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Graduate Research

Charlie Jeffries

Charlie JeffriesCharlie Jeffries is currently Lecturer of 20th Century History at Keble College, Oxford. Prior to this she was a pre-doctoral Fox International Fellow at Yale University, and she earned her PhD in History from Cambridge in 2017. During her PhD at Cambridge, she was also a Visiting Scholar at Boston University, and the recipient of the Dissertation Grant from the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Her doctoral research was on the location of teenage female sexuality in the US culture wars, from the 1980s to 2008. She has a forthcoming article in the Journal of American Studies on adolescent women in Reagan-era anti-abortion politics, which is now available to read online.

 “I am currently teaching a range of undergraduate papers in Global History from 1945 to present, supervise undergraduate and master’s research, and teach towards the MSt programs in US History and Women’s Studies. I am also writing up new research on the use of ‘zines’ (hand-made and distributed publications) by young women undertaking women’s studies courses in the US in the 1990s, and making the initial changes to my PhD manuscript to turn it into a book.

Going back into my dissertation has been exciting work; after all, my topic—the discourse surrounding teenage female sexuality in modern US history—is one which is constantly in flux, and in the news. My PhD contended with the concurrent fascination with and fear of adolescent women’s sexuality, and the race- and class-inflected construction of an idealized, sexually pure teenage girl in the history of the US culture wars. Though young women’s bodies have been inscribed with meaning and expectation across countless geographies and historical periods, my doctoral dissertation, ‘The Politics of Teenage Female Sexuality in the United States, 1981 to 2008’, sought to uncover the significance of adolescent women’s sexual behaviour within American public discourse in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. To what extent did young women’s sexual choices figure as a weighty moral issue alongside those of abortion and LGBTQ rights in the US culture wars? And how did this issue generate its own set of debates in this period?

In pursuit of these research questions, I spent months reading up on the secondary historical literature in the Cambridge University Library, attended relevant workshops, seminars, conferences and reading groups to help me think through the implications of my work, and planned and executed a number of lengthy research trips to archives in the US. Because of the American History research group that spans Cambridge, Boston University, and Princeton, I had the opportunity to apply for a semester abroad through a Visiting Fellowship at BU, which I held simultaneously with the Dissertation Grant at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. During the 2016-17 academic year, I also held the pre-doctoral Fox International Fellowship at Yale University, an opportunity that is open to PhD students at Cambridge (and eighteen other institutions worldwide) who work on topics that contend with inequality and conflict in various global contexts.

My research project benefited massively from taking place in the History Faculty at Cambridge. I had a supervisor who gave extensive feedback on my work, tips on relevant conferences and exchange fellowships, and excellent career advice. I also found a community that supported the various aspects of my research. The American History Seminar gave me the chance to see thinkers in my field introduce new projects, which was also incredibly informative as to how academic careers and publishing work.  The American History Workshop provided a relaxed space to work through each chapter of my PhD, with the input of Postdocs and peers in US history, and to help support my friends in my subject with their own work. The friendships I made through these forums made so much difference in getting through the toughest parts of PhD study, and we still support each other as we move into the academic job market, and move around the world. The support and encouragement I was given to undertake trips to US archives at Harvard, Barnard College, NYU and Yale meant that through my studies at Cambridge, I also benefited from the research resources and communities of all of these institutions. The rigorous training, extensive support and advice, and friendships that I gained through studying for the PhD in History at Cambridge meant that I wrote a dissertation I was proud of, and feel prepared for the challenges and opportunities coming my way as an early career academic.” 

Rosa Hodgkin 

Rosa Hodgkin

Last year the ESRC offered me the opportunity to take six months out of my PhD to go and work in the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team. The OIT was set up in 2017 to try to increase collaboration between academics and policymakers. I joined in September 2017, as the team started the second year of its two-year pilot.

It’s a very small team with a lot of demand from the civil service, so you definitely get to jump straight in - no tea making. (Genuinely, the civil service doesn’t have free tea and coffee so, really, no making hot drinks.)

It has been a great experience so far. My PhD looks at how political narratives about public attitudes to tax changed in the second half of the twentieth century. Working with the OIT has given me a practical understanding of how contemporary policymaking works, and the institutional structures and culture of the civil service.

The kind of understanding you get from actually doing something is very hard to get in other ways and it has definitely given me a different perspective on my research. That may have negatives as well as positives - it will certainly change how I read things in the archives - but on balance I think those risks are outweighed by the advantages of having an understanding of the process that goes beyond the theoretical. 

Doing a placement has also been an opportunity to try out a working environment that’s very different from academia, understand how academic research is used - or not - in the civil service, and how academics can make their research more accessible. At the most basic level I was amazed to realise that civil servants don’t have access to academic journals, so even if they had time to read an academic article, they wouldn’t be able to access it. The civil servants I’ve worked with really want to engage more with academic research and recognise its value, but struggle to access it in a comprehensible format. 

On a more personal level, it’s been good to work in a team environment again, as a PhD can be pretty solitary. It has also been a bonus to meet the other PhD students doing placements - working with postgrads from different universities researching completely different areas and seeing their perspectives and how they approach problems has been fascinating. 

“Interventions” project 

InterventionsWhat do intellectual historians currently investigate? And why is this relevant for us today? These are some of the questions our recently launched podcast series “Interventions: The Intellectual History Podcast” seeks to explore. Convened and produced by PhD candidates of the Faculty of History, the podcast promotes current research in intellectual history through conversations with early career scholars as well as established researchers.

Our podcast is for everyone with an interest in history and politics, in and outside of academia. Launched in June 2017, we have so far published five episodes on a diverse set of topics, ranging from early modern theories of politics, to the construction of political traditions, the nexus of empire and utopianism, as well as the emergence of globalism. Further conversations are lined up for Lent and Easter terms, covering the period from classical Rome to the twentieth century and featuring themes from the formation of Turkish republicanism to contemporary human rights discourse. The aim is not only to make debates in intellectual history accessible and comprehensive to a wider public, but equally to provide a chamber of reflection for contemporary theorists.

We usually begin by inquiring into the interviewees’ own biographical trajectory – what first brought them to intellectual history, what experiences were formative in their early career, and how they ended up working on the topics they currently work on. After this short introduction, we move on to discuss matters appertaining to the scholars. The aim of this ‘middle’ section is unashamedly oecumenical: both specialists and non-specialists alike should feel that they are able to engage on an understandable level with the topics discussed. Finally, we close off the episode by asking our interlocutors about their future plans and aspirations, and in what direction they’re headed.

All our episodes are freely available via iTunes and Soundcloud. If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you won’t miss any updates on new episodes!

Daniel Allemann, (Gonville and Caius College 2015)
Anton Jäger, (Girton College 2015)
Charlotte Johann, (King's College 2014)
Valentina Mann, (Christ's College 2015)



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