ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Jowita A. Thor
University of Strathclyde
The Fellowship will be an invaluable opportunity for me to disseminate knowledge about Scotland’s forgotten history of marginalised, working-class women. My thesis was born out of social justice debates on Irish Magdalene asylums and the politics of redress. Magdalene asylums were residential institutions aimed at reforming women deemed in need of religious conversion and resocialisation. The twentieth-century Magdalene asylums in Ireland have dominated the current research field. Most of them were run by Catholic convents and many of them aimed at incarcerating inmates for life. Although they no longer exist, their history has a presentist perspective due to their abusive nature and ongoing debates about the complicity of the Irish state, Catholic Church, and Irish society in the coercive treatment of Magdalene survivors.
In Scotland the Magdalene women included former prostitutes, as well as women who engaged in extra-marital sex, were victims of sexual and physical abuse, were former prisoners or who struggled with alcohol addiction. Despite their prolific use, there had been no comprehensive nation-wide study of Protestant Magdalene asylums. My thesis was the first such account for the period of 1797 – 1914 and identified around 25 Magdalene institutions. The last such institution closed in 1957 in Glasgow. Through my detailed historical account, I prepared ground for comparing the historical trajectories of Ireland and Scotland, as well as asking what social and legal factors determined major differences between these institutions in Ireland and Scotland.
Goals for the fellowship:
During my Fellowship, I will undertake research on the origins of the current laws regulating prostitution in Scotland. It will deliver a genealogy of Scottish laws, of relevant social work and of conceptualisation of prostitution across social classes. My pre-liminary findings show that there is a striking continuity between the Victorian and current laws in Scotland. This research will be an important resource for legal experts, independent government advisors, social workers, and sex workers activists. It will show the need to reframe the current debates by pointing out the continuities during the last 200 years from which we can learn to propose innovative ways of talking about commercial sex. The Fellowship will be a major steppingstone for me towards further grants and fellowships during which I will be able to undertake a major research project on the socio-legal comparative history of prostitution in Scotland and Ireland.
The Fellowship will give me time and resources to make my research available to people outside academia. I will popularise the history of Scotland’s ‘fallen’ women, prostitution, and Magdalene asylums through walking tours in collaboration with local tour companies, speaking at BBC Radio/Podcast, and creating a commemorative plaque and information board in the Dalry Cemetery that was located near one of the biggest Magdalene Asylums in Scotland, the Edinburgh Magdalene Asylum. This will have a significant impact on cultivating Scottish historical heritage among tourists, local population and international audience.
The activities and research I will undertake during the Fellowship will have a major impact on my career development. It will give me time and resources to enhance my doctoral thesis through additional research, publish my first monograph and a new article, and highlight the social and economic impact of my work. It will help me gain expertise as a legal historian – a career path I want to continue. Working with Professor Jane Scoular, who is one of the leading legal voices on commercial sex, and being able to dedicate a lot of time towards public engagement will strengthen my profile as an interdisciplinary researcher.
Advice for future applicants:
Probably the most important piece of advice for me would be: download all forms and start drafting your application well in advance (4-6 months). Don’t just drop ideas but start filling the forms in. Preparing an application under time pressure adds a lot of extra stress not just for you but also for your colleagues. At the same time, clarify exactly how your institution will be able to support you and when it would best for them to receive your drafts. Always expect that someone somewhere is going to forget about your email, request, or form that they need to submit or send to you. Never assume that your colleagues will remember about the external deadlines. Despite their best intentions they will inevitably be overwhelmed by other grant applications and other commitments. Be as proactive as possible throughout the process.
Something that I have not done but should have was clarifying my access to the library. I took it for granted that as a Research Fellow I would have full (or at least workable) access to the library. On my first day I experienced a shock when I found out that my employment status didn’t allow me to use any digital resources without which I am not able to do my research. If it is not resolved I will need to access other university’s libraries through my friends’ accounts. Either way: this is unnecessary stress that I wish I had clarified months ago.