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YEAR ONE, DONE ✅: First year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship reflections


A well known phrase says that "time flies when you are having fun" but in my case, I would argue that "time flies when you are working HARD!" My head has been down & I have been busy typing, interviewing, presenting, participating, planning & budgeting away! I am amazed that a year has gone by so quickly which makes me realise that the remaining 2 years of this fellowship are likely to go just as fast! I like to write (though it is often difficult to find the time) because it helps me to get my words out, to articulate my thoughts & therefore to make sense of something. This is what this post is all about- to make sense of the first year of my Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship.


What is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship?


For those that don’t know what a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (ECF) is, in a nutshell, it is a 3-year research opportunity that provides those at the start of their research careers in the Sciences, Humanities & Social Sciences with the space, time & resources, as stated on the website, "to undertake a significant piece of publishable work". This means that to support my research project, I am paid a salary, I have access to research funds & the institutional support from Cardiff University e.g. I am guided in my research project by two mentors who I meet with regularly. It can also be seen as a development opportunity as, by the end of this fellowship, I will be a more experienced researcher with a 3-year track record as a Principal Investigator (PI), which will hopefully aid in gaining a permanent academic position at a UK higher education institution or elsewhere. You can read more about the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowships including eligibility, how to apply & much more here.



Side note: Interestingly, one of my interviewees challenged me about accepting funding from the Leverhulme Trust due to the problematic nature of Lord Leverhulme’s wealth. This is an important consideration but is one that is best described by W.E.B. Du Bois’ (2007: 2) concept of ‘double consciousness’ where he explained it as:


"..a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness…one ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder".

In my case, I change the "American" to "British" & the "Negro" to "Black". In other words, as a Black person in a white supremacist world, we constantly have to navigate & make decisions that can be seen as in opposition to our core being & our humanity. These decisions are often part of our survival too. What I tend to do in these situations is to weigh up the pros & cons (which I have) when accepting such awards. Moreover, while it isn’t an excuse, honestly, if I were to explore the underpinnings & boycott every (historically) wealthy family/person, trust, organisation, institution etc. then I would not be able to do anything because many (if not all) are literally built on anti-Black racist, sexist, classist & overall deeply exploitative & problematic foundations! So as I said to my interviewee, I am fully aware of the contradictions of Black life in which this award symbolises & it doesn't sit easy with me, but as always we move!


Centring the source of the stream


With the help of many amazing colleagues & family members, the Leverhulme ECF research proposal that I developed is titled ‘The source of the stream: Centring the enslaved Africans who built Penrhyn castle’. Using my surname ‘Pennant’ as a catalyst, key & link to Penrhyn castle in North Wales- built & once owned by the Pennants of North Wales, & now belonging to the National Trust, I will be exploring the hidden histories, contributions & experiences of the enslaved African people in Jamaica who toiled on the Jamaican plantations owned by the Pennants, for generations, & from whom I proudly descend from. I aim to document & highlight their sacrifices, experiences & the ingenious ways they managed to survive- which has been overlooked in existing narratives. I use archival & document research alongside focus groups, expert, local & descendant oral history interviews to piece together a fuller understanding about who the enslaved African people were, in order to educate (myself & the masses) & to recognise their enormous contributions to the Pennant family of North Wales, the local Bangor community, the wider North Wales region & Britain as a whole.



Photo credit: Franklin


It is hoped that once I have all this information, I can co-create educational resources- in the broadest sense & not just for schools- to decolonise the public memory of slavery while also centring the enslaved African people in Jamaica a.k.a. the source of the stream of generational wealth, the source of one family’s upward social mobility & the source of the development of Bangor & the surrounding areas. This research will take me on a 3-year journey starting in the UK then to Jamaica & back to Africa (TBC exactly which country), to reverse the triangular slave trade route.


Can I just say that this is what I love about research- how it starts with an interest or an idea, how it enables the creation of a way to explore it further & the opportunities & possibilities it opens along the way! I am grateful that I have been given the time, space & resources to embark on a research project connected to my passion & I hope that it can inspire others to do the same!


Year 1 developments

Gaining ethical approval


This year, I completed the UK leg of my research. This meant that, before I could start any of my research, I gained ethical approval from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences (SOCSI) Research Ethics Committee. This process ensures that any research that includes human participants adheres to ethical principles which includes the consideration of factors such as risks, safety, harm, honesty, integrity, consent etc. It is a very important dimension to all research & I remember learning that a key reason why it is a compulsory part of research is due to huge ethical failings in historical cases such as the Tuskegee experiment which was studying the effects of syphilis amongst poor African-American men between 1932 & 1972. As I am using interviews & focus groups as methods, I completed an ethics application, research integrity training, developed my interview/ focus group guides, created necessary research resources such as posters & flyers, information sheets & consent forms etc.


Fieldwork


I also had to plan my research trip to Bangor which included travel, accommodation & scheduling some initial interviews & key places to visit. Once I got to Bangor, I spent the majority of my time at the Bangor University Archives & Special collections looking through the Penrhyn castle collection. As a sociologist by training, I have absolutely NO experience working with archives & so, helped with a brief introduction by the archive staff, using my transferable research skills & with the help of my wonderful research assistants, I developed a way to identify, read through & save archival material of interest. When I wasn’t in the archives, I was interviewing experts or locals, visiting & observing local places to see what remnants I could see of the enslaved African people in Bangor, in the memory of the locals etc. Overall, it was a productive 5 weeks spent there.


Overall in Bangor & elsewhere, I conducted 27 interviews online, in person & on the phone with experts (academics, archivists, curators, activists etc.); descendants (with the surname ‘Pennant’) & locals (who live & work in Bangor). FYI, these categories were not exclusive e.g. I interviewed experts who were also locals. As I write this, I have transcribed most of my interviews & I have begun the initial analysis process. I hope to finish transcribing all the interviews very soon & begin with the next stages of the analysis with the help of NVivo- a qualitative computer-aided software- & connecting my archival material that I collected with interview themes.


Image credit: African Proverbs Page


Other bits & bobs...


Alongside my research, I am a staff member at the School of Social Sciences (SOCSI) & actively involved in other academic/research-related pursuits which means that, though this research project is my main priority, I am expected to participate in other activities. This has meant that I have participated in relevant events such as presenting my work-in-progress at the Memory Studies Association conference, as a contributor on BBC’s Free Thinking in conversation with other amazing scholars/artists doing similar work to me (listen here) & at National Trust & National Museum Wales | Amgueddfa Cymru seminars & workshops. I am preparing & looking forward to presenting at some more in the coming months! This is part of the reason why my transcribing has been on pause!! As a full-time academic researcher without any teaching & interaction in general, I enjoy presenting my work as it allows me to maintain my public speaking skills & for my work to connect with those it is supposed to. I am also involved in my School’s activities & hold roles there too. So yes, I am blessed, booked, busy & enjoying it all!


Challenges


While the year has been productive & great, it hasn’t been without challenges. Challenges include gaining my research funds in a timely manner which is VERY important amidst a striking university sector & a national cost-of-living crisis! I have also become more & more aware & invested in safeguarding my mental health & wellbeing & those of my participants too as this research involves a lot of emotional & spiritual ‘heavy lifting’- amongst other things! The more I research & the more I learn, I also see (& am experiencing) just what a contested space I am venturing into & how there remains unbalanced & unchecked power & privilege in these spaces. It has also increased my interest in the heritage sector as a whole as I am understanding more & more about its importance in creating & preserving the national identity & memory of society.


Next Steps: Year 2


So what next for year 2? Preparing for the Jamaican leg of my research & reflecting on what I can do better based on this year- e.g. how many interviews are realistic to conduct, & maybe saying ‘no’ just a little bit more to invitations? I am still contemplating.


Photo credit: Aviz


Thanks for reading & be sure to stay connected with my research journey by dropping me a message, checking my website & following my social media (which can be accessed at the bottom of this page) for updates.


References


Du Bois, W. E. B. (2007) The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Cosimo Classics.



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