At the University of Birmingham I completed a BA in History and English Literature and an MA in Contemporary History, before going on to complete a PhD in Modern History. During my final year as an undergraduate I developed an interest in the history of the left and activism in Britain which I have carried through my work since.
My PhD research was on grassroots activism and local government in 1980s Sheffield. It detailed how Sheffield City Council tried to fight Thatcherism at a local level and how activists involved in the labour and women’s movements, peace and environmentalism, anti-apartheid, anti-racism, Black community activism, and gay and lesbian politics engaged with one another and the local Council. It investigated tensions between movement activism and local government structures, between labour and so-called ‘identity’ politics, and explored the role of place, kinship and community in building a local, grassroots politics which was recognised nationally as a bastion of the left.
After my PhD I took my interest in bottom-up history into a postdoctoral research fellowship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There I worked on a project called ‘Placing the Public in Public Health, 1948-2010’, exploring how health surveys were used as a tool to measure population health and to gather information on public opinion of health challenges and services. I looked at how surveyors imagined the public, but also explored how the public spoke back to public health through surveys and other means.
I joined the University of Essex in 2018 and am currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust-funded project ‘Body, Self and Family: Women’s Psychological, Emotional and Bodily Health in Britain, c. 1960-1990.’ This major project explores how social changes in postwar Britain influenced women’s understandings of their bodily and emotional wellbeing. It examines women’s experiences at different stages of the life cycle, their relationships to various sources of authority and expertise, and how the emergence of new reproductive and contraceptive technologies affected their lives.
My strand of the project explores shifts in modes of public communication about health and illness by making use of diverse sources such as newspaper columns, women’s magazines, activist publications, and the archives of journalists and agony aunts. It asks how boundaries between expertise and authenticity were negotiated between medical practitioners, journalists, and readers – so-called ‘ordinary’ women – with regards to women’s health.