Professor Sarah Stockwell
Professor of Imperial & Commonwealth History
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
When I was a child I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather. He’d left school when he was about 13 or 14 but always read lots of history and shared that interest with me. When I came to thinking about university he helped me prepare my application. Once at university, I loved studying so many more periods and subjects than had been possible at ‘A’ level, and when I finished my undergraduate course, wanted to continue.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My research interests concern the twentieth-century history of imperialism, and especially, British decolonization. I originally intended to study more early modern history at Oxford, but after spending a post-graduation gap year in Hong Kong, at that date still under British control, I wanted to learn more about the history of British imperialism and switched to a different masters course instead. While at Oxford I particularly enjoyed lectures on African decolonization, and this has remained the focus of my research ever since.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
Although on a permanent contract, I have worked part-time for the last fourteen years. This is unusual within the academic profession and I would like to think that I have successfully managed an academic career while also adopting a family-friendly approach to working. As a historian I spend most of my time working as a lone-scholar, but those occasions when I have been able to collaborate with others - especially in relation to various conferences I’ve convened and books that I have edited – have been particularly rewarding.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
When I joined King’s in 1992 I was fortunate to teach alongside some inspirational colleagues whose commitment to teaching and to their students went far beyond what was strictly necessary. One, King’s emeritus Professor, P.J. Marshall, a distinguished historian of British imperialism and India, bequeathed to me his tray of mugs which he had used for serving coffee to all his undergraduates, typical of the friendly atmosphere which is one of the nice things about King’s History.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
Since having three children, I have relied on the support of my husband as we constantly juggle our family and work commitments. He is also my technical adviser, helping me sort out various computing problems! I’ve also been fortunate in my colleagues and heads of department, not least as they’ve supported me in my bid to combine an academic career with family responsibilities. Most recently a Leverhulme Fellowship has afforded me invaluable research time. Since I joined King’s with my PhD still to complete, the fellowship has given me more uninterrupted time to focus on research and writing than I have had since I was a research student.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
For the last fourteen years I have been very lucky in being able to remain on a permanent contract while working part-time, allowing me to spend time with my three children as well as maintaining my career. This has enabled me to be at the school gate some days and also to get to school concerts, plays and sports days more easily than if I worked full time. When we go on holiday I don’t take work with me to ensure that I spend quality time with the family.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King's?
As a historian I am very lucky to spend my time reading, researching, and teaching subjects that are intrinsically interesting. I especially enjoy working with my undergraduate and graduate students on their research projects. My own past and current research explores aspects of the history of a variety of organisations and institutions beyond the state and over the years I have felt very privileged to spend time in some of these examining their records. This year, for instance, I’ve spent time working in the Royal Mint, Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, and the Bank of Ghana in Accra.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
It can sometimes be a struggle to manage different teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities – especially in term time when confronted with deadlines on all fronts. But I strongly believe that there is no hard and fast division between teaching and research. The best teaching is research-led, and teaching certainly helps inform my own research, not least because students often come up with very different perspectives on subjects to my own.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
It’s important to be flexible in juggling the various demands of an academic career especially at different life stages. When I had very young children travel was difficult and that complicated my research career but I was able to focus on projects that were more manageable in my circumstances.