I am a historian of twentieth and twenty-first century Britain (yes, it’s still history), and am particularly interested in childhood, adolescence, chronological age, education, self-narratives and oral history, sexuality and gender, and the history of medicine. My book, A Progressive Education? How Childhood Changed in Mid-Twentieth-Century English and Welsh Schools (Manchester University Press, 2020) focuses on teachers’ changing concepts of childhood and youth in primary and secondary modern schools in England and Wales from 1918 to 1979. This book was partly based on my History PhD (University of Cambridge, 2015) which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I also contributed a chapter to Siân Pooley and Jonathan Taylor eds. Children’s Experiences of Welfare in Modern Britain (IHR Conference Series, 2021), where I discuss what children themselves thought about English and Welsh schools between 1945 and 1979.
My postdoctoral research, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (2018-21), focused on how children’s and adolescents’ perceptions of adulthood in Britain have changed from c.1950 to the present day. This project considered adulthood, as well as childhood, as a constructed category, and contends that we can only understand the two in relation to each other. It explored the tension between the ‘ideal adult’ – the psychologically mature independent actor who can, for example, give informed consent to medical procedures – and the real adult who often doesn’t live up to these ideals. What kind of adult did teenagers think they would grow up to be? I am currently working on a monograph based on this research, provisionally entitled The Rising Generation: Young People Write About Age and Ageing in Cold War Britain, and an edited collection (co-edited with Maria Cannon), provisionally entitled The Perfect Age?: Histories of Adulthood in Britain and the United States from 1350 to Generation Z.
I am now a NUAcT Fellow at Newcastle University, UK. During the remainder of my fellowship (2020-24), I will research chronically and terminally ill children in both Britain and the US since 1945, focusing initially on children and young people with cystic fibrosis. This project will consider both children’s own experiences, and how they were conceptualised and treated by the medical profession. Ultimately, it will explore how chronically and terminally ill children formed a kind of ‘test case’ for adult concepts of childhood. Modern childhood was often understood as future-orientated, valuable only as a staging-point on the route to adulthood. But what happened when children had no ‘normal’ adult future to look forward to?
In 2012-13, I received an AHRC student-led Collaborative Skills Development Grant for my project, Talking History, to collaborate with Rambling Heart delivering oral history and storytelling training to graduate students and early career researchers in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Cambridge. In May and June 2017, I received funding from Oxford’s Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund to run follow-up workshops with children and adolescents in Bath [pictured above].
I have published journal articles in Twentieth Century British History, Cultural and Social History, Contemporary British History, Medical Humanities, History of the Human Sciences, Gender and History and History, and have also written for History and Policy, The Conversation and the Guardian. My institutional profile is here. You can find a full list of my academic publications here.