Guest post by Amy Galvin-Elliott
Political culture and ideals have been a constant element of my studies from my school days; whether carefully crafting a presentation for my French oral exam on the environmental policies of Nicolas Sarkozy, or arguing in my Masters dissertation that Victor Hugo reconceptualised the conventional Romantic hero to create literary characters that called for social and political change, political thinking has permeated my academic interests. So, upon receiving an interview for an ESRC funded collaborative PhD studentship between the University of Warwick and the Parliamentary Archives at the Houses of Parliament itself, you can imagine the butterflies that instantly began causing a tornado in my stomach. Nevertheless, May 2016 saw me travelling down to Parliament with a head full of ideas and a stomach full of nerves, and as the first anniversary of that day approaches, it seems like a good moment to reflect upon what I have experienced thus far.
Before doing so, it is perhaps necessary to specify a little more exactly what the ‘collaborative PhD studentship’ entails. With funding by the ESRC, the History department at the University of Warwick and the Parliamentary Archives are working together to support and mentor me through a four year PhD project and supervise my progress. At university my academic work is supervised by Dr Sarah Richardson and Dr Laura Schwartz, and at Parliament I have an additional supervisor in senior archivist Dr Mari Takayanagi. This unique collaboration allows me fantastic access to the buildings of Parliament which has already been exceptionally helpful, and I shall elaborate on how if you are still with me in a few paragraphs' time. Needless to say, when an offer letter arrived awarding me the studentship, I snapped the opportunity up.
My research project itself is entitled From Suffragette to Citizen: An exploration of female experience of political spaces in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and aims to employ various concepts from spatial theory to examine gendered experiences of political spaces in England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am interested in both the physical spaces of the Houses of Parliament themselves and metaphorical spaces such as language, art and writing which are parallel and integral to physical political spaces. Although there have been in-depth studies into the methods by which women campaigned to attain the vote, little has been done thus far to explore their interaction with the physical spaces of Parliament itself. Inherently patriarchal in every way, it was not a building that was ready to serve the political needs of enfranchised women. Furthermore, beyond the building itself, its language, manners and practices were also largely inaccessible to a female voter. I hope to provide insight into how women were able to transition from female voters outside of Parliament to enfranchised citizens within it. Being so interested in physical space and experiences inside or outside of it, the access to the spaces of Parliament that this collaborative project has allowed me has already proven invaluable. As I am able to walk through the spaces women would have been able to occupy that still exist, I can imagine their experiences all the more accurately, and it has been a privilege to stand where they once stood.
However, the collaboration offers me much more than just access to the physical spaces of Parliament. I also have access to the wealth of wonderful source material in the Parliamentary Archives, and the team there have been nothing but welcoming and helpful throughout this first year. Last November I was fortunate enough to follow an induction programme, spending time with each team within the wider Parliamentary Archives department and finding out about their individual roles. During this time, I also benefited from their advice and support, as each team offered ways in which they could help me over my coming research. This kind of personalised support from such a team of specialists really was exceptional, and will undoubtedly prove to be invaluable as I continue on my PhD journey. Furthermore, as Mari Takayanagi is currently joint project manager for the Vote 100 Exhibition Project in Parliament with the deputy curator of the Parliamentary Art Collection, Melanie Unwin, I have an additional wealth of knowledge and support offered through this channel. Already I have benefited from the talks organised by the project and am currently pursuing a research opportunity it has presented, so watch this space! All in all it has been a wonderful journey so far, and I am very excited to continue the adventure…
Amy Galvin-Elliott is a current PhD student in the History department at the University of Warwick. Her research is kindly funded by an ESRC doctoral award and is part of a collaborative project between the University of Warwick and the Parliamentary Archives. Her current research project considers female experience of political spaces in the nineteenth century and is interested in nineteenth century political culture and women, writing as a political tool and spatial theory.