On research trips, conferences and making connections: My summer in Scotland

I have finally returned to Canada after seven weeks in the UK and I am currently battling some lingering jet-lag. The expectations I had of my research trip were rather different than the end result: my trip was much more fulfilling and exciting than anticipated. Sometimes, letting go of expectations is crucial in order to benefit the most from what a research trip has to offer. While I worked on my PhD research less than I expected, the amount of personal and professional experiences and connections I made became more important. In fact, many of these connections and conversations led to discoveries relevant to King Malcolm’s role in Scottish chronicles. This blog post will not cover the extent of my research activities abroad, but I will focus mostly on the opportunities I had to share my current research and gain more insight into my topic.

As part of my research trip, I spoke at the International Congress on Celtic Studies XV, held at the University of Glasgow in July. My paper was concerned with the portrayals of Malcolm III and his youngest son, David I, in English twelfth-century chronicles. The conference only held one panel on Scottish history; unsurprisingly, the audience was packed with Scottish medievalists! It was both a sublime and terrifying experience because as a PhD student, one feels the pressure to give the best presentation one can muster to a room full of specialists in your field. The Congress also had a roundtable on the ‘Models of Authority’ project headed by Professor Dauvit Broun at the University of Glasgow and the discussions that arose from the project’s presentation placed the project’s potential in context (More info here: http://www.modelsofauthority.ac.uk/blog/intro/). I am enthusiastic to see how the methodological approach employed in the Models of Authority project can be used to answer questions of power, nobility, land and government in medieval Scotland. The roundtable was stimulating and it was one of those opportunities that far exceeded my expectations.

Yet most of my time was not spent at conferences, but working at the National Library of Scotland (NLS). One of my research assistantships for this summer provided opportunities to work at the NLS with archival material and this occupied a good chunk of my time. Likewise, I was able to benefit from the new photography trial at the NLS, though it started the week after I had transcribed the passages about Macbeth, Macduff and Malcolm in Wyntoun’s Cronykil. If we see the upside, I have a transcript AND photographs of the manuscripts I saw, so that should facilitate my research in the future. Also, transcribing the passages, though at times tedious, did permitted me to revise and familiarize more with the story of Malcolm’s rise to power in Scotland found in the Cronykil. It was an exceptional opportunity compare the different texts found in all of the extant manuscripts of this chronicle while formulating ideas of the relationship between chronicle-writing, power, kingship, Scottish identity and nobility. These ideas have posed several questions about the nature of chronicle writing in Scotland during the fifteenth century and the political and cultural development of the kingdom during this period. These are all topics that I wish to address in the future and while addressing all of them in my thesis might not be possible, they present alternative research venues worth exploring. The research trip was successful in that it allowed me to discover new ideas and formulate new research questions that can be answered by thinking about the development of Malcolm’s portrayal in Wyntoun’s Cronykil from a new perspective.