We Are Essex

Ryan Clarke's story


"It’s a direct consequence of being at Essex for so long, where you have 150 nationalities around you end up wanting to travel a lot more."

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 was like I’m 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.

It’s kind of a direct consequence of being at Essex for so long, where you have around 150 nationalities you end up wanting to travel a lot more. During my undergraduate studies I had a German flatmate and as a result I ended up travelling to Berlin quite a lot and actually I really like travel. I really wanted to go to southern Africa, this has been a long term aim 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”. With a usual history PhD some people will do British history and some will do European when 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 history from Asia, Africa and Latin America, you don’t just get British and European history. Especially as the country seems to be wanting to close itself off, 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.


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