I completed a first degree in History at the University of Stirling in 1981 and then a postgraduate degree in Social History with oral history at the University of Essex. My MA dissertation – an oral history of booth boxing in Scotland – led to a radio and a television programme (see Billy Kay’s Odyssey productions).
After leaving Essex in 1982, I was employed as a part-time community historian in Dundee, as an associate lecturer for the Open University in Scotland and on a sessional basis in Continuing Education at the University of Dundee. I made the most of the lack of paid work, by becoming active in the anti-poll tax campaign, serving as the publicity officer for the Tayside Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Unions. I was also the Branch Secretary of the 7/282 branch of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. It was a background that served me well when I became the secretary and later branch president of UCU Royal Holloway, University of London, and then more recently as a delegate from Newcastle UCU to the union’s regional committee.
In the mid-1980s, after freelancing as an oral historian, I established two Community Programme oral history projects in Dundee and Arbroath. I was then was appointed as a senior research officer at Essex where I worked on the Thompson and Newby study ‘Families, Social Mobility and Ageing, an Intergenerational Approach (100 Families)’.
I also became a Trustee of the Oral History Society in the 1980s and
served the Society in a number of capacities, including as Chair between 2004 and 2017.
In 1996, I successfully defended my PhD ‘The making of a woman’s town: household and gender in Dundee 1890 to 1940’, before joining the Migration and Ethnicity Research Centre at the University of Sheffield. After completing the Leverhulme funded two-year project ‘Changing identities: Eastern Europeans in Bradford since 1945’ (PIs Holmes, Jackson and Jenkins), I worked as a Wellcome funded researcher in the Department of General Practice and the History of Medicine Unit at Glasgow. As well as undertaking the research for Malcolm Nicolson’s and Graham Watt’s ‘An oral history of general practice in Paisley’, I was the main researcher on a pilot project studying health professionals’ perceptions of inequalities. Interviews were carried out with nurses, managers and general practitioners in practices serving deprived populations in Glasgow’s east end (see Reversing the inverse care law: understanding the needs of primary care in deprived areas). I was also a regular contributor to Hoolet – the then magazine for the RCGP in Scotland, and along with Liz Mitchell and Jonathon Smith introduced the world to Dokemon cards.
I re-joined the University of Sheffield in 2001, to take up my first full-time lecturing post, in clinical humanities, in the School of Health and Related Research. While at Sheffield I contributed to the design of The Leverhulme Trust funded Changing Families, Changing Food programme. Beginning in 2005, this was a three-year inter-disciplinary research programme with projects organised into three parts. I led the family and community research strand, working with colleagues from clinical sciences, East Asian Studies, Geography, Nursing and Midwifery, ScHARR and Sociological Studies at Sheffield in collaboration with colleagues in Health and Social Care at Royal Holloway, University of London. The research looked at historic changes in family life through the lens of food, from provisioning to consumption and waste. The Programme’s findings contributed to contemporary debates about obesity and nutrition, media and consumption, food choice and deprivation.
In 2007, I moved to Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) where I worked in Health and Social Care and then in 2009 as a senior lecturer in oral history in RHUL’s History Department. During my time at the College, I was involved in a number of research projects. These included:
- Paula Nicolson’s multi-disciplinary Leadership and Better Patient Care: Managing in the NHS (2011)
- as well as The Lifespan initiative for the Research and Data Archiving Repository (Antonia Bifulco and Graham Smith, joint-PIs, with Ananay Aguilar and Leonie Hannan RAs JISC, 2009-11),
- and more recently Shelley Trower’s Memories of Fiction (2014-18, AHRC; RA Amy Murphy).
In 2017, I was appointed as Professor of Oral History at Newcastle University and established the Newcastle University Oral History Unit and Collective. As well as leading the Unit and Collective, I teach oral history at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and supervise students undertaking PhDs including those funded by collaborative doctoral awards and studying by practice.
My funded research while at Newcastle has so far included the oral history element in the Living Deltas Hub, GCRF UKRI (2019 – 2024) as well as smaller grants to establish environmental oral history work in India (2023) and community orientated research around Foodbank Histories (2019).
I am currently the Deputy Head of the School of History Classics and Archaeology.
My research interests continue to be in oral history and public history, with a particular focus on “sharing authority”, design oral history, and how people remember in groups, especially in relation to the intergenerational history of family and environmental history.