Meet the Fellows: 2016 Newcombe Fellow Amanda Scott


This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph. D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Amanda Scott, a doctoral candidate in history at Washington University in St. Louis. The characters and stories preserved in archives around the world have been a particular source of inspiration and work for Ms. Scott:

The moment I set foot in the Spanish archives, I was hooked. I first began my research in the Archivo Real y General de Navarra and the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona as a college senior, and since then I have not been able to stay away from the archives for long. Now, seven years later, my dissertation research has expanded to include collections from 22 different archives and libraries across three countries. Each archive is a repository of voices from the past, each with its own story to tell. Holywomen, witches, crossbow-wielding hermits, amnesiac pilgrims, and priests obsessed with bullfighting are only a few of my friends who live on in the archives. Some stories are already classics, but the archives provide alternate perspectives; others are unknown and waiting to be discovered. My research, for example, focuses on the Basque seroras, a category of devout laywomen who have been almost completely omitted from histories of women and religion in early modern Europe. Unmarried, and taking no vows like traditional nuns, the Basque seroras speak to a time and place in which women carved out a niche of remarkable local influence, power, and personal autonomy. Placed within a broader European context, the seroras challenge us to rethink the possibilities of local compromise, as well as to revise our understanding of female religious life and opportunity in the early modern period.

Following the seroras, I was invited into a world now long gone, but from which I can nonetheless catch glimpses of tensions still unresolved in the present world.  Each archival document holds similar possibilities of reawakening lost histories, and there are thousands upon thousands of documents waiting to be read. The only thing in short supply is time to meet each of these people and hear their stories.

Ms. Scott’s dissertation title is The Basque Seroras: Local Religion, Power and Gender in Northern Iberia, 1550–1800. For more information on the 2016 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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