I had a game plan; I knew from the first few weeks of first year what I wanted. People said you have to worry about funding and stuff but I knew I was going to do it no matter what. I was very clear that I wanted to do a PhD and the history lecturers were very good about that because they knew what I wanted to do.
I study the role of aid organisations during the Zimbabwe Liberation War during 1972-1980. As part of my research I’ll be going to Zimbabwe, so in December this year I’m going to Harare. I’ll be looking at the state archives and the archives of aid organisations such as the Salvation Army for example. I’ll then be going to rural areas so in North Eastern Zimbabwe a place called Chiweshe to Howard Hospital which is a Salvation Army institute and I’ll be engaging with what they do there. I’ll be looking at the various projects they do, engaging in some myself and then bringing that back. The whole purpose of my PhD is to not only write a history of aid organisation but consider how we can provide practical solutions to NGOs so I’m working quite closely with the Salvation Army, helping with their aims of development projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
You end up wanting to travel a lot more. It’s kind of a direct consequence of being at Essex for so long, where you have around 150 nationalities. During my undergraduate studies I had a German flatmate and as a result I ended up travelling to Berlin quite a lot and I realised that I actually like travelling. I also really wanted to go to southern Africa. This has been a long term aim of mine and when the opportunity to do a PhD in Zimbabwean history came up I thought “Well, I have the opportunity now and through my scholarship I can do it”. Some people will do British history and some will do European and it’s much less travel. I decided to completely break convention and do non-European history.
I think the best thing is that it’s a very global history department. You get to study history from Asia, Africa and Latin America – you don’t just get British and European history. Especially at a time when the country seems to be wanting to close itself off with Brexit, the department is actually looking beyond our own borders. Getting that global perspective is important as globalisation is a massive thing that historians need to address and Essex History department are brilliant at doing that.