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Postgraduate study

Over twenty doctoral students completed their PhDs in History under the Centre’s predecessor, the Centre for the Study of War, State and Society.

The CHVC has a more inter-disciplinary focus and we welcome enquiries from intending postgraduate students with interests in Histories of Violence and Conflict broadly defined.

Here are some key themes in our research. Many are linked to particular projects, some of which are described below:

These should help guide you if you are interested in postgraduate study:

The ways in which researching and writing about violence affect the scholar are little studied and poorly understood. Several Centre staff are interested in these questions, which we explored at a preliminary conference jointly convened with Violence Studies Oxford in October 2018. Emily Bridger, Gemma Clark, Stacey Hynd, Richard Overy, Nicholas Terry and Martin Thomas all spoke at this event alongside colleagues in Politics and Terrorism Studies from Oxford and Queen’s, Belfast.

In the tradition of Hannah Arendt, the acculturation of communities to differing levels of violence has generated fruitful cooperation across the History-Political Science divide. Whereas social scientists have dwelt most on logics of violence and big data analysis, historians have concentrated on the violence of the everyday, much of it non-lethal, locally focused, and highly gendered.

In History, Gemma Clark, Stacey Hynd, Catriona Pennell (Penryn Humanities), and Gajendra Singh have all published and continue to work in this field.

In Politics, Sarah Bulmer (Penryn), Sergio Catignani, Irene Fernandez-Molina, John Heathershaw, David Lewis, and Farah Mihlar have all worked on calibrations and impacts of political violence in differing regimes and among particular groups.

Colleagues in Archaeology (Oliver Creighton, Laura Evis, Catriona Mckenzie) are also familiar with differing forensic, osteological and anthropological techniques, which register the impact of everyday violence on bodies, spaces, and communities.

Clark’s inter-disciplinary work on arson epitomises the strength of this research area.

A growth area in historical research on violence, the study of emotions is being used to study traumatic events, memories and legacies of violence. Supplanting older ‘cultural’ understandings of subjects’ responses to violence, it offers different perspectives on dichotomies of victim-perpetrator, participant-observer, and combatant-non-combatant. Several Centre staff are interested in this field, Bridger perhaps having gone furthest thanks to her UKRI FLF award.

Colleagues in Mediaeval (Gregory Lippiatt) and Early Modern (Sarah Toulalan, Richard Ward) studies will also help shape crucial wider debates around the essentialism (or not) of violence as an emotional/human experience.

Researchers in English such as Tim Kendall and Mark Steven, variously working on war poetry and emotional responses to social conflict offer additional potential for inter-disciplinary analysis in this field.

Among colleagues in Politics, interests centre on emotional registers and public understanding of terrorism (Stéphane Baele); critical theories of subjectivity and military identity (Sarah Bulmer (Penryn) and Sergio Catignani); and collective memories of ethnic cleansing (Kledja Mulaj).

Collective violence is a symbolic language, which marginalised groups have often used to communicate their grievances to hostile regimes. Several colleagues study the characteristics of such performative violence, from property destruction and arson to public violence against authority figures. A related area of research interest is the issue of when protest turns violent or when and how violence becomes a legitimate resource for protestors, questions closely tied to the threat or use of violence by the police or military in reaction to collective protest events. The research here approaches violent protest as more than the absence of peace and order on the streets, viewing it as both a tactic and a strategic tool for social movements and incumbent regimes.

Centre staff have built up considerable research depth in this field thanks in large part to the Leverhulme Understanding Insurgencies network led by Garless Curless (Co-I.) and Martin Thomas (PI). New strands of research into civil wars, forced population removal, rights abuses, and insurgencies and environmental spoliation suggest that this will be one of the larger thematic clusters within the Centre.

In Politics, Baele’s work on the conceptualization of terrorism, Fernandez-Molina’s work on ‘frozen conflicts’ and juridical recognition of insurgent movements in western Sahara and Libya, and Heathershaw & Lewis’s ongoing research into political violence in Central Asia all intersect with the Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies theme.

Much the same holds for research into the lived experiences, the juridical status, and the vulnerability of civilians in conflict. The so-called ‘civilianisation of war’, its implications for human rights especially, is one of several themes that should allow the Centre to bring in colleagues working in differing periods, differing regions, and different disciplines. Aside from colleagues in Politics, particularly Baele, Catignani, Mihlar and Mulaj, there is also potential for cooperation with staff in Law, notably Agnieszka Jachec-Neale and Aurel Sari.

Other avenues for research collaboration exist with specialists in English and Film Studies, variously working on collective memory, poetry and literary culture (Will Higbee, Danielle Hipkins, Tim Kendall, and Helen Vassallo), and cinematic representation of war, ‘home fronts’, and dystopian violence (Debra Ramsay & Mark Steven).

Stacey Hynd works on colonialism and capital punishment, while Richard Ward has published extensively on British capital punishment and corporeal violence since the 18th Century.

Colleagues working on slavery and other unfree labour regimes, including Anderson, Curless and Hanley, are interested in historical patterns and cultures of punishment and coercive behaviour.

Colleagues in Archaeology with interests in forensic investigation, skeletal remains and evidence of the cultural and environmental impacts of violence offer other disciplinary perspectives on violence and the body.

This research strand allows us to bring into the Centre several colleagues, principally Europeanists – among them, Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, Claire McCallum, Tim Rees, Matt Rendle in History as well as Maria Thomas (a Spanish Civil War specialist) in Modern Languages – who have not been well served by History’s existing range of research centres. The distinctiveness of revolutionary violence – itself a hotly contested topic – offers numerous opportunities for research collaborations across departments. Gregory Lippiatt also brings his expertise to the related area of violence and political reform.

The presumptive difference between mass violence and ethnically exterminatory killing, or genocide, is another subject that has defied much historical consensus.

Focusing on questions of intention, scope and practice, colleagues working in this field include Singh and Terry. In addition, several colleagues in Politics bring IR and Comparative Politics perspectives to the study of mass killings, notably in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s as well as in contemporary secessionist and sectarian conflicts. The same may be said for colleagues in archaeology (Laura Evis & Catriona Mckenzie) and film studies (Will Higbee & Debra Ramsay) working, respectively, on osteological evidence and forensic tracing of violence and on cinematic representations of massacre and war.

Potential for collaboration with recently appointed colleagues, Richard Anderson and Ryan Hanley, each working in slavery studies, is also strong.

Several colleagues work on humanitarian groups attempting to mitigate the human impact of conflict, on peace-building attempts to stop conflict or prevent a return to violence; or on human rights responses to rights abuses in warzones. Others study the ways in which cultural hierarchies of 'humanity' have allowed perpetrators of violence to justify their methods or the need for humanitarians or peace-builders to make accommodations with perpetrators of violence in order to secure humanitarian space. These are all themes central to the International Institute of Cultural Enquiry’s Human Rights & Global Justice funding stream. Collaboration with the new Institute, in addition, should open the door to wider inter-disciplinary collaboration, including those with colleagues in STEM subjects. Drawing on this research, centre staff are planning funding applications that focus on the complicity between humanitarian or peace-building projects and wider forms of violence (for instance, the ways in which refugee camps have sometimes helped support war economies).

Staff researching in this field include Kristofer Allerfeldt and Miguel Hernandez (Politics, Penryn), each working on facets of rightist extremism in the USA, Jim Crow racism, and violence against immigrants.

Other staff linked to History’s Centre for Imperial & Global History, among them Antic, Bridger, Hynd, Singh and Thomas, have longstanding interests in these issues, studying them through the prism of colonialism and historical constructions of ethnicity.

Colleagues in English and Modern Languages with interests in alterity and other cultural indicators of social marginalization in conflict-ridden societies (Steven, Maria Thomas, Vassallo) bring additional research insights to the study of violent prejudice.

The Centre enables us to bring together historians working on various facets of sectarian and terroristic violence (Allerfeldt, Clark, Hernandez, Pennell, Singh, Thomas) with colleagues in Politics at Streatham and Penryn researching terrorism and critical military studies (Baele, Bulmer, Fernandez-Molina, Naser-Najjib, Owen Thomas)