CASE Studentship: Staffordshire and Slavery

Hannah Smith, Economic and Social History, Keele University (2021 Cohort)

I commenced my CASE studentship in October, and I have found it beneficial in numerous ways. My studentship includes a one-year MRes project, plus a three-year PhD project. The PhD is focused on Staffordshire and Slavery, however for my MRes I am analysing the memory surrounding slavery and abolition in Liverpool, and the legacies remaining for the people of colour within the community. The research I have pursued for my MRes has alerted me to possible avenues I would like to pursue for my PhD, such as collective memory’s impact on current society. The 1+3 year format of my studentship allowed me to have a funded MRes in the same way my PhD is funded. The stipend I have received has allowed me to solely focus on my MRes, enabling me to dedicate more time towards it compared to if I had to support myself.

My studentship was advertised as focusing on Staffordshire and Slavery, specifically mentioning the effects of slavery in inland areas of Britain, the heritage sector and empire. An aspect that I have especially enjoyed about my studentship is the extent to which I have been able to pursue my own interests. I chose to study the legacies of slavery and abolition in Liverpool for my MRes dissertation project, which has acted as almost a pilot study for my PhD. However, I have become particularly interested in the memory surrounding slavery within the UK and this is something that I am going to continue pursuing in terms of Staffordshire and slavery. My supervisors have actively encouraged me to follow what I am interested in and the research I am doing now will contribute to the shaping of my PhD project. Although there was a specification, I have not found this restrictive in any way and my interests have been the prime factor in the direction of my research.  

The relationship my CASE studentship has set up with Staffordshire Archives will also be of great benefit to me once my PhD has commenced. Although I am yet to fully utilise this, I have visited and been provided a tour around the archive centre, giving me an idea of the possible sources I may be using. The student supervisor at the archives will be different by the time I have started my PhD, but the supervisor I met was extremely interested in my prospective project and how she may assist me. Having an assigned contact at Staffordshire Archives provides me aid from someone with an in-depth knowledge of this set of archives and can help me with issues such as locating possible resources, as well as recommending certain collections I may find useful. As part of Staffordshire heritage centre, I will also be disseminating the research I do for my PhD to the public, possibly through lectures, exhibitions, and social media. Although this is something that I do not have much practise in, I am especially looking forward to sharing my research and learning about the experience of people within Staffordshire regarding slavery and memory. My CASE studentship allows me an opportunity to engage with the public and will serve as good experience for future careers, whether that be in academia or not.

In addition to support from Staffordshire Archives, I have received lots of guidance from my supervisor Siobhan. She has massively helped me in adjusting my academic writing and critical analysis skills from undergraduate level into postgraduate. Having the same core set of supervisors throughout my studentship has allowed them to understand where I need to improve, and I feel like I can be open and honest about where I need extra support. Alongside this, I have met a fellow student who is also exploring Staffordshire and Slavery, using the same archives, but from a creative writing perspective. We have had good discussions relating to the memory and narrative surrounding slavery and abolition and I look forward to further collaboration once I have started my PhD in September. It is interesting to hear about the way she is using the sources in a literary sphere.  

Throughout my MRes I have been provided with training that is helping me prepare for my PhD. For example, I have completed a palaeography module, something I had never done before. This module has supplied me with the skills to read and use the documents in Staffordshire Archives and I have enjoyed putting what I have learnt to use. As part of my studentship, I have also been able to attend training days. Oral history is an area I am interested in exploring for my PhD and I was able to attend a training day, at the University of Liverpool, dedicated to methodological benefits and issues with this kind of history. At this training day I also met other NWSSDTP funded students from the Northwest, undertaking PhD’s in different areas of study, and I really enjoyed hearing about their research. Undertaking a studentship automatically ties you into a student research community where you can share experiences and support each other in the undertaking of such a large project.

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