Early Career Historians

Four Nations History Network blog – call for contributors

Call for Contributors

The Four Nations History Network is looking for bloggers for this upcoming summer and autumn.

There is no set format for the blogs. The idea of the site is that we provide a platform for PhD students, early career researchers and more established academics to explore four nations themes and methodologies. Our aim is to generate discussion and collaboration.

Blog posts should be 750 – 1000 words maximum. They should also include a blog title and short bio.

Email your submission to fournationshistory@gmail.com

You can find out more about the network here: https://fournationshistory.wordpress.com/


PhD Studentship. Engineering ‘Modern’ Scotland: The Stevenson Maps and Plans and Scotland’s Built Infrastructure, c.1800-c.1900

Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD: Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship for research on the Stevenson maps and plans and Scotland’s built infrastructure, c.1800-c.1900. The award, which is made by the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium as part of the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Programme, will be managed jointly by the University of Edinburgh (Institute of Geography) and the National Library of Scotland, The studentship, which is full-time and funded for 3.5 years, will begin in October 2017 and will be jointly supervised by Christopher Fleet and Alison Metcalfe (National Library of Scotland) and Professor Charles W. J. Withers (University of Edinburgh). Part-time applications are welcome.

 The Studentship: The PhD project centres on the maps and plans within the business archive of the Stevenson civil engineering firm. Robert Stevenson and descendants played a significant role in a range of civil engineering projects across Scotland. The archive reflects that activity. The archive includes in excess of 3,000 maps and plans, supported by correspondence, reports, accounts and other business records, and reflects the broad range of civil engineering endeavours with which the firm was involved (sea-works, harbours, canals, river-courses, railways, and, importantly, lighthouses). The maps and plans of this built infrastructure have received almost no scholarly attention. They together provide a rich opportunity for understanding the geography and history of a fast modernising nation – Scotland in the nineteenth century. During the studentship, there will be opportunities within the NLS to enhance the Library’s collections and digital strategy and to work with the NLS public programmes to engage public audiences.

 How to Apply: Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and a relevant Masters in geography, or history (economic and social), or politics. You will have some experience of relevant research methods (NB: research training is a required element in each year of the studentship). For details on eligibility criteria, including UK residency, applicants should check the AHRC website.

 Applicants should submit a summary curriculum vitae (max 2 pages), an example of recent academic writing (e.g., MSc chapter or UG Dissertation) and a short statement (1 page) outlining your qualification for the studentship, and the names and contact details of two academic referees to: Professor Charles W. J. Withers, Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP (c.w.j.withers@ed.ac.uk) by Friday 7 April 2017. Interviews will be held on Wednesday 3 May 2017. For further information, contact Professor Charles W. J. Withers, Chris Fleet (c.fleet@nls.uk) or Alison Metcalfe (a.metcalfe@nls.uk).


Publishing for Historians: a workshop for advanced postgraduates and early career researchers in History 10 June 2016

Publishing for Historians: a workshop for advanced postgraduates and early career researchers in History

Sponsored by the Royal Historical Society (RHS), the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH), and the School of Humanities, University of Glasgow (SoH)

9.30-4.00, Friday 10th June 2016, University of Glasgow

This workshop is for postgraduate research students and for early career researchers in History in the Scottish universities. (Additional workshops will be held elsewhere in the UK over the coming months). Academic representatives of the Royal Historical Society and the Institute of Historical Research, will provide a day-long workshop on publishing. The workshop will focus on journal articles, monographs, peer review and the editing process, and Open Access. In addition to focused presentations in these areas, students will be able to spend time with journal editors, book series editors, and RHS and IHR staff and council members, learning more about pathways to publication of research. By providing high levels of discipline-specific training for high quality publication, this workshop will better prepare participants for the academic job market, and for the REF. Those not anticipating academic careers will nonetheless benefit from detailed information about publishing historical research and scholarship.

Programme:  Publishing for Historians workshop

This workshop is free for eligible PGR students (who are enrolled in SGSAH universities) and Early Career Researchers (who have not yet published a monograph, and are employed by Scottish universities or are resident in Scotland). However, places are limited and attendees must register in advance of the workshop at http://publishingforhistorians.eventbrite.co.uk

The SGSAH have provided funding for a number of travel bursaries for eligible PGR students who are registered at Scottish universities.  Application forms must be returned by noon on Friday 22nd April 2016.


ECH Grants: Research trips and/or training events

Funding for research trips to archives and libraries or to undertake fieldwork or training is available from many sources.  Obtaining one or more of these small grants as a PhD student lays excellent groundwork for making more substantial grant applications as a postdoctoral researcher.  This indicative list will give you an idea of where to begin looking for funding options:


ECH Publishing: Submitting to a Journal

What makes a good journal article? First, it must stand on its own. It may be a version of a chapter of a PhD dissertation, but it has to be self-contained. Second, it ought to have a strong and distinctive argument. The standard way to demonstrate this is by reference to the historiography – but it’s not enough (or even, really, at all persuasive) to say that your subject has been ‘neglected’ by the historiography. Some subjects are neglected for a good reason – they’re not interesting or important. You need to show how the historiography will look different by including your paper – what arguments are called into question, what new light is cast on bigger subjects, what new subjects are being developed that command attention. Sometimes people publish articles that give the overarching argument of a PhD thesis; sometimes they pick the richest or most provocative argument (perhaps from a single chapter). Third, you ought to be able to provide convincing evidence in support of your arguments. This isn’t easy within the scope of an article – which ought probably to be 8-10,000 words; it’s a real skill to learn how to select evidence that will fit within these limits and still carry conviction. How do you decide which journal to submit to? (You must only submit the same paper to one at a time.) The best course is to ask yourself which journals have published papers in your field that you have admired, or papers with which you have disagreed and would like to engage. Go for the highest-quality journal that fits this description – the one that publishes the work you consider to be the best in your field. If your work is accepted by that journal, people like you will also recognise it as standing with the best in your field. If you don’t succeed with the first submission, try the next journal down the pecking-order. This is likely to be a more specialised journal. Before you submit your paper, check your chosen journal’s website for their advice to contributors – how to format a submission, how to send it in. It’s polite to format the paper to suit the journal’s house-style; if they have an unusual style, very different from other journals, you can format it in a generic style so that you don’t have to keep re-formatting every time you submit to a new journal. For more details on what happens after your paper has been accepted, see publishing in a journal.



ECH Presenting Work – What happens in a viva?

A PhD viva is a unique opportunity to discuss your research with two experts. They will have read every word of your thesis and all their attention will be on you and your work.  Though any examination is nerve-racking, you should try to enjoy the viva; this detailed, thoughtful consideration of your work does not happen very often.

In contrast to most other European countries, UK vivas are rarely public events. There is no audience and very few people are in the room, often just the candidate and the two examiners one internal to your university and one from outside. In some universities another academic, who is not involved in examining the thesis, chairs the viva; in others the supervisor may be present with the candidate’s consent. Find out exactly what your university’s regulations for the conduct of viva voce examinations are.  The details varies quite widely, so make sure that you have the right information for your institution.

When preparing for a viva, remember that you are the expert.  Nobody else knows as much about your thesis as you do; the examiners will genuinely be interested in discussing your research and its wider implications.  Be prepared to explain how you came to this particular topic and why it merits dedicating three years of your life to it.  Step back from the detail of the thesis to think of its general importance.  How does it contribute to the historiography?  Why should historians outside the immediate field be interested in it?

A few days before the viva, think about how you will explain your thesis to the examiners. You should practise summarizing it; prepare both a five-minute explanation of the thesis and a two-minute one.  Identify what you think is most important and original about it and explain how the thesis relates to the published literature on the topic.

It’s also worth thinking carefully about method.  Why have you approached the topic in this particular way? Think about how to justify and explain your approach. Be prepared to answer a critique. Remember that, if you’re pushed on a particular point, you can bring the question back to the thesis by, for example, accepting that you didn’t do ‘x’ but pointing out that you did do ‘y’.

Don’t leave preparing for the viva to the last minute. You must read through your thesis carefully beforehand but do this at least 48 hours (and preferably a week) before the examination date so as to give yourself some distance from the thesis. This will help you to convey the overall shape and purpose to the examiners rather than simply the research detail.

During the viva itself, listen carefully to the examiners. Be polite and don’t worry if you have to ask for a question to be clarified or if you appear nervous. The examiners will be expecting this and suggestions and advice given by your examiners will be invaluable and should try to put you at your ease. Think before replying to the questions and give considered responses.  Look to develop a dialogue with the examiners, a probing but rewarding discussion on your work to date.  And remember that any piece of work benefits from this kind of review. If you are hoping to publish the thesis then the suggestions and advice offered by your examiners will be invaluable.

Return to main Presenting Work page




ECH – Open Access

All historians should want their work to be as accessible as possible – and so they ought to support ‘open access’ (i.e. free access to their work posted on the web), wherever possible.  But there are limits to what is possible without sacrificing academic freedom and quality.  For example, publication doesn’t come free – there are costs involved in editing your work and mounting it on the web.  Furthermore, as an author you have certain moral rights to have work properly used, reproduced and attributed, which not all forms of ‘open access’ respect.  What follows is a very rough guide to a complicated and ever-changing landscape.


You have the right to do whatever you want with your own manuscripts (drafts of papers, conference presentations, etc.), so long as you’re not using content that belongs to other people (e.g. images, music, major portions of copyright works).   Why not post them on your own website or a site such as academia.edu?  But you will need to consider what rights over your own content you wish to give to others.  You’ll need to indicate the terms on which you are posting.  If you say ‘all rights reserved’, then you are of course permitting others to read your work, but not to use it in any other way.  If you are happy for others to use your work – for example, to copy and distribute it – Creative Commons has designed a range of licences that you can use to indicate exactly what uses you are happy to permit (see https://creativecommons.org/licenses/).  The most popular of these licences among humanities scholars tends to be CC  BY-NC ND.  This allows others to copy your work in full and distribute it intact, but not to alter it or to combine it with their other work in ways that make it difficult to distinguish yours from theirs, and not to make use of it commercially.  Just add the relevant CC logo to your paper when you upload it to show under what terms you are making it available.


This is a particularly vexing subject.  Most universities are now developing institutional policies for dissertations produced by their own students, but these vary widely.  All universities require you to deposit your dissertation in their libraries (or, increasingly, their online repositories), but many offer ‘embargoes’ that prevent others from accessing your work without your permission for a period of 2-6 years or longer. This is because, in our discipline, dissertations do not (as they often do in the sciences) bring together work that has been published elsewhere in article form, and they are often seen only as rough drafts for a book that will eventually be published.  It’s not clear whether the availability of your dissertation will interfere with your ability to publish a book based on it.  So the embargo gives you some control over the dissemination of your work until it is published.  The American Historical Association encourages universities to permit embargoes of up to 6 years (see http://blog.historians.org/2013/07/american-historical-association-statement-on-policies-regarding-the-embargoing-of-completed-history-phd-dissertations/).  You should find out for yourself what is your own institution’s policy.

 Journal articles

This is the area where open access has extended furthest (reflecting the centrality of the journal article in the sciences, where the open access movement began, and upon which many policies are based).  Funding bodies are now often mandating open access – that is, if they pay for your research, and you publish it in the form of a journal article, you must make it open access according to certain prescribed conditions.  So your approach to your own journal articles will depend on who (if anyone) has paid for you to do your research.  The RHS has prepared information sheets explaining the open-access conditions for those funded by the research councils (e.g. AHRC, ESRC) – which are particularly stringent – and those employed on teaching and research contracts by universities who are eligible for submission to the REF.    A good general rule of thumb – you don’t need to pay an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) or any other publication fee in order to ensure ‘open access’ for your article.  Any publisher that insists on payment without offering free open-access options merits the closest scrutiny.


There are at present no mandates from any UK funders of historical research (except for the Wellcome Trust who fund research in the history of medicine) requiring open access for work published in book form, including chapters in collections of essays.  (Some mandates refer to ‘conference proceedings’, but this refers to journal-like forms of publication common in the sciences and does not cover collections of essays published as books, even if they derive from conferences.)  In other words, you are unlikely to be required to put your work published in book form on open access anytime soon – and certainly not for the next REF (c. 2020).  Because publication of books is a good deal more expensive than publication of articles, there are formidable barriers to providing open access for books in ways that do not discriminate against un- or under-funded historians (i.e. most of us!).  Nevertheless, there are some interesting experiments in open-access publishing for monographs and if you have an opportunity to take part in such experiments, without paying a publication fee, we encourage you to do so.  We’re happy to provide informal advice on this subject to people who email us about specific schemes.

Return to main ECH Open Access page



EHC Presenting work: Intervening in academic discussion

Questions after a seminar or conference paper provide an important opportunity to participate in academic debate. This can be nerve-racking. Some university cultures have a robust style of questioning, which can lead to a critique, for example from the panel chair, to which you are expected to reply. In others, questions are much longer than the repartee style of question and answer than is common in Britain. Try to find out as much as you can in advance about what to expect.

It is also worth thinking about the kind of questions that you might be asked. Don’t plan this out in too much detail—you will have to improvise at least some of your answers—but try to identify some ‘big’ questions about your work and plan a response. These questions can be hard, particularly when compared to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of doctoral work.  Historians often ask about the nature and limits of sources, so it’s definitely worth having something to say about them.

It’s useful to note down what people are asking you, particularly if the panel chair is taking several questions together. Be prepared to defend your position, both in replies to questions and in the questions you put to others.  Conferences are great opportunities to intervene in debates; if you don’t agree with a critique of your work then say so, and explain why.  Again, it’s worth knowing your audience. Interdisciplinary or general audiences tend to pose broader problems while specialist audiences may pose more complex, detailed questions. Whatever the framing, however, always take the question seriously.

Conferences also provide opportunities for discovering other forums for debate and outlets for your work, such as newsletters, virtual discussion groups or blogs. Getting involved in some of these will allow you to exchange ideas and address wider audiences, including public ones.

Return to main ECH Presenting Work page.


ECH – Preparing and presenting a conference paper

Conference papers are shorter than seminar papers—commonly twenty minutes—and run more tightly to time. You will present as part of a panel, and you should determine the kind of audience you are speaking to—whether specialist or general, historical or interdisciplinary—and be clear as to how long you have to speak.

There are limits to what you can do effectively in twenty minutes.You will need to ensure your paper is accessible to non-specialists without boring the specialists or using all your time on background. It is a good idea to speak more slowly than you think you need to; rushing through material is difficult for an audience, particularly a multilingual one.  More than ten pages of double-spaced typescript will be difficult to deliver properly in twenty minutes. It is also hard to convey more than three to four substantive points in this time.

If you are using PowerPoint slides or other visual aids, be clear about what you want them to do. They are a supporting act; what you say is the main attraction. You should use slides selectively and not include too many, particularly in a short paper. There is no need to provide a summary of your text on the slides: a paper is not an undergraduate lecture. In contrast, providing maps, tables or other complex data in visual form can add to the paper and save you time. If you are using pictures, ask yourself what they add. Does the image contribute to the analysis or simply illustrate the subject?  If you are presenting a quote, remember to give people time to read it.

The main pitfall in using a PowerPoint presentation is privileging format over content. It is surprising how often slides work against what’s being said during a presentation by, for example, presenting too much tangential material. Allowing the PowerPoint to drive the paper can also be difficult if you have to adjust timings. If an earlier speaker has run over, you may be given less time than you were expecting. Plan how to shorten the paper if you need to. What are the key points you want to convey?

If you are giving a paper abroad, familiarize yourself as much as possible with the academic culture. Twenty-minute papers are standard in the UK but may be shorter elsewhere. How large are the panels? This is likely to have a direct bearing on how long you have to speak and how intently the audience is listening. If you are taking part in a workshop rather than a panel conference, papers will probably have been circulated in advance. In this case, you will need to make the spoken paper distinctive; reading out a paper the audience has already read is pointless.  Ask advice from friends and colleagues who know the country and approach the conveners as to what you should expect. Try not to be put off if you are interrupted by the chair; they will simply be trying to manage the time.

Conference participation and particularly responding to questions is a key part of Intervening in academic discussion. The RHS encourages Early Career Historians by supporting conference travel in the UK and abroad.

Return to main ECH Presenting Work page.


ECH – Preparing and presenting a seminar paper

There is a lot of advice available on the internet; some of it is extremely detailed and not all of it is good. UK and US university websites are a reliable source of sensible advice but this can be prescriptive, and not all of it will work for you.  A perennial controversy is whether to speak from notes or a written paper. Don’t expect to find a definitive answer to this. Opinions differ and the advice is contradictory: ‘never speak from notes’; ‘reading from a script is mind-numbing’. The choice depends partly on you and partly on the kind of paper you plan to deliver.

Generally speaking, few early career historians are comfortable speaking from notes, particularly the first time they give a paper. You will almost certainly want to write it out in full though you may aspire to speaking from notes with more experience. Think of the seminars that you have attended. Which ones have really worked and why? How might you emulate some of the techniques the speaker employed? Play to your strengths; avoid devices you are not comfortable with—telling jokes doesn’t work for everyone—and focus on what you are confident you can do well.  If you have teaching experience, you may have used a similar exercise to prepare students for presentations. The principles are the same.

Many people prefer to give their first paper in familiar surroundings, with an audience of peers. Your university should provide such opportunities but you could also organise such a session informally. Always ask for feedback; there are real benefits to working collectively with people in the same position as you.

When you give a paper in unfamiliar surroundings, arrive in time to look around the room and check that everything you need is there and working. Be very clear as to timings. A forty-five minute seminar paper is a substantial undertaking, given that a double-spaced 12-point printed page will take around two minutes to deliver. This is a rule of thumb, not an absolute as you will want to engage with the audience, looking round the room or moving ‘off-script’ for emphasis or add a point of detail.This helps you look confident and pleased to be there, no matter how nervous you are.

When writing and practising the paper—which you should do even if you plan not to read it—it’s worth thinking carefully about prose and style. An oral paper is different from a written chapter: the argument needs more signposting and too much detail will be hard to follow. A discursive style works better than a literary one. Try to break the paper down into smaller sections and practise it several times. You might want to record it so you can listen back to it.  Put yourself in the listener’s place.  Can you identify the main points?  How much background knowledge do you need to follow it?

Other points you need to consider include visual aids and how to respond to questions. These are covered under Preparing and presenting a conference paper and Intervening in academic discussion.

Return to main ECH Presenting Work page