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Do a PhD with us!

Over the course of our project work, we’ve done a lot. However, that’s only scratched the surface of the broad topic of railway worker accidents. Lots of questions remain to be answered. Indeed, plenty remain to be asked. And now we’ve got the opportunity to do some of that!

Or, more to the point – you’ve got the opportunity! Through the University of Portsmouth, we’ve secured a PhD studentship to take the work the project has started and extend it. It’s open for applications now – so please take a look.

The PhD is “‘Give him sympathy and a helping hand’: Understanding the impact of occupational accidents and disability on English and Welsh railway staff and their families, 1897-1939.”

The broad outline is that it’s very much about putting railway staff, their work & their accidents in wide social & cultural contexts. That includes worker families & communities, and the impacts of those accidents, including disability.

A group of girls in white pinafores, playing together outside a brick built building, overseen by a matron.
Girls at the LSWR orphanage, Woking, around the time of the First World War. The PhD could look at the experiences of these girls.

Where has this come from? Well, for a long time – even at the time – the sheer numbers of workers hurt in the course of their employment was known. It didn’t receive much notice at the time, or since. But this project has been looking in more detail at the accidents and the people involved. This is focused largely on the moment of the accident, as that’s what the official, industry-produced, records tend to tell us about.

That’s important in its own right. However, understanding the people involved & the impacts and meanings of the accidents has been less developed. On the project we’ve done what we can here, but it really needs someone dedicated to the topic to do it justice.

That’s where this PhD comes in!

We’re really excited about this – the focus is important, new & will make significant contributions to a number of fields, not least railway history, disability history, labour history, social history, cultural history and the history of risk. It also offers the chance to engage with the growing collaborative potential between family history and academic history.

What we’re really happy about is that the PhD project continues and strengthens the collaboration between the National Railway Museum (NRM) and the University of Portsmouth. Project co-leads Mike (Portsmouth) and Karen (NRM) are part of the supervisory team, along with Cathryn Pearce (Portsmouth). Each of them brings a particular expertise and experience which will help guide and advise the student as they develop the PhD into their own project.

The partnership with the NRM is also excellent as it offers the student great opportunities in a museums environment, including the possibilities of contributing to the NRM’s public history work. This is an important and exciting time to be involved with the NRM, as it is undertaking a major redevelopment and redesign.

There may well be possibilities to work with partners beyond Portsmouth & the NRM, too – including in the current rail industry. There are ALL sorts of directions the successful student could take this in – and Karen, Cathy & Mike, as the supervisory team, will support the student to make this their project.

We’re open to full- or part-time study, and are keen to receive applications from a diverse field.

The bursary covers fees (at UK rates) for 3 years (full-time) or 6 years (part-time), and a contribution of £2,000 towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

As this is a project with broad parameters in mind, we’re not asking for a formal proposal – but we are very interested in YOUR ideas for the work. So, if you apply, as part of your personal statement, please feel free to discuss how you might take the project, research questions you might ask, sources to use, and so on. We’re keen to see where you might take this!

Applications close on 3 April 2023. Full details, including the application process, are available here. Ahead of this, potential applicants are more than welcome to get in touch with Mike for an informal chat – he can be contacted on his University of Portsmouth email address (mike.esbester[at]; please incl the project code in the subject line: SASH7970423).

We’re really looking forward to seeing what you all make of this, and where the successful student will take the project!

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