Professor of History, University of St Andrews

I arrived at the University of St Andrews in the summer of 2012. Originally from Ayr on the other side of Scotland, I taught for over fifteen years at the University of Glasgow and, more recently, had a short spell at Queen’s University Belfast. I relish the seemingly brighter light and fresher air of Scotland’s east coast, as well as finding St Andrews a remarkably friendly and congenial university in which to work.

My current research focuses on the intellectual history of the English Enlightenment and its nineteenth-century aftermath, particularly in fields such as antiquarianism, mythography and religious apologetic. Eventually, many years hence, these obsessions will intersect with an emerging interest in the history - and prehistory - of British anthropology. I am at my happiest riding these particular hobbyhorses, but I also have a stable of other subjects which fascinate me. These include constitutional theory, British as well as American, and the church history of my native county of Ayrshire in the age of Enlightenment. However, I am alert to the possibility that the parishes of eighteenth-century Fife might yield up treasures of their own to delight the connoisseur of theological controversy.
I am also co-organiser , with Professor Gerry Carruthers (Glasgow University), of a Carnegie-funded project on the theme of ‘Literature and Union’, whose workshops and events run 2013-15 http://www.carnegie-trust.org/awards/research-grant-projects/literature-and-the-union.html

I teach on courses at various levels at St Andrews. I am involved in two team-taught courses, MO 2008, ‘Scotland, Britain and the World 1500-2000’, and HI 2001, ‘History as a Discipline’. I am thoroughly enjoying teaching historiography in a formal course setting for the first time, several decades after discovering the topic, by way of Pieter Geyl’s classic, Napoleon for and against, which I found on the shelves of the Carnegie Library in Ayr between my fifth and sixth years at secondary school. Ever since I have felt the lure and enchantment of historiography, but have never had the chance to teach it in a bespoke Historiography course.

In addition, I teach three third level courses to Honours classes, on ‘Nationalism and Unionism in Modern Scotland’, on ‘The Enlightenment and the World’, and on ‘The American Constitution: Past and Present’. I have been enormously impressed by the standard of Honours students at St Andrews in these areas, particularly the insight and sophistication displayed by undergraduates working on the theory, context and significance of American constitutional law between the late eighteenth century and the present.

I have spent my adult life in History departments of one sort or another, but am still not quite sure if I am an historian. I am increasingly interested both in Literature and in Political Science, and enjoy dabbling in other subjects, much to the irritation, no doubt, of their professional practitioners.

Experience

  • –present
    Professor of History, University of St Andrews