I was born in 1975. I grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I attended local state schools – I remain a passionate supporter of comprehensive education. After a History degree at the University of Warwick I worked briefly in Canada before deciding that I wanted to return to study. I moved to Brighton to undertake a Masters degree in Contemporary History at the University of Sussex and realised that what makes me most excited about History is how it can help us to better respond to the challenges of the present.
Having fallen in love with Brighton and my subject, I stayed at Sussex to study for a DPhil that focused on young women in interwar England. I was lured into the topic by images of flappers, but quickly came to realise that paid work had shaped the lives of this group far more than I or other historians had appreciated. It changes our idea of the interwar years, and of work, I think, because we have to revise our assumptions that ‘typical’ workers were adult, male, unionised miners or steelworkers. In fact, the typical worker (if such a thing existed) was a fifteen-year-old domestic servant. That DPhil led to my first book, which I was lucky enough to be able to write during postdoctoral fellowships at the Universities of London and Cambridge.
I am now a Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford and a Fellow of St Hilda’s College. I’m fortunate enough to have a permanent job, with a pension (fingers crossed), that enables me to do what I love – researching and writing, and teaching students who are curious enough about the modern world to spend three or more years reading and thinking about where it comes from.
I’ve really enjoyed the chance to spend time overseas. I’ve been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sydney and in April 2012 I’m taking up a month-long Visiting Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. My months at Sydney enabled me to combine my love of research (terrific libraries and colleagues) with my liking of fine (or even not so fine) wine, as the photo above suggests. I’ve also welcomed invitations to speak about my work at universities across Europe and north America; as a British historian working on Britain, I find that audiences overseas offer new perspectives and stimulating questions.
Back home, I divide my time between Oxford and Manchester. I’m married to the historian Andrew Davies. Having a base in the north is important to both of us, and we’re great supporters of the region’s rich cultural life, including Manchester’s Cornerhouse Cinema, and the city’s MaD Theatre Company. In Oxford, Albion Beatnik bookshop is a favourite, as is the Oxford Playhouse, especially if Kneehigh Theatre is in town.
When you first enter academic life, it is normal to be terrified about public responses to your work. Over time, you come to realise that if anyone takes time out from their busy lives to engage with what you say , that’s a real compliment – even if they’re critical. I’m therefore delighted that I’ve been fortunate enough to be given various opportunities to talk about my work to a wider audience, through radio and television appearances and public talks.