, as a consequence of growing fears of slave insurrection through slave enlightenment. Interdisciplinary, the project draws upon insights from anthropology, philosophy, and educational sociology and combines quantitative and qualitative analysis with close semiotic reading of slave runaway advertisements to bridge the gap between the theoretical understanding of literacy and the social realities of slave action.

Whilst historians have tended to identify slave rebelliousness with more spectacular, but much rarer, outbreaks of slave insurrection, the project reasserts the historical focus on the individual slave for whom fugitivity was a more common and subtle form of rebelliousness. While the original intention of the runaway advertisements was to facilitate the recapture of a daring slave and return them to their lives of enslavement, the project unearths the stories and accounts of hundreds of as yet unknown slaves and uses them to form micro-histories and to chart the collective experiences of a people often ill-afforded a description or allowed to think, talk, or act freely – let alone read or write.

Beyond examining the advertisements, Shaun will undertake archival research in the United States from January 2015, examining special collections as well as state legislation, census data, and select plantation correspondence such as slaveholder diaries.


Book review - Fugitive Slaves and the Unfinished American Revolution: Eight Cases, 1848–1856, Journal of African American History, to be published fall 2014/early 2015.

Book review - The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World, Journal of American Studies, to be published fall 2014/early 2015.

Education: BA (Hons) in History, University of Stirling 2007-2011 and M.Res in Historical Research (Distinction), University of Stirling, 2011-2012

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