I came to be a historian in a very roundabout way: not having studied history for A level, I became interested in the past through my politics. Seeing E.P. Thompson speak on CND platforms led me to his The Making of the English Working Class, and a desire to know about womens lives in the past introduced me to the work of Sheila Rowbotham and other feminist historians. This interest in history from below, in the lives of people who were central to the making of history, but rarely able to record their own part in this process, continues to inform and drive my work. I was lucky enough to be accepted as an unconventional history applicant at the University of Sussex, and stayed at Sussex to complete my DPhil, drawing on the Mass Observation archive which was held there. I subsequently worked at Southampton Solent University, the University of Portsmouth and the University of Brighton, joining Essex in 2017.
Although the work of a historian can sometimes seem to be daunting, with the disciplines numerous debates, theoretical turns and complex arguments, I believe that history is, above all, about the stories that we tell. We all construct narratives about our own lives and it is the relationship between these individual stories and the great sweep of 20th century history that makes the study of the past so fascinating and so vital. What was it like to be a young woman in the Chinese cultural revolution? To be the grandson of slaves in the early 20th century United States? Or to be a parent trying to protect their children during the bombing wars of mid century Europe? How did these people tell their own stories, and where can we find them?
The relationship between politics and history, that led to my fascination with the past as a teenager, thus continues to inform my work today. The ways that we approach and understand past lives, and the ways that their stories are remembered, are central to contemporary politics. The work of historians today probably has a greater relevance and urgency than at any other time in the recent past, making it an important and exciting subject to study, research and teach.
I work on the social and cultural history of early to mid 20th century Britain, with a particular interest in the experiences and memories of those who experienced the First and Second World Wars. This research focus has probably been driven by the stories that circulated in my family when I was growing up. I never tired of hearing my grandparents stories of the Second World War, especially those of my grandmothers, who experienced the bombing of London and Coventry. My work on gendered identities in wartime, and on womens experiences of conflict, probably stems from these stories.
I am currently working on four separate, but interlinked projects. The first is a history of death, grief and bereavement in Second World War Britain, to be published by Manchester University Press and provisionally titledDying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain.
This project draws on work from the emotional turn to understand wartime grief, an area that I explore further in my second project, which considers the emotional history of Europes two total wars of the 20th century. Working with Claire Langhamer and Claudia Siebrecht of the University of Sussex, we held a conference on this topic at the British Academy which we are currently developing into an edited collection (Total War: An Emotional History) for Oxford University Press.
My third project focuses on the memory of the First World War in Britain at its centenary. I am Principal Investigator on a three year AHRC project (2017-2020) Reflections on the Centenary (with Catriona Pennell, University of Exeter, Emma Hanna, University of Kent, Lorna Hughes, University of Glasgow and James Wallis, University of Essex) and co-Investigator on the Gateways to the First World War AHRC project, based at the University of Kent.
My final project aims to develop our understanding of the ways in which total war, in particular the targeting of civilians in aerial warfare, shapes societies in complex and often unexpected ways. Provisionally entitledHow to Survive a Warthis project focuses on the relationship between gender, citizenship and civil defence in Britain and its empire between 1914 and 1968. I am working on this with Susan R. Grayzel (University of Utah), and the early stages of the research were funded by an American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellowship (2014-2016).
Finally, I am series editor,with Sasha Handley, University of Manchester, and Rohan McWilliam (Anglia Ruskin University) for the Social History Society book seriesNew Directions in Social and Cultural History.
I am Principal Investigator on the £300,000 three year (2017-2020) AHRC project Reflections on the Centenary: Learning and Legacies for the Future. Co-Investigators are Dr Emma Hanna (University of Kent), Professor Lorna Hughes (University of Glasgow), and Dr Catriona Pennell (University of Exeter). Dr James Wallis (University of Essex) is Research Fellow on the project.
I am Co-Investigator on the AHRC Gateways to the First World War Engagement Centre (£ 1000,000, 2014-2019). This is based at the University of Kent where Professor Mark Connelly is Principal Investigator. Othe team members are Dr Helen Brooks (University of Kent), Professor Brad Beaven (University of Portsmouth), Professor Alison Fell (University of Leeds) and Dr Emma Hanna (University of Kent). Dr Sam Carroll (University of Kent) is Heritage Officer and Community Historian.
From 2014-2016 I held an American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellowship with Professor Susan R. Grayzel, (University of Utah), to investigate the impact of aerial warfare and civil defence on gender and citizenship in 20th century Britain.
I currently sit on the Academic Advisory Board of the Imperial War Museum's Second World War Galleries redevelopment project.