PhD and MRes

Past students

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)


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