Celebrating Women in the Department for International Women’s Day

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Yesterday, Thursday 8th March, was International Women’s Day.  To celebrate this, we decided to champion some of the amazing women, staff and students, in our department and their excellent research.

Check out their profiles below:

  • Dr Jacqui Turner

  • Dr Mara Oliva and Beth Snyder

  • Beth Rebisz

  • Victoria Page

  • Eva Van Herel

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Dr Jacqui Turner

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On 6th February 2018, the UK celebrated 100 years since some women and all men were given the right to vote. Dr Jacqui Turner, Lecturer in Modern History, has been advising on a range of projects to mark the centenary in creative and unusual ways, both in Parliament and locally in Reading.





“My research is on early female pioneers in politics, particularly focusing on Nancy Astor, who was the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons and whose archive is held at the University of Reading. Nancy became, in her own words, an ‘ardent feminist’ and represented the causes of women and children in the House of Commons.”

“I am proud to call myself a feminist and I want to unashamedly encourage women to engage in politics and with their community; I want them to believe that they can effect change and have it all if they choose. For me, the centenary of the partial female franchise is a particularly inspirational time which should be celebrated, yet also used as a reminder of how far we still have to go in achieving equality.”

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Read on to find out more about the many local and national events Jacqui has been involved in to celebrate the centenary of the partial vote.

Celebrating Suffrage through Dance

“I worked with Jennifer Stokes (a doctoral student in Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading) and Reside Dance, a local group that aims to bring Reading’s culturally diverse community together, to celebrate the centenary. Through the Alliance for Cohesion and Racial Equality, Jennifer secured funding from the Government Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme to create a public dance and debate that communicated the struggle of the women’s suffrage movement with historical guidance from myself. It was a challenge but it was also a warm, emotional and fundamental foray into the heart of my own research.”

“On 6th February 2018 Reside Dance performed in Reading town centre, concluding with an audience discussion on the issues of rights and equality that are of importance to women and girls in Reading today.”

(You can read more about this event here).

Does Violence Win Rights?

“On 7th February I had the honour of joining an all-female panel to discuss whether violence wins rights at the National Army Museum. The panel, which included Laura Coryton, Shanae Dennis, Leyla Hussein, Dr Naomi Paxton, Alexandra Topping and myself, drew on the militant suffrage campaign and other examples of violent and non-violent campaigns. We explored the variety of tactics women have used throughout history to campaign for the right to vote, and how the tactics and goals have changed today.”

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Celebrating Forgotten Women

“On 8th February I was delighted to introduce an event, organised and run by students from our Departments of History and English Literature at the University of Reading, called ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’. This event, inspired by the centenary, featured students and members of staff presenting their forgotten heroines.”

Working with Parliament: Vote100 and Astor100

“I have been working closely with Parliament in the lead-up to the centenary, as part of Vote100, and will continue to do so throughout 2018 and beyond. In 2016 we disrupted the male tone of parliament by installing a bust of Nancy Astor in the House of Commons committee corridor and producing two banners and a leaflet about Nancy. This has become a new subject on the tours, and MPs and their visitors see it when they walk by.”

“Myself and UMASCS are also contributing to the ‘Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition in Westminster Hall, open 27th June – 6th October 2018. The exhibition tells the story of women in Parliament – their campaigning, protests and achievements – and I am contributing a recreation of Nancy Astor’s mailbag, enabling the public to interact with the letters she wrote and received during her time in Parliament.”

“At the end of 2018, Vote100 will become Astor 100 managed by me here at Reading. We will be organising lots of events with academics and the local community, enabling our students to engage with the public through history.”

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Dr Mara Oliva and Beth-Snyder
Beth Snyder was one of 89 students presenting at the University of Reading’s annual Undergraduate Research Showcase, and she won in the Heritage and Creativity theme for her project: “Climate Change Diplomacy: A Study of President Barack Obama’s rhetoric”. Her supervisor, Dr Mara Oliva, also won the very first UROP Supervisor of the Year Award.

For her research project Beth focused on how President Obama’s rhetoric portrayed the issue of climate change, presented US plans and policies, and addressed both domestic and international audiences. Beth’s research is now forming the basis of two articles that she is writing with Mara and Dr Sophia Hatzisavvidou (a rhetorician from the University of Bath who also worked on the project). Beth also presented her work at the American Politics Group Conference in January 2018.

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Image 1. Beth (third from left) with other UROP winners.  Image 2. Mara takes a photo to mark being the first winner of the UROP Supervisor of the Year Award.

Beth said of her UROP experience:

“I decided to apply for this project because I had been thinking about pursuing a career in research and I wanted to gain some experience. American history is one of my key interests so I knew I would enjoy working on this topic.”

“I really enjoyed being able to spend a solid six weeks researching this topic – on a much larger scale than my previous research projects. I also loved the fact that I was researching something that hasn’t had a great deal written about it – it makes the opportunities that can come from this really exciting. I have also built a great relationship with Mara, who is extremely encouraging and created a good working environment, enabling me to feel comfortable steering the project in the direction I chose.”

“This was a fantastic experience and I would 100% recommend this to any student who enjoys researching. For me it confirmed that I want to carry on researching in the future and I am now planning to do a Master’s and a PhD, but even if you’re not pursuing a career in research this process develops many valuable transferable skills that employers will love. Not only this, but the opportunities that can come out of a UROP project are amazing – how many people can say that they have co-written an article and presented at a conference at undergraduate level?!”

Mara commented that:

“This UROP project was an extremely productive and enjoyable experience. Beth worked exceptionally hard and produced some fantastic results which have set very solid foundations but have also highlighted new research questions and research paths to follow up. Beth is clearly an exceptional student and she will make a brilliant historian, should she choose to pursue that career, and I hope she will stay at Reading to do her MA and PhD.”

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Beth Rebisz
Research area


“I’m currently studying as a PhD student in the History Department, with my research focused on the Kenyan Emergency from 1952–1960 and the Zimbabwean war of liberation between 1964 and 1979. My research seeks to examine international humanitarian actions instigated due to the effects of conflict, contextualising the associations between local contexts, colonial actions and global humanitarian trends during this period. This project will have a gendered approach in examining the role of female welfare workers and the relationship they had with displaced indigenous women and their children. It will also assess counter-insurgency warfare as an inherently gendered practice.”

What inspired you to study History?

“I was always interested in history as a child, mainly instigated through learning about my Polish heritage and the experiences my grandfather faced at the hands of the Soviet Union. However, it was mostly due to incredibly enthusiastic teachers and lecturers at secondary school and university that has encouraged me to pursue this interest as a career. The further I progress through higher education, the more I realise the importance of studying history in regard to influencing change for tomorrow.”

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far during your studies?

“Although I am incredibly proud of how I performed during my undergraduate and masters degrees, my biggest accomplishment during my studies will always be establishing the History Society alongside my brilliant friends and committee members. It was hard work, but also rewarding, the most fun I had at university, and resulted in so many friendships being made because of it. We have so many fond memories of our time in the society and I feel very proud to see it continue for more and more undergraduate students to enjoy.”

What advice would you give to prospective students wanting to study History at university?

“My main piece of advice would be to try modules on topics you have never studied before – you’ll be surprised where they take you. The secondary school curriculum is still quite limiting in the breadth of what you could be taught. I came to university under the impression I would continue to focus on World War Two and the Russian Revolution and that would be all. Instead I tried a whole range of modules which led me to a PhD in African history with plans to research in Kenya this summer. Having an open mind could take you a lot further than you had originally planned!”

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

“I have been fortunate enough to have had many people inspire me along my way through school and university – most of whom are incredibly strong, hard-working women. In particular, my mum who always showed me that regardless of her gender, she could work through the barriers that were put in her way and demanded the respect she deserved in her career and personal life. I would also not be doing a fully-funded PhD if it had not been for my supervisor Dr Heike Schmidt. Heike introduced me to African history and inspired me to continue this study with her incredible passion for the continent. She has encouraged me, critiqued my work and continues to remind me that I am capable in what I want to achieve.”

What are your aspirations for the future?

“In the future I would like to have completed my PhD successfully! From there I really hope one day to be able to work for a foundation focused on a global education-for-all initiative. As long as I am doing something of use in the world (no matter how minor or major), and particularly in the progression of gender equality, I’ll feel incredibly happy and fulfilled.”

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Victoria Page

Research area

“I am currently studying for a PhD in Medieval History. My research looks at the impact of medieval theology on the ideology surrounding the witchcraft stereotype, utilising Peter Lombard’s Sentences and its commentaries.”



What inspired you to study History?

“My family! My mum and granddad both have Classics degrees and my dad was a History teacher. I ended up switching from Maths to Classical and Medieval Studies after my first year at university.”

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far during your studies?

“Managing to do my PhD while also working full-time. It’s hard work sometimes but it means I can carry on with my studies even when there is limited funding available for students.”

What advice would you give to prospective students wanting to study History at university?

“Just try everything – there is such a broad range of topics and skills training available in your first years which allows you to really decide what area of History you might want to focus on. I studied Women in Medieval History, Magic and Witchcraft, Capetian France and plenty of other specialised modules – there is plenty of opportunity to work out what really interests you.”

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

“My supervisors – Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Professor Helen Parish. Anne in particular taught me a lot during my undergraduate degree and gave me a lot of advice when I was considering my PhD proposal.”

What are your aspirations for the future?

“No idea – I still have another 3 years to go before I finish my PhD!”

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Eva Van Herel
Area of work

“Executive Support Administrator at the School of Humanities.”

How did you get into this line of work?

“By accident. A friend suggested it might suit my personality and pointed me towards a vacancy.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“The people! While I’m a bit of a geek and can be happily absorbed in spreadsheets or mail-merges, the joy of work is in the people I work with.”

What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment in your career?

“Learning to give up on the right things. The word career doesn’t really apply as my work history is, shall we say, diverse. I’ve done a bit of everything. As a result I am not very high up the career ladder, and that’s all right with me. I have taught refugee children a new language, started a business and failed at it, was a stay at home mother, coded websites, taken photographs which have been used on greeting cards, and was recently Chief Hatmaker for Terry Pratchett’s Masquerade at the Progress Theatre.

At my day job, apart from keeping the exec support office ticking over, I like to have a project or two on the go. Next up is creating some short help videos on how to use the CRM software to edit the university websites. I’m also part of the group that created a community of practise for the Executive Support administrators, which brings together the almost 100 of us who are spread out all over the Reading campuses, and I look forward to keeping it the useful group it has become.”

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to embark upon a career in the same field?

“To be honest I have no idea. Advice is no use if it is not made to measure. If you wish generic advice, read Marcus Aurelius. Please do something that will make you happy – life is a journey, if your job is not a good fit, try something else!”

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

“The people in the toastmasters group I joined over ten years ago. I found my self-confidence there and learned a lot.”

What are your aspirations for the future?

“I’m to be costume manager for the Jesus Christ Superstar production at the Progress Theatre this autumn, although that’s a voluntary role of course. At work I’d like to wiggle my way into a role that focuses even more on projects or that would allow me more interaction with people, working on some common goal.”

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