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Congratulations on receiving an offer to study with us! History at York has over 40 academics, researching and teaching across a wide range of historical periods and geographical areas. We wanted to give you a chance to find out more about one of them.

Laura Stewart talks here about her passion for 17th-century Scotland, its relevance today, and what you can expect when you join us.

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History inspired me

I’ve always loved history, and always knew I wanted to study it at university. It was the revolutions and conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries that fired my imagination. They involved ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

My PhD, and the books I’ve since written, explore some of the most contentious events in British history: why did the three kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland and England rebel against their king, Charles I? The city in which I studied for my PhD, Edinburgh, was where it first all went wrong for Charles. It was thrilling to be reading in the archives about things that had happened in buildings and on streets I was seeing every day.

The Execution of Charles I of England, Formerly attributed to Jan Weesop (fl. 1641–1652), Public domain

Understand the past…

I’ve been lucky to share my research with a much wider audience. For example, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk on BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time” about the Covenanters, who rebelled against Charles I and took power in Scotland during the mid-17th century.

It’s such an exciting period. People experimented with new ideas and challenged authority. A king was tried and judicially executed by his own people. England, which conquered Scotland and, far more controversially and brutally, Ireland, became a republic and got its first (and only) written constitutions. Women were integral to these developments, and that really interested me. They were at the forefront of the riots in Edinburgh in 1637, which ultimately brought down the Stuart monarchy. They organised petitions and demonstrations in London, and they wrote pamphlets expressing their own opinions. The monarchy was restored, but society could never be the same again.

…make sense of the present (and future)

We're now going through a period of intense political turbulence. The British state is under pressure, and we’re not sure whether the Union between England and Scotland, which was forged in the period I study, will survive - at least in its current form. Our relationship with continental Europe has always been turbulent: King Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 16th century, and a succession of wars with European powers over the 17th and early-18th centuries, are testaments to that. Understanding the complexity and volatility of historic relations, both between the nations that make up the modern British state, and with our European neighbours, can help us make sense of what is happening now.

Being a historian, for me, is about so much more than going into the archive to find out how people thought and acted in the past (although that’s a lot of fun). It’s also about thinking critically, taking a sceptical attitude to received wisdom, and learning through open and informed debate with others. Historians are curious, and we’re always asking 'Why?'. With so much uncertainty in our world right now, these are the skills I think we’re going to need to create a brighter, more positive future for all of us.

Exciting times

It's an exciting time for History at York. We’ve expanded, and our teaching and research now covers all the inhabited continents of the globe. With such committed and talented students, and amazing colleagues researching at the cutting edge of their fields, this is a community of which anyone would be proud. But we’re also a family, and we support one another. That’s why, ultimately, I think York is such a great place to study and work.

A strong community

The quality of History at York made my decision to move from London (where I’d taught for ten years) very easy. Since I've worked here, I've been impressed by our strong sense of shared purpose. When you join us, you'll become a part of our community, something bigger than yourself, but with support from academics and your peers alike.

The best things about my job are celebrating what our wonderful students accomplish in their academic life, and knowing I’ve had a small part in their achievements. With our support, you’ll become what defines a York student: a confident, articulate but caring person, with a great future ahead of you. My colleagues and I can’t wait to meet you.