This post comes from alumni of BA History at the University of Gloucestershire Micky Gibbard, who is currently a doctoral student at the University of Dundee.
It’s a real pleasure to be asked to write for the institution that started my historical training some seven years ago, in a department with some still familiar faces. Since then, I have gradually moved north, one step at a time, from my native Cheltenham, first to the North East for my MA, followed by the yet further North East to begin my PhD at the University of Dundee, in collaboration with the University of Stirling and Argyll Estate Archives. My apologies here if there is no real insight and this piece comes across somewhat as a vanity, but my intention is to show where the study of history might take you in a relatively short amount of time. I hope this doesn’t look too out of place amongst the intelligent and incisive pieces posted here by the undergraduate students.
Some may recall my writing for the blog back in 2015, fresh-faced with the excitement of a fully-funded PhD. Now world-wearied and cynical, both essential qualities of any good historian, I can offer a little more insight to where I am and where postgraduate research can take you. My research at present is, as any PhD topic, incredibly niche. I’m exploring the motivations and origins of the planned village movement and the industrial and agricultural improvement that took place in eighteenth-century Scotland. There are over 500 geometrically planned settlements of varying shades in Scotland; they are one of the most conspicuous aspects of the rural landscape, but one that is somewhat under-researched. Within a historical context my thesis challenges the view that the landowner in Scotland, as anywhere, was motivated by a pure economic imperative. There were many traits – many faces – which constituted the landowner as a whole. Landowners did, for instance, act out of benevolence, sought to create a ‘moral’ tenantry, enhance status and reputation, and act out of self-interest. I have also, courtesy of my training at Gloucestershire, been exploring concepts of power within the space of the planned village, reflected through architecture, mapping and regulation.
This is not, however, the academic cul-de-sac it might seem and, as a whole, has contemporary applications. Scotland is current undergoing a transformation in the way that land is managed, championing land reform and community landownership. The detailed study of landownership is sparse at best – indeed, there are numerous studies of how landowners enacted landscape changes, but not why. These why questions might better inform us how to approach land management, thus highlighting the altogether contemporary applications of my research.
In addition to this, the collaborative aspect of my funding has been amongst the most rewarding and I’ve got to experience life in the Highlands, spending three months living and working on the Argyll Estate. As part of this, I’ve been helping catalogue the estate archives – one of the largest and most important private collections in the UK – whilst consulting on the development of a community research project, part of the ‘Written in the Landscape’ HLF Scheme. As I write this, I’m back in the wet South West Highlands looking out onto Loch Fyne from the Salmon Draught Cottage – not a bad place to be writing a blog piece!
I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend the year as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures, currently under the directorship of Iain Robertson, former head of History at Gloucestershire and quite possibly the only man with a Gloucester accent currently residing in Sutherland. The Centre’s aims are simple: to investigate land issues in Scotland – of use, access and ownership – past, present and future.
By way of tying this up, I’d like to extol the virtues of the postgraduate experience. Masters courses are more accessible than ever with the current system of student loans, so do consider it (I’ll reserve, however, comment on the effects of student debt). My PhD-funding arose from a chance encounter with Iain Robertson, who mentioned a colleague looking for a student. This funding has taken me all over the UK, to geographically remote parts of Scotland and even Canada. And these opportunities are not as rare as you otherwise might think. A good friend of mine, Peter Keeling, also a UoG Alumni, is currently in the final stages of writing up his funded PhD research at the University of Kent, having not long returned from a conference in Maryland. History can take you to wonderful places, so seize any opportunities that come your way.