New Season, New Editor

Author Visiting the Murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts

Author Visiting the Murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts

Just as the seasons change, so must the tenure of editors of the blog. We bid farewell to one editor-in-chief and welcome another. As summer gets under way in 2019 (last of the teens…) I hope that everyone is enjoying some well-earned time off and the glorious weather. While you are taking it easy and hopefully writing, I will be meticulously looking after [Re]collection until the New Year. As such, I am excited to bring you some new content, organize, assemble, and most importantly, showcase these wonderful posts for the remainder of the year.

I would like to thank my most recent predecessor Marcel Haas for his help and navigational guidance. Moreover, I would like to thank his predecessors for maintaining such excellent work, their work ethic and contributions make this a hard standard to live up to, but I shall endeavour to maintain the excellence you are used to.

Let me introduce myself, my name is Gillian Macdonald and coming in the Fall I will be a fourth year PhD candidate in the Transnational and Comparative History PhD program at CMU. Since it is my fourth year, I am hoping to complete a good chunk—if not all—of my research and writing in the coming year. Before coming to CMU, I was a student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow that is one of the history department’s partner institutions. I completed both my Bachelors Honors Degree and my Master in Research at Strathclyde there. During my MRes year I was approached about attending CMU through the partnership exchange and four years later here I am completing my PhD.

After a year of completing requirements, my historical interests primarily lie in Early Modern Europe, the Medieval World, and the History of the United States with a sprinkling of inter-war Europe. Having read at least a few books in each field I can honestly say I am fascinated. However, my primary area of research lies in seventeenth-century Great Britain. The seventeenth-century is when all the fun stuff happens, there’s two revolutions, they lob off some king’s heads, start an empire, go to war with the Netherlands, France, and countless other places, the fallout from the Reformation takes hold, you name it and it’s happening. My personal interests and research lie in the tail end of the century during the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-90—very contested name in the historiography—particularly in Scotland. This includes spies, refugees, pirates, and parliamentary legislation dealing with it all.

Over the course of the next few months I am looking forward to sharing experiences and updates as I travel to my archives and burrow into my sources. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of my exciting finds and struggles along the way as I travel around the little British island that I call home and maybe to some more exotic places. As well as reviewing, sharing, and publishing any and all relevant contributions by our readers! I welcome and encourage all submissions please do not hesitate to drop an email at cmichhistoryblog@gmail.com.

Happy Holidays!

For Public Consumption: Food History and Youtube

By Simon Walker

               University of Strathclyde

When I started my post-graduate training, I envisaged a world of books, half-moon glasses and dusty archives.  I looked forward to writing a book that no one, except my suffering students, would read and delivering lectures to a room of people more interested in their catnaps, computers and coffees.   Then I discovered, the scourge of 21st century academia: Public Engagement! 

 Strange thing is, I love public engagement.  I blog, I tweet, I teach in local schools and occasionally guest lecture at public events.  It’s great fun and its very different to dealing with other academics who half the time are waiting nervously (or sometimes impatiently) for their turn to speak.  At a PhD level your peers tend to be kind, your betters benevolent and your academic audience, polite.  With the public you get quirks, questions and often genuine interest. 

One of the best public talks I ever gave was to an audience of only six people as part of the Glasgow Southside Fringe festival. Serves me right for presenting in the basement of a grand mansion whilst the sun streamed down on music and comedy acts elsewhere!  To be fair, I wouldn’t have to come to see me either.  But the talk was great, because as I explained about trench food and hard tack (the impossible to eat biscuit / bread that was the British soldiers last resort on the front line), the audience engaged, leaned forward and conversed. 

But all of these things have been done and done again.  Even my teaching in schools, which is great fun, is not exactly unique.  So, in the best tradition of finding any distraction from not writing my thesis, I searched for something ‘a wee bit different.’  In the middle of the Great British Bake Off,* I had a very daft idea.  When I’m insolently not writing my thesis, I have a tendency to bake.  I bake cakes for friend’s birthdays, cookies for my younglings, and doughnuts because it’s Friday. So, I decided to blend together: my love of cooking, my passion for the First World War, and let’s be honest, my dashingly handsome and charismatic self.  I decided to make a YouTube cookery show which I called Feeding Under Fire

The format was simple: get camera, use camera, cook!  Having never presented on camera before, I was ridiculously naïve.  The research bit was the easy part.  I pulled a recipe from an Army Service Cook Book from 1914 for Hard Tack and then trawled through my personal archives for my unwritten thesis for accounts of trying to eat it.  I storyboarded the scene, wrote my script and it was time for Lights, Camera, Action!  This is where it fell apart. 

So, I enlisted a YouTube expert to help me film.  Together we managed to make an 11-minute film, which took six hours to make and then ten hours for me to edit.  I couldn’t look at the camera, I couldn’t remember my lines, I hated the way I looked, my voice, my kitchen.  To get me to lighten up, my director placed a funny sign behind the camera to help my slightly manic smile have some enthusiasm to it.   Finally, I managed to upload it to YouTubeThis was it, I would be, well not famous, but you know, popular at least, I’m sure!   Over the next four days, there was around 15 views, and those were from a smattering of friends, and mostly me, from different devices.  As it stands there are over 200 views on the first episode 5 up thumbs and 1 down thumb (I don’t know who that was but I’m going to force feed you hardtack raw, my friend).  That was the hardest part.  Knowing I had put so much effort into it and no one cared.  

Then a schoolteacher friend messaged me to say she had enjoyed the video and that she had used it as part of a lesson plan.  She passed it on to another person who did the same and suddenly I felt better about the whole thing.  I learned from the mistakes in the first episode. The next one was better researched, I brought in a friend to ‘taste test’ on camera, I actually bought a decent video camera and microphone and I fixed much of the oddities of the first video.  Episode two currently has just over 100 views.  Episode three is now up and episode four is in post-production hell. It will be done. 

So, what is the point I hear you ask. Well done, mate, you made a Youtube video that got less views than a French speaking cat trying to get into a house!  Basically, who cares? Well the point is, whilst I am not a YouTube star (yet – I have hope), I love Feeding Under Fire. Public engagement is important for developing wider key skills that are useful both within and beyond academia. Also, having a more varied presentation platform means that you can reach a more diverse audience with your research.  Feeding Under Fire is on my academic CV, it helped me get a job at the Scottish Parliament, and I’m planning to apply for funding to push the series as an engagement project for six months whilst in the post-doc, pre-job wilderness.  Feeding Under Fire is daft, but it’s fun, it’s interesting and it dares to be a little different; also, my kids love it, so why not.  Try it yourself, you never know what might happen, but give me a thumb up when you do, eh?

* Aired on PBS as the Great British Baking Show.

 

Editor's Note: University of Strathclyde is one of our partner institutions. This fruitful exchange has sent many of our PhD students to Glasgow for a year of study, and Strathclyde has sent CMU many students. Simon Walker is a PhD Student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.  He focuses on the physical transformation and control that British soldier’s bodies experienced during the First World War.     Email: Simon.h.walker@strath.ac.uk

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.