In 1979 a crack commando historian was sent to prison by a military court for a library book she didn’t return. This woman promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Edinburgh underground. Today, still wanted by the government, she survives as a condottiera. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find her, maybe you can have a cup of tea & a chat about recipes for Cantarella.
When I was 7, my dad bought me Discovery Magazine every month. The first issue was on Elizabeth I who, as any Scottish schoolchild will tell you, was the monster who executed poor Mary, Queen of Scots. Other issues followed on Alfred the Great, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc was a source of fascination for me for many years of my childhood and bad old Elizabeth became merely the resented occupier of the top spot by virtue of her stern face being on the cover of Issue 1.
In Primary 5, I joined the school’s History Explorers club. We met weekly and learned about various historical subjects the curriculum didn’t have time for. We went on numerous trips to castles, palaces and other places, benefiting from central Scotland’s numerous and well-preserved historical locations. In particular, I remember a trip to Scone Palace and Dunsinane Hill, the legendary location of Macbeth’s fort.
These childhood experiences of history as something exciting, thought-provoking and fundamentally about people and personalities, have stayed with me into adulthood. My opinion of Elizabeth I has come full circle and that feisty, stubborn old dame is now a firm favourite. My interest in Joan of Arc has, in contrast, waned as the great, noble and good from history have proved to be, to me at least, far less engrossing characters.
I opted not to do History for Standard Grade or Higher at school as the curriculum was too weighted to modern history for my liking. I will still argue that the Reformation is a more important series of events than the Second World War and had more fundamental and far-reaching consequences. Of course no one should be ignorant of the war, but for the scholastic pursuit of history, it shouldn’t be the be all and end all that it has become.
I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2001, having studied Latin, Religion and half a dozen or sohistory courses, spanning the Dark Age of Greece to the 1950s. I’ve taught courses on historical subjects at the University of Edinburgh for several years including the six wives of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and infamous women from Rome to the French Revolution. Until the end of August 2012, I did an exceedingly boring job in the public sector which I left to do a Master’s. After getting my MLitt in 2013, I started a PhD which I plan to submit in 2017.
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