I joined the OU as a Lecturer in Geography in March 2020. Prior to this I held two post-doctoral research appointments, the first one at the University of Nottingham (2013-2015) on the AHRC-funded project The Power and the Water, and the second at the University of Cambridge (2016-2020) on the ESRC-funded project Drivers of Entrepreneurship. In 2015-2016 I worked as a Lecturer in Landscape, Water and GIS at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. I completed my PhD in Geography at King's College London in 2013.
I am an historical geographer interested in questions of power, access and agency, which I have studied in the context of natural resources and ownership over water and land, as well as through the lens of women's agency in economic behaviour. Infrastructures, practices and institutions can take a long time to change, and what was created in the past often influences our behaviour and attitudes today. Through the study of historical interactions between people and their environments I aim to develop a better understanding of current institutions and practices. My work integrates qualitative and quantitative research methods, and I am particularly interested in Historical GIS. My research to date has been mainly focused on eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain within its wider global context and can be organised in two broad themes.
Environmental histories and geopolitics of water and subterranean resources
My doctoral research (King's College London, 2013) on the management of water in eighteenth-century London combined a spatial analysis of surface water with archival research. My thesis argued that access to water was increasingly mediated by private water companies as a result of the increasing distance between water and households. This research has been published in Technology & Culture, focusing on the importance of climate and topography in the development of London's water market, and in The London Journal, on the interaction between a commercial water supply and fire fighting.
My first postdoctoral project at the University of Nottingham (2013-2015) investigated the Derbyshire ‘soughs’ – underground channels driven to drain lead mines. Soughs were significant early-industrial features that had a profound effect on the hydrological landscape and as such were implicated in conflicts, including one involving Richard Arkwright’s water supply to power his first cotton mill. My research has used a close reading of several water-related conflicts to analyse the creation of vertical territory in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain, which has been published in a jointly-authored article in Geopolitics.
While this work was rooted in an historical context, the concepts are also relevant to present-day disputes surrounding fracking and the extractive industry. My future research builds on this understanding by critically examining the underlying political and cultural processes relating to historical notions of subterranean property ownership in an international comparative perspective. I will examine first, how subterranean vertical territories were created and later contested and, second, the role a fluid resource such as water played within ownership regimes based on a static territory.
Women in finance and business at the turn of the twentieth century
My second research theme addresses women’s agency in finance and business in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. My postdoctoral work at the University of Cambridge (2016-2020) investigated female entrepreneurship using quantitative methods on a newly created database of 9 million business owners identified through the 1851-1911 censuses (BBCE). This research brings out the contribution made by women in industrializing Britain: 30 per cent of business proprietors in Victorian Britain were women, as opposed to previous estimates of 3 to 12 per cent. A recent article in Social History reveals the much wider variety of entrepreneurial choices open to women of every age and marital status than previous studies have assumed, as well as the influence of marriage and motherhood on women's involvement in business.
My current research on this theme focuses on female company directors and the spaces they inhabited. A small group of women who have thus far gone unrecognised were active in corporate management before the First World War and therefore represent early diversification in the boardroom. In addition, I am working with colleagues in the OU Business School to study female investment behaviour through shareholding archives, with a particular focus on geographical aspects of risk and trust. Previous research emerging from this collaboration has been published in the Economic History Review.
Strategic Objective 10C in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Research Framework
Published in Knight, D. (ed.), The Derwent Valley – The Valley that changed the World (2016), p. 84.