Mobile Emotions

Dr Katie Barclay won the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 David Berry Prize for her essay on love and friendship amongst lower order men in eighteenth-century Scotland. Here she reflects on the larger project that the essay emerged from and its insights for contemporary academic emotional economies.

barclay.jpgThis week, as well as writing this blogpost for the RHS, I am working on a book chapter on the emotional economies of migrant workers – the vagrants, chapbook wo/men, and door to door salespeople that were a feature of the early modern European landscape. Of interest to me is how an economy and ‘lifestyle’ that relied on the hospitality and charity of the wider community shaped the personal lives and relationships of this key group, and the ways that such mobility informed a particular understanding of the early modern self. It is a history that reflects on the capacity of individuals to find a ‘place’ on their journeys through time and space, but also of the emotional and practical labour involved in such placements. My work particularly focuses on Scotland, my homeland, but a home left behind in my own itinerant travels as a worker in the modern academic landscape.

The inspiration for this post was a request from the RHS blog editors to reflect on the research challenges of being a Scottish historian, currently based in Australia, and with a career that has required significant mobility as I – like much of the modern academy – has sought to find an institutional home. I suspect this may have been a request to reflect on the importance of a decent camera to enabling research to move swiftly on short trips back to archives located thousands of miles from your residence (very important – an iPhone won’t cut it), but, as a historian of emotion and mobility, I interpreted it as a moment to reflect on the themes that drive my research – of emotion, mobility, place, community.

I submitted my PhD in 2007, graduated in 2008. I was offered a permanent – continuing as Australian’s style it – contract in 2017, after ten years of post-qualification scholarly life. In many ways, it has been a remarkable career – ten years of full-time, well paid, research ‘only’ work, before finally moving into a standard teaching/research contract. Most of it has been supported by research fellowships that not only paid my wages but provided funds to enable travel between the place where I worked and that which held the source material for my research. I am very privileged. Yet, as I have noted elsewhere, even for those of us who find ourselves at the ‘top’ of the ladder, a decade of insecure work – work that relies on a process of constant achievement of the next paper, the next book, the next grant – has its own particular tolls on mental and bodily health. As part of a broader system of ‘precarity’ – economic insecurity – living on research fellowships acts as a slow wearing of the self, an erosion of the ability to find comfort and particularly to find place.

The converse of this, of course, is that humans are pretty good at finding place. Histories of mobility and migration have highlighted the ways that movement can be destabilising and that the labour involved in placing roots, finding familiarity, producing ‘home’ is real and significant. But it also highlights the success of migrant communities, their ability to adapt to new landscapes, environments and economies, to make connections with other migrants and local communities, not least ties of love and family. Mobile migrant workers are perhaps particularly interesting in this respect as a group who often tramp the same routes, stay with the same people, build relationships and friendships built on an openness to newcomers but bounded by strict rules of hospitality that encourage onward movement. Thus, even for the very mobile, some sort of ‘place’ was often enabled within these communities, if not for everyone.

For the modern academic – and in many other industries too – mobility is hailed as a social and economic good. The conservative impulses that tighten borders, limit visas, and restrict movement are regarded unfavourably, for lacking business sense as well as their racism. New scholars are not only warned that mobility will likely be vital if they wish to remain with the academy but are sold it as a research good – it will broaden their experiences, produce new research networks, deepen knowledge and understanding. (That the ability to move is a privilege that those bound to place and people cannot achieve is often ignored). And the benefits of moving are all true. One of the wonderful things about having worked in Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia and Denmark and experienced seven institutions is the relationships I have built, the insight I have gained into academic practices and cultures, and benefits these have brought to my research findings.

Yet, one of the challenges of mobility is also that building relationships takes significant labour and it produces real emotional connections – we might call them friendships – that are severed, if not entirely, with every move. Finding a place in a new institution also involves by necessity a period of unsettling and settling – those moments of trying to find your new routine, learn new faces, figure out your role in a new set of group dynamics, and ultimately build the bonds that enable communities to function. It is a process that is underpinned by an experience of being out of place and its attendant anxieties and over-thinking, a mental experience that can be likened to the muscle pains of trying a new set of exercises at the gym. Over time, you even learn to identify that experience – to know that this process of settling is what is involved in finding ‘place’ – but it doesn’t seem to make it any easier.

Like any bodily labour, it also has larger impacts on the self. With every move, the labour of finding place seems harder, the desire to do it again reduces. The longer you stay in one place the more comfortable you become and the more the idea of leaving impacts on your general wellbeing, on the sense of precarity produced by insecure labour. I am sure some may say that such a comfort produces complacency. And maybe it does. But bodies need time to rest and recover. They also need the security that being in ‘place’ and having community enables – a community that is generally not formed by long cultural beliefs about family obligation to its members – but through the emotional labour we do with those around us when we arrive. Thus mobility becomes a remarkable privilege, not accessible to all and with real benefits and pleasures, but also a form of work that contributes to the challenges of negotiating the precarious economy.

For highly mobile workforces, and many of the institutions I have been part of contain as many or more migrants as locals, the mobility of the academy also has implications for institutional cultures. The people you meet at work are not just colleagues but become your family, your support network, your safety net. If we currently complain that the expectations of the current academy are unsustainable for a life beyond it, mobility further dislocates you from the world outside – making bonds beyond are not impossible but the labour far harder, requiring more effort. At its best, it is a system where you find family at work, but at its worst, it reinforces the abuses of the dysfunctional home. Such emotional bonds complicate lines of power, heighten disagreements between colleagues, and lead to romantic connections in places where the ethically-minded might suggest they should not be. This too is what it means to find ‘place’ in the academy.

I return then to my eighteenth-century mobile workers and I wonder whether the rules of hospitality and charity that enabled such movement were any less fraught, less challenging, than they are today. I reflect on the ways that their emotional economies might have also produced precarious selves, exhausted not just by the journey but the emotional labour that it required en route. Yet, as I reflect on the relationships I have made in the institutions I call home, I also remember the rewards of such expansive networks, of ties and connections that cross borders, and of the charity and hospitality that are as vital to the functioning of university cultures, as the research.

Dr Katie Barclay is a Senior Lecturer in the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions and Department of History, University of Adelaide. You can follow her on Twitter @KatieEBarclay.


Top image: from R. R. McIan, Gaelic Gatherings; or The Highlanders at Home (1848).

New Historical Perspectives

‘New Historical Perspectives’ (NHP) is our new Open Access book series for Early Career Researchers, a partnership between the RHS and the Institute of Historical Research. As the first tranche of finished manuscripts begins to arrive, Penny Summerfield – one of the series’ editorial convenors – reflects on the formation of NHP and its work to create a new list of OA monographs.

‘New Historical Perspectives’ was launched in April 2016, with Professor Simon Newman and myself as co-editors, as an Open Access publishing venture under the joint auspices of the RHS and IHR and with support from Economic History Society and Past and Present. The Editorial Board (EB), characterized by equal numbers of men and women and a diverse range of expertise, was in place by June 2016. We had no idea whether the idea of Open Access publishing would appeal to the early career researchers (ECRs) we wanted to attract. RHS had agreed that they should be within ten years of receiving their PhDs from British or Irish universities.

Helped by the Publishing Workshops organized by Jonathan Newbury from IHR, we have received 23 proposals since June 2016. Eleven of these have been accepted, following scrutiny by the editors and Editorial Board members and rigorous peer review by leading experts in their specific fields. Eight of the successful proposals are for monographs, three are edited collections. The series is not themed, and its openness in terms of subject matter and chronology has brought in proposals relating to periods from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries and topics as varied as medieval scholasticism, and masculinity and danger on the Grand Tour.

NHP offers an opportunity to rewrite a PhD thesis for publication, and this has evident appeal to authors, especially in view of the negativity of some publishers towards theses. Our view is that some of the most creative and thoroughly researched work is invested in PhDs, which are often the source of the ‘new perspectives’ we wish to encourage. However, every PhD thesis needs development before it can become a useful and readable book. The comments of EB members, and the often quite lengthy reports of peer reviewers, are an essential part of that process, as are the Author Workshops that we offer each of our authors.

These workshops involve two or more experts in the field, plus an EB member and one of the Co-Editors, meeting with the author for half a day to discuss a near-to-final draft. We have held four such workshops so far and the feedback from authors has borne out our initial hunch that in-depth conversations about a book in preparation are extremely useful to novice monograph authors, probably more so than further written reports. The experts who have agreed to join the workshops have given really valuable service, and, like the authors, they seem to have enjoyed the experience. We ask for finalized manuscripts to come in within about six months of a workshop, and so far we are just about on target, with the first four titles due out in Spring/Summer 2019.

On publication each NHP title will be appear on the IHR’s Open Access books platform, with copies of the work available as OA downloads, eBooks and in hard and paperback formats. As with current IHR publications, each New Historical Perspectives title will also feature on JSTOR’s OA books platform, increasing discoverability and the option to access and share a book at the chapter level.

We are open to non-standard forms of publication, such as short-form works, and also to proposals for edited collections of essays. In this case the lead editor and at least half the contributors need to be ECRs, but they may work with more experienced historians. We have accepted three edited collections on condition that they are thematically coherent and characterized by a rigorous approach to the editing process. Editors of such collections do not get an Author Workshop – which would become a major conference-style event if all the contributors were to be involved – but the complete manuscript is of course subject to peer review.

Simon Newman moved on in June 2018, after sterling service, to be replaced by Jane Winters who, as professor of digital humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has particularly relevant expertise in Open Access publishing. The Editorial Board is composed of admirably committed members whose scrutiny of proposals and reports, care of authors, and input to shaping the series, is invaluable.

My term of office ends in Spring 2019 and I’ll use this opportunity to say how interesting and satisfying the role of co-editor of NHP is, in the hope that this will encourage potential successors!

Professor Penny Summerfield
Co-editor, New Historical Perspectives
University of Manchester

2nd Gender Equality Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights gender inequality in UK History

A new report published today (6 November 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) recommends steps to promote gender equality in UK History, following the RHS’s recent report on race in UK History. Recent spotlights on the #MeToo movement, “Everyday Sexism”, and the centenary of women’s suffrage in have raised public awareness of gender as a defining social influence. Yet despite some progress since its landmark 2015 report, the RHS reveals considerable work remains to be done, revealing enduring structural barriers to equality as well as worryingly high levels of workplace discrimination.

While there is a small majority of female students in History at A-level, undergraduate level, and on taught postgraduate programmes, women remain underrepresented at more senior levels, constituting just 41.6% of academic staff in History and only 26.2% of History Professors. Female historians are also more likely to be in temporary, fixed-term, or part-time posts, with over 60% of full-time permanent posts in History held by men.

A survey of hundreds of UK historians revealed a number of reasons for this “leaky pipeline”Overwork is chronic throughout the sector, and gendered in its effects. Almost all respondents reported working “a lot” in the evenings, most worked a lot on weekends (72.2% female; 56.2% male) and many often gave up annual leave (51.7% female; 37% male). Many respondents called for more transparent workload models to combat these inequalities.

Respondents highlighted how the effects of overwork and an unhealthy working culture were exacerbated by a lack of support for caring responsibilities, which are still more likely to affect women. Nearly a fifth of respondents (19%) reported that maternity leave policy was implemented partly or hardly at all in their workplace. Female respondents reported mid-career issues returning to work after maternity leave, with many feeling they have been overlooked for promotion (44.5%) or become stuck in certain roles (52.9%).

Nearly half (47.8%) of female respondents reported their working lives had been affected by discrimination, and 18.2% reported sexual harassment. Both men and women also reported widespread issues of bullying and intimidation. Issues of gender discrimination were often particularly pronounced for female early-career historians: over a fifth (21%) reported being subject to sexual harassment, while many observed or experienced gender inequality in conference programming, keynote lectures, publishing, and teaching; indeed large numbers of historians at all levels reported the same. The RHS is also very concerned by strong evidence of negative gender bias in student evaluations, particularly in advance of the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) at subject-level.

The report concludes with specific action points and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, appointment panels, promotion committees, editors, and conference organisers. The recent RHS report on Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History emphasises that inequalities intersect, and the Society is committed to History becoming more inclusive for women, non-binary, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and other underrepresented groups of historians. This report provides essential data and guidance to promote a more equal and diverse profession, which will ensure and expand the intellectual vitality of our discipline.

The full report is available here.

The full results of our survey are available here.