Barbara Crawford lectured in the Department of Medieval History from 1971 until 2001. She had previously been both an undergraduate and postgraduate student at St Andrews, and was the first long-term woman staff member to have a PhD. The following account of her time as a student and researcher at St Andrews was drawn from an interview with her in 2021.
Barbara Crawford began her undergraduate degree at St Andrews in 1959, after taking a gap year following the completion of her time at secondary school. She was the first of her immediate family to attend university. She grew up in south Yorkshire. Her parents nurtured an early interest in history through visits to historical and archaeological sites on family holidays.
Alongside St Andrews, Barbara also applied to King’s College London and Cambridge University. Her interest in attending St Andrews was sparked by the glowing recommendation it was given by her Classics teacher at boarding school, who was a St Andrews graduate.
When she first started at St Andrews, Barbara studied English Literature and Modern History. She swiftly dropped English in favour of Medieval History, which she described as ‘completely new, completely different, completely captivating’.
Classes in history focused on political history, with little taught on social or economic history unless one took classes from the Economic history department specifically. Barbara remembered particularly enjoying classes taught by Professor Lionel Butler, on crusades, and John Erikson, on the modern history of Eastern Europe and the Baltic.
While St Andrews was known for its numbers of female undergraduates, she does not recall having had female lecturers beyond possibly one in modern history. In Barbara’s view, however, this didn’t bother her: ‘you just go on and make your own path’. Her only memories of differences in treatment were in English lectures, where the men were invited by the professor for one-to-one feedback on essays, while the women were simply handed their essays during class.
Barbara described her modern history teachers as ‘pretty dyed in the wool’. She does recall the students once leading a rebellion against Professor Norman Gash, a historian of Peel, though she cannot remember now what he had done to offend them. They marched around the quad carrying banners emblazoned with the slogan ‘stop that bleeding gash!’
Barbara’s interests lay in medieval archaeology, a subject not taught then in St Andrews. The absence of this subject from her formal classes was made up in part by the Regency System. The Regency System, operating throughout the 1960s and 1970s, attached each new student to a member of staff in another department within the arts faculty, to give them a breadth of contact. Barbara was attached to Professor Terence Mitford, a Latin tutor, archaeologist, and classical historian who ran the archaeological society in St Andrews. Over the course of her degree, Barbara became great friends with Professor Mitford and his family. He supported her interests in archaeology, arranging for her to attend digs in Europe and the middle east and involving her as a student member in the archaeology society which she still runs to this day.
After graduating St Andrews with a 2:1 in history, Barbara went to Newnham College Cambridge to do a postgraduate diploma in archaeology on a Carnegie scholarship. While she described her time at Newnham as ‘a terrific experience’, Barbara noted that postgraduate teaching was lacking in those days. Beyond supervision, the teaching was largely a run through of the full undergraduate course (tripos) in a single year. A lot of the content, particularly on prehistoric flints, did not interest her. Ultimately Barbara did not finalise the diploma or sit her final exams. The majority of the course was not what she wanted to do. Her supervisor did inspire her to pursue the Viking world, at that time little explored within Scotland.
At the end of her time in Cambridge, Barbara returned to St Andrews to marry her husband, a new lecturer in Botany and Biology whom she had met at the end of her undergraduate degree. She re-joined the Medieval History Department to pursue postgraduate research, on the Vikings. This was stymied by the St Andrews history department which did not have any staff who could supervise an archaeological project, and her proposals to conduct it as a joint project with Edinburgh University were resisted. In those days, she explained, one was expected to stick to the existing system. Her research thus moved into medieval and Norse history in Orkney, developing the archaeology by herself after that.
While Barbara was writing up her doctoral thesis in the late 1960s, she moved straight into working in the Medieval History Department at St Andrews. This was during the large expansion of the Universities, which generated a significant demand for new tutors. Barbara was employed to do tutorial work and eventually lecturing. She completed her research degree in 1971.
As a lecturer, Barbara recalled having quite a bit of choice in which topics she taught and being given the freedom to develop new courses beyond the established curriculum. She taught Viking and Scandinavian history, alongside a range of medieval topics including Anglo-Saxon and Norman subjects. Her research was on the Earldom of Orkney which she taught as a special subject for honours students. In all of her classes, Barbara brought archaeology into her teaching, despite it not being an official part of the syllabus.
At the start of Barbara’s academic career, there was not the same strong research culture in St Andrews as there is today. The university did encourage research and offered sabbatical leave, but Barbara recalls that she was unusual within Medieval History for seeking out external funding to support her research.
While teaching, Barbara published parts of her thesis in articles, although it was not until 2013 that she published it as a full-length book! In the 1970s she started her own excavation in Shetland, funded by the university. She also received some funding from the Carnegie Trust, and eventually received a Leverhulme Fellowship for a year or two. This excavation was of a wooden Norse house (post-Viking) which linked up with the historical sources she had studied for her doctoral thesis. The whole project was published jointly by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Norwegian academy of arts and sciences.
After retiring, Barbara remained involved in the world of history. She, alongside her fellow trustees, set up and now chairs the Strathmartine Trust. Set up in the will of the former Reader in Scottish History, Dr Ronald Cant, the trust converted Cant’s family house into a Centre for retired historians without links to the University to aid them in pursuing their own historical interests. The Centre has a library, seminar series, and a flat for visiting scholars. The Trust also grants money to historians and archaeologists for independent research projects. There were few examples of independent research centres at the time of establishment. The Centre has been very successful and very important to Barbara in her post-university era, bringing her into contact with a range of historians, and enabling her to maintain a mentoring role in aiding their research.
Barbara also played a pivotal role in the creation of the statue of Bishop Henry Wardlaw, which can be found in the grounds of St Mary’s College. Keen to ensure that Bishop Wardlaw’s central role in the founding of the University be remembered and celebrated, Barbara and her colleagues at the Strathmartine Trust initiated the project and helped to raise the funds for the casting and erection of the statue. Modelled on the surviving remains of Bishop Wardlaw’s effigy and sculpted by David Annand, the statue was unveiled on the University’s 600th anniversary in June, 2013 by the Chancellor of the University, the Right Honourable Sir Menzies Campbell.
A testament to the bonds of friendship formed during her studies at St Andrews, Barbara remains in contact with a group of her undergraduate friends. After one of her year passed away a few years ago from dementia, the group formed the Carrie Commemoration Fund in her memory. She was very musical and the money they have raised is going to providing sheet music for singing in the new Music Centre. A peer group from the Kinnessburn residence has also stayed in touch, meeting over zoom throughout the pandemic. The bonds of friendship and collegiality are the most lasting links of her undergraduate time. A survival of her bonds with Professor Terence Mitford who did so much to foster her interest in archaeology is the annual Mitford Memorial Lecture, which Barbara established after his death in 1979. The funds raised to commemorate him are deployed to bring a leading archaeological scholar to St. Andrews each year to give a lecture and continue to support the University archaeological society.
This life history was written by Kate Grant. Barbara was interviewed by Kate in early 2021.