Each month, we offer the spotlight to one of our funded researchers to exhibit their research projects in more detail.
The Featured Researcher for May 2023 was Amber Ward, with her PhD Project titled Towards a cultural history of deindustrialisation in Central Fife.
My PhD studies Fife’s deindustrialisation – a long process that involved the closure of mines, factories and mills throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The project uses oral history interviews to consider new things about this process that didn’t always make it into statistics or books at the time, like how culture, mentalities and norms evolved alongside these changing patterns of work. By looking at developments in Fife, the project attempts to study a tiny part of the recent history of capitalism through a cultural lens. Whilst the project’s raw source material – both verbal and archival – is just a stone’s throw from my home institution, the University of St Andrews, the contexts and ideas I locate these sources within are very much global and transnational; considered by a broad range of scholars across the world. Eager to travel and to develop my analytical skills as much as I could, I started thinking early in the PhD about opportunities abroad.
Having completed my interviews in the preceding months, between August and December 2022 I was lucky enough to spend a semester at the University of California, Berkeley as a SGSAH Visiting Doctoral Researcher, and with a place on the Berkeley-St Andrews PhD exchange. Under the supervision of Prof James Vernon, director of Berkeley’s Center for British Studies, alongside that of my home supervisors Dr Malcolm Petrie, Prof Jim Phillips, and Dr Ewan Gibbs over video call, I worked with theory and my sources to determine the overall form and arguments of my PhD thesis, and started writing up the main body. Each week I also attended seminars at the Institute of European Studies (IES) where I had the opportunity to present and develop ideas with fellow visiting scholars, as well as James’ writing workshop for a small group of historian PhDs. It was an exciting and generative time, fuelled by the breadth of fresh perspectives in these vibrant academic communities.
I also had the huge privilege of living at Berkeley’s beautiful International House, a residence and intercultural leadership program for international students and scholars hailing from over four hundred different countries. International House was known (I found out) for its chat, non-stop and at every hour. There was discussion and debate and stories all the time, news would bounce off the walls until it was time to debate something else. I learned so much about the world from new friends, and it was one of the best and most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.
About halfway through the semester I popped over to the other coast to present at the Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS) in Lewiston, Maine, and then up to Canada for a live podcast recording with scholars at Montreal’s Concordia University, who are also working in deindustrialisation studies, for the Deindustrialization and the Politics of Our Time (DePOT) project partnership. These were wonderful opportunities to meet scholars working with similar ideas, to hear about their research and to receive their feedback on mine. The podcast was also a great chance to convey and share my research with a wider public audience.
I had the time of my life, and none of it could’ve happened without the SGSAH VDR fund, St Andrews Study Abroad, nor the kindness I was shown by James and Berkeley PhDs, who took me in like I was one of their own. Thank you so much, there’s still a bit of me over there, but the new ways of thinking I’ve brought back are much greater.