Amy Tait Westwell

Amy Westwell 2020

PhD 2020

HEI: University of St Andrews

Funding: AHRC DTP

Title: Radical Ideas of Political Practice in 1780s and 1790s Britain

Supervisors: Professor Richard Whatmore and Professor Knud Haakonssen


What was your research about?

The thesis looked at ideas about political tactics in 1780s and 1790s Britain. Edmund Burke characterised radicals in the aftermath of the French Revolution as speculative thinkers with no understanding of political action, and this rhetorical strategy obscured the ideas of reformers who were frustrated with the rationalist bent of their movement and who, inspired by Scottish philosophy and events in Ireland, tried to work out what was to be done.

What made you apply for the SGSAH AHRC DTP?

I was interested in investigating this strand of intellectual history – working out questions of radical political tactics before Marx. It seemed to me that this was a hugely important part of the history of working class movements and the history of ideas and would help frame recurring questions about reform and revolution, violence and non-violence, and so on.

Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?

The opportunity to focus on a project like this for such a long period of time, and to read and write so extensively. I also enjoyed teaching undergraduate students – they were great.

How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?

It’s given me the confidence to attempt big projects! And allowed me to investigate my interests – decide what I’m interested in and what I don’t want to pursue.

And now?

I am continuing to research Scottish and Irish history, with the support of a Saltire Fellowship. I am also investigating radical pedagogy and workers education, and figuring out how historical narratives can be taught in interesting and useful ways.

I run young workers training for the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and pedagogy training for The Learning Co-op. I’m also involved in a project investigating ‘cultural organising’ in Scotland, which uses history and literature to help workers to gain strength.

So I’m working on a lot of things, but all around history, pedagogy, organising and creativity.

One piece of advice you would give an incoming PhD researcher?

Read widely, pursue what really interests you, find people whose style of writing you want to emulate.

Where can people find you?

Twitter: @amywestwell

Website: amywestwell.com

This article was published on 25 May, 2022