A German in Scotland ... via Michigan

Rainy Glasgow Cathedral   (Photo credit: Gillian Macdonald)

Rainy Glasgow Cathedral   (Photo credit: Gillian Macdonald)

By Marcel Haas   

Rain is pelting down as I walk down Glasgow’s Cathedral Street, heading towards the Gothic outlines of the High Kirk of Glasgow I can dimly make out through the dark clouds. I walk a bit faster, stepping around scores of students hurrying out of the rain and into the Andersonian Library. One last desperate dash and I am in the foyer of the University of Strathclyde’s Lord Hope building, which houses the School of Humanities and my primary domicile, the Department of History. I rummage around in my once again chaotic shoulder bag, before my hand emerges triumphantly clutching the key card I need to enter the secretive chambers that hold my desk, the graduate school. Finally, I slump down behind the computer screen and start typing, “Rain is pelting down…”

   I came to Glasgow in June 2016, having fled the continental warmth of the German summer only to be attacked by even more sun over Scotland. (Thank you, global warming!) Luckily, Glasgow’s well-deserved reputation for beastly weather had come through in the end, and I enjoyed some lovely wet days while moving into my new apartment in the city’s eastern borough of Dennistoun. My new home was both a relatively quiet residential area, and a continuously up-and-coming hipstertopia, including snazzy cafes and traditional Italian restaurants, second hand shops and quite a few liquor stores. Needless to say, I instantly fell in love.
 

   My little picture of Glasgow might confuse my surely enormous readership. “Why in the name of all historical research is this guy in Scotland?” some will ask, “And why should we care?” Those are excellent questions! Insulting, but spot on. Well, I am (perhaps rather obviously) a graduate student at CMU. Besides being one of the lucky few graciously given the chance to pursue the increasingly longish goal of the PhD, I took (even more pleasingly) the opportunity to spend one year at one of CMU’s prestigious partner institutions, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom (at the moment), European Union (not much longer, but hopefully soon again). Besides the prospect of living in yet another beautiful country, I had a good reason to be excited to move: I could do research on my dissertation topic at the very location where everything happened three hundred years ago! Granted, you, my fair reader, will only understand my exhilaration if you know that I study the relationship and first contact between Native Americans and the European empires, especially Great Britain, in the 18th century. There, I just told you. I hope you are appropriately excited for me.
 

   And so it goes that this increasingly wired up German made the grand journey from Michigan to Scotland (with a lengthy stop at his parents’ house in Jena, Germany) in a fashion reminiscent of the one made in the opposite direction by so many Scots during the last couple of centuries. In slightly less historic fashion I took a plane of course, which made the voyage considerably less arduous. (1) Scotland is now the third country where I studied and lived. It certainly is the prettiest. I say that with all due honours to Michigan, but there are few places on earth that can beat the view of Ben Nevis through the clouds, the winding road through Glen Coe, or the crushing waves around the Orkney Islands. (2)
  

 In my time here I have visited some of the best archives and academic institutions in the English-speaking world, and – all friendly hyperbole aside – they have helped me immensely to achieve some of my research goals. The British Library and the National Archives in London are only a (admittedly lengthy) bus ride away, Edinburgh’s Scottish National Library and Record Office are close-by, and Glasgow University holds an impressive special collection of 18th century documents. (3) Once the research stage is done I am also planning to attend and present at least at two large conferences in London and Edinburgh.
 

   This year has been (and still is) a revelation for me in terms of sightseeing and history, archival research opportunities, the bustling life at one of the busiest and best universities of the United Kingdom, and – last but not least – Glasgow’s culture. I know it is an often-used buzzword, but coming here has truly allowed me to broaden my horizon and gain new perspectives. (4) The people here are lovely, the food great, the drink (well if you have heard of Scotch Whisky, then no more words are necessary), and the university is racking itself to accommodate its foreign students’ academic needs. If this is not enough to make you come and see for yourself, then I do not know what would convince you.


(1) Except for the flight from Germany to Glasgow for which I enlisted the help of a certain Irish low-budget airline. They did not give me water on the plane. I had to buy it. Imagine my outrage!

(2) I am exaggerating only a wee bit when I say that one can hardly throw a stone without hitting a historic site on the Orkneys, be it 5000 year old stone circles like the Ring of Brodgar, or the Viking settlements at the Brough of Birsay. Seriously, if you are still reading this and not busy booking your flight to Scotland, you might hate history.

(3) The University of Glasgow’s campus is also a dead ringer for another famous, yet sadly fictional campus for the education of young wizards.

(4)There is a rather simplifying phrase in German, “Reisen bildet,” which literally means “travelling educates.” Obvious, yes, but also true. Sometimes both can be right.