From Scotland to New Haven: An Opera Singer's Journey

Pictures: laurenmcquistin.com

By Lauren McQuistin

Prior to my graduation from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I asked my head of year what my next step should be. He suggested London, or Wales, but if I really wanted to challenge myself, the United States. Never shy from a challenge, I saw no other option but to buy a ticket. In recent years I told my Professor Robertson, how much his advice meant to me. He told me that while he gives most people the same advice few follow through. Having graduated at the other end of my graduate school experience, I am so grateful for the way higher education in America has enriched my life and would encourage anyone considering it enthusiastically. I was lucky enough to receive a full scholarship and stipend to study music at Yale University. Due to the fully funded nature of the programme, it attracted the most extraordinary musicians across the world, regardless of their socio-economic background. The program sought out musicians that were willing to carve their way forward based on skill and determination alone. Additionally, I gained valuable teaching skills—an experience unique to the American graduate school—though I am first and foremost a performer, I have extensive training in how to teach voice. Throughout my Masters degree I had a private studio of sixteen students, which varied from young undergraduates in the Glee Club, with over a decade of choral training – to graduate school instrumentalists who had never sung a note.  

Being situated on the east coast, the Music School placed me in a centre point for a culmination of cultures to explore. Coming from a small country of about five million, to sixty-five times that was overwhelming but eventually one of my greatest opportunities to network, grow as a musician, and expand my horizons. A singer’s and, indeed a graduate student in most disciplines, journey does not solely exist in the realm of music or subject, there is often a huge component that is based in language and the learning of language. While a history student must be of reading comprehension—especially for research purposes—an opera singer must be skilled in speaking and lyric diction. With the resident linguistic experts, I obtained a degree of fluency in German and Italian, proficiency in French, and started my journey with Russian. Aside from the practical applications, I have lyric diction in Czech and Swedish.  

Working as a teacher for the Yale School of Music allowed me to zone in on my own technique, and really develop my personal pedagogy. A feat that graduate students around the country must face in their respective careers. Having students at the absolute infancy of their musical journey allowed me to install an appreciation and a holistic approach to the voice – one that comes from a desire to create and share an art form that resonates on a profound level. Seeing young students be brave, and risk vulnerability, by exploring the world of singing and performance enhanced my own appreciation for the art from. In my final semester I had a pleasure of watching two of my students perform principal roles in Yale Baroque Ensemble’s production of L’orfeo, which reiterated that my teaching had created a legacy of performers and has already enhanced my studio and garnered public interest in my skills.  

Equally important was spreading my Scottish identity. Being part of the Yale School of Music and all the prestige that is attached to that, was my platform to promote Scottish musicians and artists as viable and vital to the artistic world. The connections and, most importantly, the discipline that I gained has afforded me the standing to make my way in the professional world. During my first audition season I was able to work at one of the top Young Artist’s Programmes in the world, Central City Opera, giving a taste of the young artist lifestyle I hope to inhabit very soon. Another asset to the School of Music is the contacts they have with agents and managers, which meant that in my final semester I had the pleasure of singing for Columbia Records, Barret Artists, and most importantly, the Metropolitan Opera.  

The sheer diversity of cultures that exist in America alone, and the diversity of cultures that America attracts, is a brilliant opportunity to expand one’s world view, and really asses how one moves through the world as a global citizen. The entire world is aware of the issues and advances that are occurring in America, they inhabit the world stage. Being close to them, and gaining my education during them, informed me on how I can be an active member of society, working towards justice and dismantling the systems of oppression that are failing humanity. In my experience I saw a student body who fixated upon this and used the power of their intelligence to mobilise and make small but significant changes that will eventually impact our future. This allowed me to consider how to make my music useful, and meaningful in a broader way, such as performing in benefits for Asylum and Immigration. I would not have had such a tangible contact with this world, and this way to use my skills and talents, if I had not taken the leap to study in America.


Lauren McQuistin is a soprano opera singer originally from Stranraer in Scotland. Including having a very impressive resume and website, Lauren enjoys the simple things in life such as eating out for breakfast, visiting cute coffee shops, and whale watching (although I’m not sure that’s quite as simple!). Studying abroad, teaching, and learning languages have been a vital part in Lauren’s journey to where she is today.

If you wish to contact her or find out more, visit her web page www.laurenmcquistin.com

A Dispatch from Bochum

The author on the steps of the Münster.

The author on the steps of the Münster.

As the academic year in the US draws to a close, uncertainty, stress, and fatigue are each a familiar presence. However, here in Germany – where the semester has just begun, and where the workload is arguably less intense – I too am faced with certain perils. What exactly is this food that I have ordered? Why am I being reprimanded by this old woman in the street? (Apparently, it is not socially acceptable to cross the street before the light turns green – lesson learned.) How much bread is too much bread? (German bread – and German beer, for that matter – is truly marvelous. Another lesson learned.)

I am currently on exchange at the Ruhr-Universität (RUB) in Bochum. This is my second time studying abroad, and the third country that I have been fortunate enough to study in. From January until mid-March I took part in an intensive language class, wherein I developed basic language skills and worked closely with other incoming students who faced the same challenges I did. The class was often difficult though enjoyable, and friendships were forged over our mutual struggle to comprehend the mysteries of German grammar. Much of my first months here were also spent making use of my Semesterticket, a train pass that allows students to travel throughout the region for a very affordable one-off fee. My state – Nordrhein-Westfalen – is the largest in Germany, and with my Semesterticket I have been fortunate to explore the cities of Köln, Dortmund, Bonn, Düsseldorf, and more. This ticket has offered plenty of extra-curricular opportunities to develop my language skills and gain some understanding of everyday life in Germany. The benefits of this pass are many; in fact, one can probably learn as much from traveling around the state than from work in the classroom.

That being said, all of the homework in the world could not have prepared me for Karneval, a time during which the citizens of Düsseldorf, Köln, and more take to the streets and are gripped by a sort of collective insanity, souped up on copious amounts of alcohol and high-quality German sausages. I’m told that the festivities have a connection to the Catholic celebration of Lent, though it is unclear exactly where Jägermeister fits within the liturgical calendar. Garish costumes are worn as the revelers celebrate their civic pride; the cities resemble a Game of Thrones battlefield, soundtracked by Kölsch lager and pounding techno music from the 1990s. It is an incredible amount of fun. Of course, this being Germany, all festive debris is cleaned away in an orderly fashion, and everyone returns to work on Monday morning as if nothing happened.

Thankfully, Karneval comes but once a year, and, after all, there is serious work to be done. My academic experiences so far have admittedly been very challenging. Class discussion is held in German, and though there is not much expected of me in terms of contribution, even trying to keep up is very difficult. Class formats are also different than in the US, and great importance is placed on your ability to independently conduct and present original research. The campus at RUB is labyrinthine, and with its brutalist architecture from the 1960s and dour winter weather, even finding your way around can initially be intimidating. However, rising to these challenges is a privilege, not to mention a great opportunity. Living and working abroad forces you out of comfort zones and demands that you adapt to new experiences; moreover, the opportunity to cultivate connections and network with like-minded academics is also a bonus. The faculty here have been welcoming and are extremely helpful in providing guidance and advice.

I have been fortunate enough to study abroad before and believe that being able to study in an atmosphere which demands hard work truly offers an opportunity to thrive. And if it all becomes too much, there is always the option to chill out and eat a pretzel. Lesson learned.

Study Abroad From Scotland to Michigan: Why You Should Take the Leap!

By Amy Greer

Throughout my four years of undergraduate study at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, my goal was always to teach history. After being told I had been unsuccessful for my PGDE – the first step to becoming a qualified high school teacher – I felt lost with what the future would hold for me after leaving Strathclyde. Little did I know that an amazing opportunity that would change my life was about to come along.

Although the previous few years have held many milestones, it is safe to say my Masters year at Central Michigan University has been my biggest growing year yet (and not just because I have to buy my own groceries and pay rent). Back in 2017, in the space of only four months, I had been awarded the fellowship to come to CMU, taken my honors year examinations, graduated, and was on a plane to Michigan. Looking back now, it is difficult to believe that my journey began only this time last year. Once all the paperwork had been completed and I no longer had anything to focus on, I questioned whether I was truly ‘ready’ – although I am not sure anyone would ever say they were completely ready to move four thousand miles away from the place they have always lived. However, I am so thankful I pushed myself take a leap of faith to attend graduate school…in America. (Pinch me moment for sure!)

In two semesters at CMU, I have not only grown personally but also academically. Any expectations I had of what graduate school would be like were blown away in the best way possible! For me, it was a different world: suddenly I had my own classes to teach, my own office in the department, and was in graduate seminars surrounded by PhD students, feeling completely out my depth. However, it is amazing how quickly I adjusted with the help and support of my fellow grad students and Professors. Our Transnational exchange program stretches far to places such as Germany, Newcastle, and France to name a few. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this honored exchange program and to work alongside an amazing group of grad students, many of whom I am extremely lucky to call my good friends.

One of the main things that first attracted me to the program at CMU was the graduate teaching position. It was a daunting but equally exciting prospect. This experience was either going to confirm or deny what I always believed I wanted to do with my life, and I think it is safe to say I will never forget my first lesson (or how nervous I was)! Over my two semesters of my Masters year, I had the chance to teach two different courses: HST 210 U.S. History through Michigan Eyes and HST 323 Native American History. With U.S. history being one of my fields, I felt slightly more comfortable; however, the prospect of having my own classes to teach with no experience was nerve wracking to say the least. Despite this, being thrown in at the deep end has allowed me to progress far quicker. It is amazing how natural it all becomes. Lesson planning, teaching, grading, and helping students, all while doing your own course work is extremely stressful. You certainly do not see rewards every day when teaching; but when you see students progressing in their writing, or just enjoying a lesson or discussion, it makes it all worthwhile knowing you had a small part in those students’ journey. 

During some down time (I know what you are thinking, what grad student has time for a social life?!) I have had the great pleasure of exploring some parts of beautiful Michigan. Throughout my year I have visited Detroit and more specifically the Detroit Institute of Arts – thanks to Professor Harsyani for organizing such a wonderful trip as part of one of my favorite classes I have had the opportunity to take so far.  I have also had the pleasure of visiting Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula as well as Traverse City. Before coming to CMU, Michigan was not somewhere I had a lot of knowledge about. In fact, most people I meet back home in Scotland are intrigued to know more, and when people hear what Michigan has to offer and see the insanely beautiful photographs of the Great Lakes…who wouldn’t be sold?

I am beyond grateful for all that has happened in the past academic year: from all I have learned from my professors, to teaching my students, presenting my research in our annual International Graduate Historical Studies Conference, and having the opportunity to meet amazing historians such as Alan Taylor and Edward Ayers. I have much to thank CMU for, but I am especially proud to say I now have lifelong friends, who I am lucky to call colleagues, in what can only be described as very inspiring environment. Indeed, my passion for what I do gets stronger in a place where everyone loves what they do and works so hard. For now though, I am back in sunny Scotland (always the joke because it is hardly ever sunny) enjoying summer with my family and loved ones. Perhaps if it rains too much I can hide in the archives. Like for most of us that would be a day very happily spent for me. I look forward to returning to Michigan in the Fall and exploring what the next four years hold for me as a PhD candidate at CMU!


Amy Greer is a Scottish doctoral student at Central Michigan University. Her research interests are in Early Modern European History, focusing on education, women’s history, and gender studies.  

Where Could Your History Degree Take You Next? (Other Than the Library)

Rebecca Cuddihy graduation photo.jpg

By Rebecca Cuddihy

Towards the end of my undergraduate history degree at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, I thought I had my next year planned. I had already gained my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification and accepted a teaching position at a school in China. However, attending a last-minute career lecture would change my life forever, and just a few months later I found myself travelling from Scotland to Mount Pleasant ready to start a master’s degree at Central Michigan University.

The main thing which attracted me to this amazing opportunity was the graduate teaching assistant position which went hand-in-hand with my master’s program. While taking my own classes, the structure of which was a huge culture shock to me itself, I also taught HST101, Western Civilization from the Bronze Age – 1700 under the supervision of history department chair Dr. Gregory Smith. Having no teaching experience whatsoever, I was thrown into the deep end. Saying that, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Being a graduate assistant was a great experience, one which I definitely miss. At the time, writing your own essays, planning each lesson, and grading your students’ work is stressful and time-consuming and sometimes makes you want to tear your hair out (we’ve all been there). But there is a huge feeling of achievement when you think about the knowledge and skills you’ve helped pass on to your students. I had the independence in my seminar groups to develop my own teaching style, and attending weekly lectures with students meant we were on the journey together. The position also came with many challenges. Navigating the American education system was a shock to me, since in Scotland we don’t follow a general education program in university, and there are no compulsory classes (e.g. writing intensive). I felt that getting the students motivated and excited about the class could be difficult, as many students didn’t immediately see the benefit of a writing intensive class because it wasn’t related to their major (in an obvious way). However, I think my accent alone managed to capture attention of my students throughout the year. They definitely taught me as much as I taught them! I knew the next year would have a lot to live up to.

Although I worked with some fantastic professors and fellow grad students and made friends for life, I felt that pursuing a PhD just wasn’t for me. I loved the teaching aspect of my time at CMU, but I didn’t enjoy being in the classroom as a student as much. Thankfully, working with students from all over the world created a fantastic support network and is definitely one of the department’s strengths, particularly for those like me who had come from a different country.

Fast forward a move to the Metro Detroit area, a marriage and some serious job searching, I now work at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit! Although my role is mainly focused on visitor services, the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from this is invaluable. Not only have I learned about the turbulent history of Detroit and its gradual comeback, I’ve been able to learn just how a museum actually functions and what the key roles and responsibilities are. I see how the museum engages with the community through educational tours, film festivals, speakers, and maintaining relevant exhibits around Detroit’s history, as well as meeting individuals who have lived through Detroit’s past. It really is enlightening learning about Detroit’s history on a daily basis and actually seeing how past events have affected the city to this day.

I hope my journey will inspire current and future students that a history degree can take you to so many places! My next adventure will be down in Georgia, where for the next five months I’ll be working with the Augusta Museum of History in their collections department. I will be forever grateful for my time at CMU and to the faculty and students I worked with and taught. Who knows where my degree will take me next!


Rebecca Cuddihy graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master of Arts in History in 2017 and currently works at the Detroit Historical Museum. She is aiming to visit as many states as possible before returning to Scotland next year. She has also recently started a blog on her time in the USA so far: https://rebeccanormanusalife.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on twitter @rebeccacud92.

Game, Set, and Match! Or: How the History Department Sets Us up (For Success)

By Marcel Haas

The life of a graduate student can be surprising at times. One minute you sit hunched over your desk reading yet another book for this or that colloquium, the next minute you are boarding a plane that is supposed to transport you to a far-away university where you will spend months slowly forgetting most of what you read in that book I mentioned earlier. In a graduate program that is as international as ours, we all end up flying somewhere far away eventually – with all the exciting, frightening, and downright lifechanging consequences. In today’s blog post we will explore a side of CMU’s history department that has been the subject of many whispered conversations: our program’s matchmaking capabilities.

It is easy to imagine how a prolonged stay in a foreign country can either make you dissolve into terrible homesickness, or make you fall in love – with the country, the city, its people, and (maybe, if you are very lucky) that special someone and his or her very special accent. Most of the department’s graduate students at least know someone who fell in love in such a way, and many of them can now look back to long and happy relationships, marriages, and even little ones, which all have grown out of the international exchange program. In whatever way the connection came into existence, it makes many of us perfectly happy “long-distance relationshippers,” mostly because all too quickly our time at the partner institution is over and, as much as we can joke about it, we can only rarely smuggle a full-sized human through customs.

In consequence, the department can from time to time look forward to an international wedding. The latest one of these took place on December 29 last year, when Scarlet Muñoz and Tom Garbe tied the knot in the stunning cathedral of Puebla, Mexico. Tom came to CMU from the University of Strathclyde for his year abroad in 2012. On his very first day in Mt Pleasant he met Scarlet, who had come to Michigan from CMU’s partner institution in Mexico, the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, and who would stay for the PhD. I will refrain from recounting their next five years together – many of us have been there for at least some of this time – but I will point out their amazing commitment to each other.*

With a date set and a place found, the happy couple went on to invite a colourful assortment of guests, starting of course with the two families hailing from Mexico and Scotland respectively, and including professors and friends from all over three continents. The ceremony was an astonishing mix of cultures and faiths, as the Catholic priest reprimanded the Anglicans in the audience for the role of Henry VIII, and as our former Vice Dean Tim Hall and his wife Sheree served as members of the assembled godparents. After emerging from the cathedral into the lively night of Puebla’s beautiful Zocalo – serenaded by the exotic sounds of the bagpipe (at least to the ears of the numerous local bystanders) – the wedding party made their way to the Bodegas del Molino, the historic 17th century residence of the Archbishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, where the celebration would last in historical style until the early hours of the morning.

The party continued as international as the ceremony had ended. While the Scottish half of the newly united family taught the traditional Ceilidh dance style to the bemused international audience, the Mexican half did not fall behind in showing their Salsa and Merengue skills. Like the happy couple, party and ceremony had truly become transnational, not in the least also thanks to the history department’s exchange program, which had made their union possible over five years ago. Flying back from Mexico (and back from warm weather into the icy misery of winter Michigan), I wondered who would be the next to fall prey to the graduate program’s matchmaking capabilities.

 

* That commitment ultimately made it possible for the couple’s friends and colleagues at CMU to enjoy a prolonged Christmas holiday in the sun of Mexico, which (at least to my mind) made the last five years definitely worth it.


Marcel Haas is a German doctoral student interested in the political and social relationships of European colonial powers and indigenous peoples in North America. He went to the University of Strathclyde in Scotland for his year abroad, and his heart has been lost there ever since.

“A Room with a View”

View of Florence. Photo Credit: Chris Hopcraft

View of Florence. Photo Credit: Chris Hopcraft

By Chris Hopcraft

12 March 2018

Italy. Italia. The land of the Romans. This is now my third excursion into ancient territory, perhaps built by the Gods themselves eons ago.

I remember my first trip here as if it were yesterday. I was only barely 22; only a child in the grand scheme of the world. I was one of the privileged few to participate in the “Grand Tour,” which was simply a life-changing experience brought to me by CMU’s own Department of History. My guides? Drs. Smith and Harsanyi, two esteemed professors from which I have learned so many valuable lessons about the world.

Back then, I was a little shy, one could say. At least, the rest of the trip participants who were to be my best friends over the next three weeks would have said so. Indeed, I had no ability to attend the “meet and greet” sessions offered prior to the trip; therefore, I met all of them for the first time on the day of departure.

It was midday in May, which is in my opinion the best month of the year based on temperature alone. It was, by many standards, perfect. I remember seeing a large group of people wearing CMU attire, and I began to walk up to them. They had to be my study abroad group. Now, as part of my shy behavior, I do find myself to be exceedingly sheepish in situations like this, that is, meeting groups of people for the first time. To this end, I decided to, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, ask my new friends if I could leave my bag with them while I explored the airport. While it earned me some curious stares, they happily obliged. My shyness sort of, but not entirely, went away right after this, as my new friends were immediately accepting of me. Not long after, we boarded a flight for Rome via Amsterdam.

Our first foray into the fast pace of Rome was to immediately be swept into a taxicab against the advice of our esteemed doctors of history, who had suggested the Leonardo Express as the best option to transit into the city centre. The driver, though smooth-talking and fast-moving, did not take advantage of us in any way; we were safely deposited in front of our hostel in short order with each of our wallets having fourteen less Euros in them.

Now, this was my first experience with international travel altogether, much less in a hostel. Between the noise, the somewhat unkempt demeanor of the place, and the curt behavior of the staff, I believe that I found myself being quite angrily critical of the lodging in the journal which we were to keep daily. How foolish I was! Nine years later, I can look back and laugh at my attitude back then. I didn't realize it at the time, but the lodging was adequate; probably I was only out of my comfort zone.

We began our Grand Tour the following morning, quite early in fact. I for one had not become accustomed to the time difference yet, but we had to push on. Our entire class was at stake. Fatigue became a thing of unimportance as we entered the Roman Forum and began our first lecture by Drs. Smith and Harsanyi. We had, ourselves, become a part of history at that moment, for only a small percentage of the world can ever say that they could see history come to life in the way that it did on that morning.

Indeed, I had never experienced anything quite like that before or since. It was simply breathtaking to have the ancient monuments looming overhead while our esteemed professors were placing them in the framework of our class. I am convinced that if all classes were presented in this manner, the entire graduating class of every year would be the Valedictorian.

As I write this now, I have the distinct pleasure of doing this same thing for my wife in just two days. How amazing it will be to take what I had learned in the Forum nearly nine years ago and provide for her the same experience that I had. For her, things will come alive as they did for me.

Back in my own Grand Tour of nine years ago, by the time in which we transited from the more chaotic atmosphere of Rome to Florence, I started feeling more at ease. It was here that I began to become great friends with my classmates.

Each lecture seemed to be more engaging than the last, as the settings for each meeting became even more grandiose and awe-inspiring. I remember quite clearly a time when we were to read passages from Forster’s A Room with a View and discuss them, and of course the breathtaking place at which we held our class discussion was perhaps the best view in the entire world at that moment: a location named Fiesole. Our professors, in choosing that exact place, had again succeeded in bringing history alive before our very eyes. It was the type of thing that CMU’s numerous study abroad programs were known for, and this was no exception.

At some point further down the road, our group had traveled to Nîmes, France, as a continuance of the Grand Tour. It was around this time that I had become a bit homesick, and quite weary of the differences between the United States and the European Union. “My God,” I thought. “How can people survive without free refills? Will these portion sizes ever increase? What of this cellular service? Surely, this is not the third world.” Follies and ignorant thoughts by a first-time traveler.

All of these years later, I suppose that things haven’t changed much. There are still no free refills, and the portions are the same. The cellular networks, however, are much improved and data-friendly these days. As one exits their comfort zone and makes an attempt to experience a culture different from their own, it becomes a gratifying experience in which one’s own cultural awareness is heightened and enriched. These differences, though jarring at first, ultimately became a testament to my own ability to adapt.

And in fact, as our tour drew to an end, I found myself coming to terms with the differences I had found between the United States and Europe. Perhaps the beauty of the sites had something to do with it. It might have been the real-life lectures and discussions we had participated in, on the steps of so many timeless monuments. I do know that without the opportunity to participate in this program with my beloved History department, I would have never had the chance to broaden my horizons in that way.

Since my fabled CMU Grand Tour of 2009, I have been back to Europe six separate times. I graduated from CMU with a Bachelor’s of Science in History and could not be prouder to say so. I got married, and I now have the pleasure of sharing this experience with my wife in many of the same ways that I did so many years ago, down to staying in the same area in Rome as we originally did.

Where would I be without my original Grand Tour? Perhaps many dollars richer, and certainly a less well-rounded off individual. It was an experience that could never be repeated or replaced; one of the heart that stays with a person for their entire life. As I pass this experience on to my wife, and later to my children, I have the distinct happiness of always remembering where I came from: from the hallowed corridors of Powers Hall, Central Michigan University. Together, we all made history.


Chris Hopcraft graduated from CMU with a Bachelor’s of Science in History in 2011. His interests include filmmaking, photography, and entrepreneurship. He owns his own sales business specializing in satellite phones and other satellite communications equipment. He is currently developing several film projects and in the process of creating his own media company.

Creating Her Own Path

Ashley Blackburn processing skulls at University of Groningen. Photo credit: CMU News

Ashley Blackburn processing skulls at University of Groningen. Photo credit: CMU News

Ashley Blackburn, a Central Michigan University senior majoring in public history with minors in anthropology and museum studies, not only studied abroad this summer, but also created the internship program path she took.

Central Michigan's public history and museum studies programs equip students with the skills they need for success and Ashley is a prime example of collaboration between advisors and students to enrich the experience. 

CMU News featured Ashley's internship:

'The skulls. They speak to me.'

Student creates internship and processes artifacts in The Netherlands

August 7, 2017

Ashley Blackburn spent the summer working with hominin skulls and early human tools.

It's exactly what the Central Michigan University senior wanted from the international internship that she created.

"The skulls. They speak to me," Blackburn told her internship supervisor when he asked her to choose between organizing the museum's medical collection or skull collection.

The internship was at the museum for the University of Groningen — Rijksuniversiteit Groningen — in The Netherlands. Her internship ended in late July after her spring semester of classes in history and anthropology.

The internship work was in line with Blackburn's interests. ...

Continue reading at CMU News.

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.