What brought you back to Manchester?
I just love Manchester as a city and I’ve always found the History department incredibly friendly, supportive and welcoming. I studied for my MA here and knew that I wanted to return. I noticed that while the department covers such a range of history, there was a gap in the department for the study of British crime.
What got you interested in history/ the history of British crime?
In my MA, I studied a sex scandal in Bolton workhouse, 1889. A workhouse nurse, Rose Morris, was found dead and pregnant. It turned out she was sleeping with half the local government board, including the Mayor! When this scandal broke out it was around the same time as the Jack the Ripper murders in London. So, there are all these late-Victorian fears about the motives of aristocratic, predatory men in the press anyway, and then this workhouse nurse Rose dies, so all of those fears are targeted again at the local government board in Bolton and the mayor. This said a lot about the regional circulation of ideas about sex and scandal. Whilst studying all of this and having a great time and thinking about doing a PhD, I was coming up against all these different reports and details on all kinds of crime, I realised that nothing had ever really been done on burglary in the existing historiography. The more I thought about it and discussed it with people here in Manchester (particularly Max Jones and Julie-Marie Strange); I thought burglary (traditionally a ‘masculinised’ form of crime) would be a fascinating topic to pursue. It’s all about homes and cities and how we feel about our homes and cities, and the masculine interloper into the feminised spaces of the home, and what kind of fears and threats that poses. My passion for the history of British crime also creeps out from my love of crime TV!
Is there any part or subject of history that you haven’t explored or researched fully but hope to?
I’m writing my book on burglary at the moment that will take time over the next few years. My subsequent project is going to be on hotels and national identities, which isn’t an excuse to go and stay in lots of fancy hotels! I’m really interested in the relationship between space and identity, and how people move through interiors and negotiate privacy in those kinds of commercial spaces. So, one of the things that intrigues me about burglary is the fact that it exposes how open and how porous the home can be to the interloper and to the policeman, or any interested neighbours who can come in. I think there is something similar going on with the hotel where, nominally you’re in a private space that you’ve paid for, but realistically you’re actually going to encounter all sorts of people from maids or butlers, and other service providers within that space and they’re not necessarily bound to keep your secrets. You are actually allowing yourself to be monitored in a way that I think is really interesting. These are also the spaces that our tourist population first see. Their whole impression of Britain, and British national culture is derived from what they encounter in that first impression in the hotel, and there’s such a range of hotels that it really makes you think how have we marketed Britain historically through these spaces.
Do you have any advice for current History undergraduates?
I should probably say something really sensible but my immediate thought was have fun. In the sense that I’ve always had fun doing history. Even when you’re studying difficult topics, it is an inherently fascinating subject. I think that we can all be job focused which is good, but you need to not lose sight of the stories and empathising with people in the past which is actually something that is really important as a life skill. But I guess, my pearl of wisdom is time management. I am highly organised myself but if I could go back and do it again, I would set a really good working routine, do the 9-5 day. If you can get into that early it is a really good life skill.