History Department success with funded PhD studentships

The OU History Department has been awarded two Collaborative Doctoral Awards through the AHRC-funded Oxford-Open-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership.  The first is co-supervised by Senior Lecturer Dr Anna Plassart and the second is co-supervised by Senior Lecturer Dr Richard Marsden

The late Scottish Enlightenment in global perspective, 1770-1815

Welshness in the museum: Representing the past in Wales’ National Museums, c.1900-1975


Thomas Probert’s article on Psychiatric casualties and the British counter-insurgency in Malaya

Recently graduated PhD student and now Visiting Fellow in the Department Dr. Thomas Probert published an article on Psychiatric casualties and the British counter-insurgency in Malaya in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History in June 2021. 

The psychiatric cost of Britain’s post-war counter-insurgency campaigns have gone largely un-investigated. Focusing on the Malayan Emergency, this article will show that counter-insurgency operations were sufficiently intense to produce what were conceptualised as cases of mild psychoneurosis. These conditions were managed using convalescence and simple psychotherapy. Managing these conditions in this way risked leaving more serious conditions untreated and meant recorded cases of psychoneurosis were kept artificially low. That the stresses of the counter-insurgency in Malaya were reproduced elsewhere suggests there was a wider psychiatric cost of Britain’s post-war period of decolonisation.

Jack Taylor’s research on internment during the Second World War

Our PhD student Jack Taylor has just completed an AHRC-funded placement at the British Library. There he was working on finding and publicising elements of their collection which relate to the Second World War and, particularly, the Home Front. As part of this placement, he has written a series of blog posts on the British Library website. The first is here: https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2020/01/internment-during-the-second-world-war-part-one-the-diary-of-a-jewish-refugee-confined-by-britain.html

OU PhD Studentship success

Dr. Amanda Goodrich and Dr. Luc-Andre Brunet will be the primary supervisors for two new OU PhD studentships, through the AHRC Open-Oxford-Cambridge doctoral training partnership. The studentships will be held in collaboration with two institutions, the History of Parliament Trust and Cambridge University Library.

France and the Second World War: The Cambridge Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection (1944-1946)

The recent 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings underscored the importance of the Liberation of France in the history of the twentieth century. This PhD project aims to make use of the Cambridge University Library Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection to explore particular aspects of France during the Second World War, the Liberation, and/or in the immediate post-war period (1939-1946). The Collection consists of about 3000 books and pamphlets in French on these subjects, published from the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 to the end of 1946, encompassing a wide range of material, including novels, poetry, illustrated books, photographic albums, literature for children, testimonies from the camps, military works and political publications.

The Black and Mixed Ethnicity Presence in British Politics, 1750-1850

There is today a move to restore Black and mixed ethnicity (BME) people to their rightful place in British history. Historical attention has primarily focused on the narrative of slavery and abolition. Much has been written on the lives of Africans who migrated to Britain after escaping slavery such as Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano and Mary Prince. The BME offspring of local slaves or indigenous women and British men in colonies such as the West Indies or India, who were brought ‘home’ to Britain, have also received some attention. The engagement of BME men in extra-parliamentary politics has been explored through the writings of Equiano and Cugoano on reform politics and the roles of Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson, and most recently Henry Redhead Yorke in extra parliamentary radical agitation. Yet few BME individuals have been identified in extra-parliamentary or formal British politics.

This doctoral thesis will aim to identify, quantify and analyse the BME presence in British politics and political culture more broadly, employing both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. It will potentially explore both houses of Parliament, constituency elections, local government and extra-parliamentary politics, to identify BME individuals, noting any fluidity between the sectors of engagement. In addition, the term ‘presence’ will include their methods of engagement with politics, ideas, influence and networks. The representations of and about such individuals by others and in the press may also be explored. Slave abolition will need to inform an element of the study, but it will not be the focus. In order to incorporate all relevant ethnicities the term BME will be defined with the doctoral student.


Louise Ryland-Epton wins the Bryan Jerrard award and commended for the Parliamentary History Essay Prize

PhD student Louise Ryland-Epton has won the Bryan Jerrard award for 2018 and was commended for the Parliamentary History Essay Prize. The Jerrard award is something given by the Gloucestershire Local History Association (and sponsored by the History Press) for the best published article on an aspect of Gloucestershire’s local history.  Louise’s article was titled ‘Cirencester Workhouse under the Old Poor Law’ and it was published by the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society in 2018.  The essay commended for the Parliamentary History Essay prize is entitled ‘The Impact of Backbenchers in the Creation of Social Reform: “The Indefatigable and Honourable Exertions of Mr Gilbert.”’ and will be published in Parliamentary History in 2019.


The Tropenmuseum Amsterdam – An Honest Reflection of the Dutch Colonial Past

PhD student Samuel Aylett has written a piece for the Mainly Museums websites on the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

The Tropenmuseum began life as the Koloniaal Museum (Colonial Museum) in Haarlem founded in 1864. Like many nineteenth-century European museums, its collections grew out of Dutch colonial expansion and scientific research. The majority of its collections were brought back from the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. In 1910, the Vereniging Koloniaal Institut was founded, which was incorporated into the museums in Haarlem, and began to exhibit much of the museum’s collections to the Dutch people. However, it was not until 1926, when the collections were re-housed in the new Colonial Institute and Museum in Amsterdam, that the Colonial Museum proper opened its doors to visitors. It was officially opened on 9 October 1926 by Queen Wilhelmina. Like many European museums, it was closed during the Second World War. In 1945 the Museum changed its name to the Indisch Museum (Indian Museum), and subsequently the Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum), not least because of the political implications of decolonisation. In the 1970s the Museum was extensively renovated. An extension as wadded to house the Tropenmuseum Junior (children’s museum), a theatre and additional exhibition space (other structural changes were made).

The Tropenmuseum, even today, is a stark reminder, with its impressive neo-classical architecture, of the Dutch colonial enterprise. Like its other European counterparts, the Tropenmuseum would have served to remind and inculcate within the Dutch people a sense of the grandeur and moral obligation of the Dutch ‘civilising mission’. Like the Natural History Museum in London, its façade is decorated with colonial imagery, and images of formerly colonised peoples working in the rubber industry can be seen inside. However, today, the Tropenmuseum is one of but a few museums in Europe that engages seriously in challenging and questioning its colonial past and institutional legacies.

In 2003, the museum staged a new exhibition ‘Oostwarts’, which historian Professor Robert Aldrich felt was the ‘most thorough and thoughtful display on colonialism’. The exhibition, which has now been integrated into the Museum’s permanent galleries, combined both material items and mannequins to interrogate thoughtfully the lives and experiences of peoples living in the Dutch East-Indies. This exhibition marked a post-colonial shift at the Museum, and the beginning of a new period of serious self-reflection about the Dutch colonial past and the Museums own institutional complicity in it.

The Museum’s own colonial legacies are made explicit throughout the Museum’s permanent galleries. During my visit in December, I was struck by a text panel that called into question how the Museum came into possession of its collections from New Guinea.

Where contemporary debates around former colonial museums and acquisitions of their collections tend to be polarised, the Tropenmuseum is nuanced; injecting honesty and self-reflection into an otherwise febrile debate. Other text panels scattered throughout the permanent galleries provide, for example, explanations of Dutch and European colonialism; ‘Colonialism refers to the practice whereby one country conquers and occupies another using force, deception and betrayal.’ Perhaps a little provocative and emotive, but which represents a willingness to take stock of the darker elements of Dutch colonialism.

The cardinal reason for my visit in December last year was to see their new permanent exhibition, Afterlives of Slavery. The exhibition focuses on the enslaved and their descendant, using personal stories both past and present to interrogate the history of slavery and its current-day legacies. Personal accounts and memory have become hallmarks of the post-colonial exhibition. The exhibition was designed and created by curators, artists and activities, providing a more democratic and multi-vectored interpretation. Often, public discourse around European colonialism fails to recognize the historical continuity of its legacies and their effect on contemporary society. It was therefore refreshing to see that the exhibition tackled subjects such as ‘Power and Race’, and ‘Protest Against Racism’, explaining the ways in which European colonialism played a significant role in creating racial power structures based on white supremacy which continue to disadvantage and oppress minority groups today.

The Tropenmuseum is a refreshing example of how a country can, with pride, tackle its difficult past at a time when other European Museums are entrenchment in their refusal to engage seriously with their institutional legacies. The Museum is unashamedly self-critical in its reassessment of Dutch colonialism. At a time when the British Museum refuses to entertain repatriation of artefacts taken from former colonies, the Tropenmuseum stands-out in their sincere approach.


19 years and older: € 16,00
4 – 18 years * and students: € 8,00
Children up to 3 years: Free
CJP card holder: € 9,00
Groups of 10 (full paying) persons or more: 10% discount (per person)


Tropenmuseum, Linnaeusstraat 2, 1092 CK, Amsterdam
Website: https://www.tropenmuseum.nl/en


Samuel Aylett is a PhD researcher at the Open University. His PhD analyses shifting representations of empire and British colonialism at the Museum of London from 1976-2007. Broadly speaking, his research interests are concerned with the Museum as a locus for examining the cultural impact of empire and decolonisation in Britain throughout the twentieth century, and how the legacies of empire continue to shape Britain’s past, present and future

PhD Research Day 8 June 2018

Department of History

PhD Research Day

8 June 2018


The Open University, Library Seminar rooms 1-2

Contact: Marie-Claire Le Roux FASS-HRSSC-History@open.ac.uk


10.15 Coffee and registration

10.30 Welcome

10.40 Joan Hornsby: The problem of pauperism in Axminster Union

11.10 Luc-Andre Brunet: Developing a publication record as a PhD student

11.40 Break

11.50 Elizabeth Wells: Westminster School’s Town Boy Ledgers: pupil voices from the early 19th century

12.20 Jack Taylor: Difficulties of evidence: sexual violence against men, c.1700-1900

13.00 Lunch

14.10 Angela Sutton-Vane: From private information to public history: the life-cycles and influences of police files       

14.40 Sam Aylett: The Museum of London’s permanent galleries, 1976: prosperity, trade

and empire

15.10 Coffee Break

15.30 Chris Williams How to broadcast history

16.00 End

Notes on sources: Museum visitor comments books and the history of immigration to Britain by Samuel Aylett

The second in a series of blog posts on sources used by our PhD students, Samuel Aylett’s post on his own blog, Legacies of the British Empire, looks at how Museum visitor comments books shed light on contemporary attitudes to immigration and migrants. The blog post can be found by clicking on the link below:


Samuel’s blog with other posts related to his PhD research can be found here:


Notes on Sources: Vestry Minutes by Louise Ryland-Epton

This is the first in a series of blog posts by Open University History PhD students on the primary sources they are using for their doctoral research.

For many towns and villages in the Georgian period (1714-1830) the vestry or vestry meeting was the main organ of local government. They were called vestry meetings because these gatherings were often held in the church vestry room after Sunday worship, when the parishioners would meet and make decisions concerning welfare provision, the maintenance of roads and law and order in their parish. In fact, vestry meetings covered virtually anything that concerned the local community.

Many English county archives contain the minutes of these meetings. One example is the Cirencester vestry minutes held at the Gloucestershire Archives in Gloucester. The minutes are bound in a weighty tome that records nearly three hundred years of parish history in this Cotswold town. The vestry minutes provided source material that formed the backbone of my MA project, and will be an important source for my PhD research. These vestry minutes are at times wonderfully detailed, yet at other times frustratingly sparse. The minutes depict local reactions to events such as small pox epidemics, wheat famines, central government policy and the Napoleonic Wars. Close study of the minutes reveals the impact of the industrial revolution and Gloucester’s economic decline and restructure. Occasionally the information within the minutes can help draw out individual stories, such as that of a local magistrate who misappropriated hundreds of pounds of charity funds.

Unfortunately not all English parishes recorded information in the same detail. Many vestry minutes only provide a list of annual appointments to local offices. Minutes are often fragmentary or lost to history. As vestry minutes only provide one perspective on local history, they need to be looked at along with other sources. There is always the frustration of hours of research among these sources with nothing tangible at the end of it. But the Cirencester vestry minutes manuscript provided me with one of those rare “Eureka!” moments which debunked arguments and interpretations by historians that I had read in the secondary literature. This encouraged me to question existing scholarship and sent me in the direction that would result in my PhD research.

Vestry minutes are a source of continuous fascination for me, often exasperating but providing a wealth of material that is surprising and insightful.

Louise Ryland-Epton is a PhD candidate at the Open University researching eighteenth century poverty, welfare legislation and the inner workings of the Georgian state. She has a blog, Georgian Perspectives, where she has written more about the information found in vestry minutes:


A page from the Circencester Vestry minutes. Reference: P86/VE/2/1. Reproduced with the kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives