Studentship Profile: Amy Smith 

Amy Smith, We are Bristol History Commission Studentship

University of Bristol Course: Phd Candidate, Department of History, Bristol University. Researching the roles and reputations of female ale sellers in C17th south west England.

Studentship: We are Bristol History Commission Studentship

Why did you want to take part in this opportunity?

I had been following the work of the We Are Bristol History Commission, which was set up in the aftermath of the toppling of the Colston statue in June 2020. The Commission was dedicated to exploring a number of questions, not limited to: what have we remembered – and forgotten? Where have we come from?

These are questions that interest me greatly; both as a historian and as a Bristol resident. When the Commission paired up with Brigstow to fund four studentships, I jumped at the chance to apply my historical research skills to something I felt could be truly useful for other residents.

What did your role involve?

I produced a booklet for schools entitled Connecting with Black Lives in the Archives. Aimed at year 8s, it dispels any idea that non-white communities only laid their roots in Bristol in the twentieth century. By introducing Cattalena, a Black woman living just outside Bristol in the early 1600s, it gives young learners an insight into how historians work from fragments of information about people’s lives. They are given their own case study to work from, in the form of a 1613 burial register that details the death of Katherine, a Black servant at the Horsehead alehouse in Bristol. Students are asked to discuss what life might have been like for Katherine, and what we can tell about her from this small bit of information alongside some contextual reading.

To make this booklet, I got in touch with one of the leading historians of Black life in early modern England, Dr. Miranda Kaufmann. She provided some helpful advice and it was a joy to work with someone with a high profile who is doing such great work. I also worked with many secondary school teachers to ensure the booklet is written in a way that is engaging and accessible for year 8s. I was invited to present the booklet to a meeting of Gloucestershire’s secondary school history teachers, and got a small look into the complex realities of their day-to-day jobs.

Did anything about your experience of working on the project surprise you?

This project led to my first public speaking experience outside the University (as a historian), which was surprisingly enjoyable. I am not a natural public speaker, but being able to get deeply involved in a research project meant I was confident in my topic, and was able to create some great connections for future employment opportunities.

What new knowledge or skills did you gain?

This project represented my first major research into Black life in early modern England, and has inspired ideas for future research projects. Additionally, the booklet was shared relatively widely on Twitter, which has directly led to paid research projects with Bristol City Council.

Brigstow’s Studentships are paid opportunities for research students at the University of Bristol to experience undertaking interdisciplinary and coproduced research. You can find out more about Brigstow Institute Studentships on our dedicated webpage.