PhDone! Dr Alice Kinghorn

Dr Alice Kinghorn completed their undergrad degree at the University of York, followed by an MA at the University of York, before joining Bristol for their PhD. Alice’s PhD examined Anglican missionary societies’ involvement in transatlantic slavery in the early nineteenth century, focusing specifically on Christian support networks behind these societies. Alice, who already has several articles published, successfully defended their PhD in December 2023. To keep up with their latest research, follow @KinghornAlice.

What was your doctoral research about?

My thesis examines the Church of England’s role in transatlantic slavery through the work of Anglican missionaries. I looked at two Anglican missionary societies: the Church Missionary Society (the CMS) and the Incorporated Society for the Conversion and Religious Instruction and Education of the Negro Slaves in the British West India Islands (The Conversion Society). Firstly, I looked at the financial support of both societies by cross-referencing donors and subscribers with UCL’s Legacies of British Slavery Database. This demonstrated the extent to which the West India Interest supported both societies. Secondly, I assessed how Anglican missionaries worked in the Caribbean, including schooling systems. The motivations of the missionary societies and their funders revealed important aspects of both the Church of England’s attitudes towards colonial slavery, determining that Anglican missionaries ultimately worked to delay emancipation. Additionally, I looked at interactions between missionaries and enslaved people which revealed new ideas about enslaved people’s religious experiences in the British Caribbean. I argued that while Anglican missionaries were integral to plans to delay emancipation, enslaved people’s decisions shaped the extent to which their objectives were achieved.  

What was the most exciting, or perhaps challenging, element of your research?

I started my PhD in September 2020, and so archive access was really difficult in my first year. The main archive for my research (Lambeth Palace Library) was closed until October 2021. However, this actually ended up shaping my research as I was limited to the sources I could find online. These were mostly annual reports for missionary societies, and so I developed the idea to research the societies’ financial support during this time. When the archives opened again, I was able to complete the qualitative research for my thesis (mostly through missionary correspondence).

The most exciting element of my research has been the travel opportunities during my time at Bristol. I undertook research at the Archives of Antigua and Barbuda, and presented at conferences in France and Chicago. Whilst I was unable to travel to archives at all in my first year, I certainly made up for it later on. 

Do you have any tips for someone preparing for their viva?

I was nervous for my viva – not because I didn’t think I knew my thesis, but because I didn’t really know what to expect. My supervisors were incredibly helpful by explaining what the format of the viva would look like, and by giving me some questions to think about beforehand. They also reiterated that the viva is an enjoyable experience as your examiners have taken the time to closely read and evaluate your work.

I would say think about why you undertook your research in the first place, its originality, its significance within your field more widely, and any future plans you have for publication/research. I also looked at scholarship that had been published since I submitted, and came prepared to discuss parts of my research that I might have done differently on reflection. I ended up really enjoying my viva! 

What do you have planned next? Are there ways to follow what you do?

I have a few projects lined up that continue research into the Church of England and transatlantic slavery, both in research and public engagement. I am hoping to turn my PhD into a monograph and to publish two more articles this year, with the view of applying for postdocs in the next academic year. 

What would you say to someone who’s considering pursuing a PhD?

If you do decide to pursue a PhD, try to get as involved in as many research groups/research opportunities as you can (if you feel like you have the time/capacity). I built up support networks this way, both in terms of research and friendship, that were invaluable to my research experience. My research profile wasn’t confined to my thesis, and I gained experience in public engagement, publishing, and working with stakeholders.

PhDone! Dr Gary Willis

In the latest of our #PhDone series, we caught up with Dr Gary Willis

Dr Willis is an historian of military industrial enclosure in the period following the Second World War. Before starting a PhD, he worked in international development and the trade union movement for nearly thirty years, with organisations including Oxfam, the Disasters Emergency Committee, and Save the Children International. He later gained an MRes in Historical Research from the Institute of Historical Research before joining Bristol, where he was the recipient of a Keil Scholarship. He has an article published in Rural History and you can follow him on X @GaryW_Env_Hist


What was your doctoral research about?

My thesis title is ‘Fields Into Factories: The Contested Growth of Military-Industrial Capacity and its Impact on Britain’s Rural and Peri-Urban Landscapes Across the Long Second World War, 1936 to 1946’.  Basically (and this is the short version!), in the pre-war and war-time periods land was either voluntarily or compulsorily purchased or requisitioned by the State to build aircraft and munitions factories.  The vast majority of these sites were originally green-field, in either rural or peri-urban areas, and the purchase/requisition process ran rough-shod over existing (weak) planning restrictions due to the exigencies of war.  At the end of the war my research shows that in only two cases what I term “elite interests” (Council for the Preservation of Rural England and Friends of the Lake District, and Cambridge University) were sufficiently influential to resist state interests, resulting in one of the sites returning to something like its pre-war rural identity, and the other being used for educational rather than military or industrial purposes.  In crude terms, therefore, under cover of war-time need, the State gained ownership/control of hundreds of sites (amounting to tens of thousands of acres) of green-field sites which it would otherwise not have had access to in peace-time.  It was a massive – and until my thesis – undocumented act of state military-industrial enclosure – a State-led land-grab.

How did you first become interested in environmental history?

I’ve had a life-long interest in both the environment and lesser-explored aspects of the Second World War, probably stimulated by the fact that I’m old enough that both of my parents were involved in the war, giving up five years of their young lives to serve in the forces.  Beyond that, within the field of environmental history the historical environmental impact of warfare is still a quite neglected area, so I hope to carve out a bit of a niche for myself.

What was the most exciting, or perhaps challenging, element of your research?

The most exciting… I guess finding really valuable material in unexpected places, so much of my data about the size of military-industrial sites comes from post-war Board of Trade journals rather than where you might expect to find it, in Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of Town and Country Planning archives. The most challenging is probably the opposite of that… not finding material where you would expect it to be, and opening government folders where the correspondence refers to accompanying appendices which look really priceless in their possible content – but finding that these appendices have been separated from their correspondence and discarded at some stage because the civil servant or archivist didn’t think they were of historical importance.  It’s then that you appreciate that history is about what materials survive.

Do you have any tips for someone preparing for their viva?

Mmm.  I have to be careful here as I think probably every viva is unique because it reflects the content of a unique piece of work – but that said, the best advice I absorbed in my preparation for it was that the decision about whether you will pass and if so with minor or major corrections has almost definitely been decided by the examiners in advance of the viva.  So that took quite a lot of the pressure off for me.  My wife’s a drama professor and she’s examined about a dozen theses, and she says that only in one instance did what the student say in the viva make her change her mind, from giving a pass with major corrections to a pass with minor ones.  Apart from that, prepare for questions based around explaining the origins, originality and significance of your thesis – and try and enjoy the viva, because apart from your supervisors, your two examiners will probably be the only two people in the world who will ever read your thesis (the book version of your thesis being a different thing) and will want to engage you in conversation about it.

You’re a mature student.  What did you do before your PhD?

I worked for international development NGOs and the international and environmental departments of the trade union movement for nearly thirty years.  I started off organising a street collection for Oxfam, and six years later was heading up the Disasters Emergency Committee, the fundraising coalition of NGOs that respond to overseas disasters.  After that I was Coordinator of the Real World Coalition, a grouping of NGOs trying to influence political discourse ahead of the 1997 general election, and after that I joined what is now called Save the Children International.  Then I moved into the international departments of the trade union movement, working with trade unions in countries where it was/is particularly difficult to be a trade unionist, such as in Zimbabwe and Palestine.  I finished off that part of my career working on environmental issues, helping trade unions adopt and apply environmental policies to make them operate more sustainably, and campaigning on the (then) relatively new issue of climate change.

I took voluntary redundancy in 2014, which gave me enough money to take a year off without worrying about how to pay the bills.  One of the things I wanted to do was look at the environmental impact of the Second World War – just out of interest – but I found very little material on the subject, particularly relating to Britain.  I decided I wanted to do a PhD, and try for a late second career in academia.  I chose the UoB because a cluster of academics within the History Department had worked on landscape militarization, and I was fortunate to be awarded the History Department’s Keil Scholarship which made it possible financially.  Now, with my PhD in hand, all I need to do now is to find a job!

What do you have planned next? Are there ways to follow what you do?

As you can see from my photo, I’ve come late to academia, having had a first career working in international development NGOs and trade unions, so my plan is a late second career in academia, hopefully in the field of environmental history or the environmental humanities.  In my first post-PhD year I want to just work part-time if I can, so that I have time to research and write a second journal article and develop my thesis into a book, as being well-published seems to be one of the accepted routes for making one eligible for either a job or a post-doc fellowship.  I occasionally post on my ‘X’ (formerly known as Twitter) account so if people want to follow me and/or get in touch it’s : @GaryW_Env_Hist

What would you say to someone who’s considering pursuing a PhD?

If anyone’s reading this who is thinking of doing a PhD – make sure you absolutely love your chosen subject matter and the research question you are asking, that you’re fascinated to find out more about it and want to share what you find out with the world – it will carry you through the difficult times.

PhDone! Dr. Steve Westlake

In the latest in our #PhDone series we caught up with Dr. Steve Westlake.

Steve (he/him) was a Faculty of Arts Scholarship-funded PhD Student at the University of Bristol, originally from West Wales. Steve studied for his BA in History at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge and his MA in Comparative History at Central European University, Budapest. Alongside his studies, Steve has worked in the Higher Education Careers and Employability sector, as well as for the educational social enterprise Write On Point.

Q: Hi, Steve. First of all, congratulations on your successful viva! Can you tell us a bit about what your doctoral research was about?
Thanks! My thesis was entitled ‘An “Oxfam of the Mind”? Humanitarianism, Overseas Development at the BBC World Service, 1965-1999’.

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PhDone: Dr Callum Smith

In the latest in our #PhDone series, we caught up with Dr. Callum Smith.

Callum was an AHRC funded SWW DTP PhD student at the University of Bristol, originally from Wales. He has been studying visual political culture for the past seven years and  recently completed his doctoral studies at Bristol. He is a first generation political and social historian of eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain. His interests focus on visual political culture and its relationship to lower order political participation, radicalism and sociability. Though he has a firm grounding in the practice of history, given the often-visual nature of his research interests he is a proponent of interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies, drawing often from the fields of Art History, Semiotics, and English Literature. 

Headshot of Callum Smith

Hi, Callum! First of all, congratulations on your successful viva! Can you tell us a bit about what your doctoral research was about?

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#PhDone! With Dr. Alice Would

In the latest in our #PhDone! series, we catch up with Dr. Alice Would, who recently finished her doctorate in the department.

Alice received funding from the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWWDTP) to undertake her PhD at the University of Bristol and the University of Exeter. She passed her viva in September 2021 and is currently a teacher in both History and Liberal Arts at Bristol. In December she will start as a Research Associate on Dr Andy Flack’s project ‘Dark-dwellers as more-than-human misfits.’

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PhDone! With Dr. Jiayi Tao

In the latest in this new series, we talk to Dr. Jiayi Tao about her doctorate, recently completed in the department.

Under the support of the China Scholarship Council, Jiayi Tao carried out her PhD project at the University of Bristol, passing her viva in September 2021. Her research interests lie in the history of international humanitarianism and modern Chinese history.

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PhDone! With Dr. Daniel Booker

In the latest in this new series, we talk to Dr. Daniel Booker about his doctorate, recently completed in the department.

After studying for his undergraduate and masters degrees at the University of East Anglia, Dan Booker (He/Him) received funding to undertake his PhD in History at the University of Bristol in 2018. Dan passed his viva in September 2021 and is currently a tutor at the University of Bristol and Research Associate at the University of Lancaster.

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PhDone! With Dr. Blanche Plaquevent

In the latest in this new series, we talk to Dr. Blanche Plaquevent about her doctorate, recently completed in the department.

After studying in Paris, Blanche Plaquevent received funding from the SWW DTP to do her PhD at the University of Bristol. She passed her viva in July 2021 and will be working as a lecturer in history of gender and sexuality at the University of Glasgow from September.

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PhDone! With Dr. Xiao Liu

In the second of a new series, we talk to recent doctoral graduate Dr. Xiao Liu about his  research project, viva, and plans for the future.

Xiao (Shawn) Liu just completed his PhD in History in the University of Bristol, studying with Prof. Robert Bickers and Dr Adrian Howkins. His research interest is modern Chinese history, especially the development of science during the period of the Republic of China. Continue reading

PhDone! with Dr. Thomas M. Larkin

In the first of a new series, we talk to recent doctoral graduate Dr. Thomas Larkin about his  research project, viva, and plans for the future.

Thomas M. Larkin is the Augustine Heard Fellow at the University of Bristol, and a member of the Hong Kong History Project. His current research concerns nineteenth-century Anglo-American and Sino-American social and cultural interactions in China, and the application of global-microhistorical and transimperial methodologies. Continue reading