Stuart Morrison

Medieval and Early Modern Studies PhD

Having the Cathedral Archives and Library on your doorstep is a real bonus.

What attracted you to this area of study?

I studied English literature at undergraduate level and have had an interest in history from an early age. Medieval and Early Modern Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has enabled me to bridge the gap between the two.

How did you find the transition to postgraduate study?

I like to have structure in my work so I really enjoyed the Master’s year because there was actually a lot of contact time, more so than during my undergraduate studies. There is a significant step up in the intensity of the work you have to do at postgraduate level, so I found the number of class hours very helpful. But, going from that to the PhD, I quickly had to figure out how to impose my own structure. I now have monthly deadlines for handing in written work to my supervisors and have to balance my own research and teaching undergraduate seminars. It’s important to stay focused and be disciplined with my time. Having so much to do can be a little daunting, but it’s also very exciting.

What are you researching?

I’m looking at the religious history of Britain in the early modern period, in particular, the major disruption and change experienced by the Church of England. I am researching the impact these changes had on Parish-level priests, focusing on a father and son who were both priests working during that time, to understand how they, in different ways, negotiated these difficult areas of changes in belief.

How have you found the supervision process?

I have known my main supervisor, Catherine Richardson, who is based in the School of English, since the second year of my undergraduate degree so we have a long-standing working relationship. My second supervisor, Kenneth Fincham, is a professor of religious history and he has been particularly helpful in guiding me through the historiography of the period. As my work straddles both disciplines, it has been brilliant to have them both involved in the supervisions. They are able to step back when I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but then intervene if they think I might be wandering off topic. I have found their support invaluable.

What’s been the highlight of your studies so far?

I had an article published in the Early Modern Literary Studies journal at the end of last year, which came off the back of an essay I wrote for one of my Master’s modules, Word and Image. That was really exciting!

What have you found the most challenging?

Standing up and speaking at conferences has been the biggest challenge for me. However, you are encouraged to face your fears head on and learn to really articulate your ideas. Public speaking gets easier with experience and I’m a lot less anxious about it now – it’s not as scary as it used to be.

What about the resources available for Medieval and Early Modern Studies students?

Having the Cathedral Archives and Library on your doorstep is a real bonus. If any of the special modules taught at Kent are in any way related to the resources held in the Archives and Library, the lecturers actively encourage you to go down there and engage with the material. For my Master’s thesis, I looked at the online catalogue and found that the relevant books were based at the Cathedral. It meant I was able to simply walk down the road and do my research there. From Canterbury, it’s also easy to travel to the British Library in London, where a lot of the material I need for my research is based. That’s very handy.

How have you funded your studies?

For the PhD, I’ve been awarded a studentship by the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE) Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The consortium brings together a group of universities to work collaboratively across disciplines and hosts lots of different events. I am regularly invited to attend conferences and workshops – they provide a great opportunity to acquire new skills as well as to network with fellow research students from various institutions and find out more about the work they are doing.

What do you enjoy most about being part of MEMS?

I like the fact that it’s such an interdisciplinary centre, bringing together people from different disciplines such as English literature, history, architecture, archaeology, European culture and languages. There are so many approaches you can learn from. The Centre organises lots of extra-curricular events, too, from weekly seminars with invited speakers where the whole department comes together, to specialist masterclasses at the Cathedral. There’s so much going on.

What do you think a further degree gives you that a first degree doesn’t?

It makes you take responsibility for everything you are doing. I have matured a lot since beginning my postgraduate studies – I’m growing in confidence all the time. I’m now at the stage where I think what I’m saying does matter in some way and that I’m actually making a contribution to the field.

What are you planning to do next?

I’m hoping to go on to do postdoctoral research and then follow an academic career. I’m trying to gain as many skills as I can during my PhD. The Centre has been very encouraging in helping me to gain the right experience, whether it’s networking at events, presenting at conferences, writing journal articles or teaching. All these things will not only make me more attractive to potential employers but will also help me become a better researcher.

What advice would you offer to someone thinking of undertaking a research degree at Kent?

I would say do it! Firstly, make sure you choose a topic that you are really passionate about. Don’t be afraid to approach potential supervisors and discuss your intended research with them – academic staff always welcome these types of approaches. Once here, get involved in as many things as you can. However, don’t let your research consume your life; make time to relax and do other things. It’s important to maintain a good work-life balance