09 October 2020

My UEA Story: Janet Morrison

Name:  Janet Morrison 

School:  Art, Media & American Studies

Research area: PhD in Nineteenth Century American History: Free Women of Colour in Antebellum New Orleans 

Bio:  I am a mature postgraduate student who decided after many years of working in various professions, to realize my ambition of studying for a Doctorate. My research looks at the life experiences of five free women of colour in antebellum New Orleans. By focusing on the life stories of these different women, the thesis will provide a further examination of the societal, cultural and economic influences which governed their lives during this period. I wish to also demonstrate how these particular free women of colour used legal, economic and social systems in order to acquire a stronger position within the existing race and gender power structures. While most of the thesis focuses on women in the antebellum period, the final chapter looks at how their children fared after the Civil War, contrasting their lives with those of their mothers. This research has prompted more questions about the lives of Afro Creole women in the Reconstruction period, an area which to date has attracted very little study. Therefore, in the future, I would very much like to take up a post- doctoral position to continue my research on these families in the postbellum world of New Orleans. 

What is life as a postgraduate student at UEA like? Describe a typical day.

I try to base my day as if working regular office hours, so I don’t end up working on the PhD, to the exclusion of everything else. So, I normally start work at nine and finish at about six. There are occasions, when I have deadlines, when I might have to work later, but I generally do my best work during the day. I often work in the postgraduate area of the UEA library because I sometimes find there are too many distractions at home, If I go on campus I can also take the opportunity to have a break and a coffee with another student, and walk around the lake at lunchtime. 

Why did you choose UEA? 

I knew that it had a very good American Studies Department with particular strengths in the areas in which I was interested. It also has a reputation for being a lively and friendly university. Norwich is also a very desirable place to live in, as although it’s only a small city, it has a vibrant city centre. There is also the added advantage of beautiful Norfolk countryside and beaches nearby.

Any tips for choosing a project:

My main tip is to choose a topic that really interests you because three years is a long time to work on something that you think you should study, or have been advised to study. 

How is postgraduate study different to undergraduate study?

Although your supervisors are there to help and support, you must be prepared to work very independently. You have to discipline yourself and set your own deadlines for work to be completed. You also have to be extremely organized with your work, especially with recording your sources. There are Personal and Professional Development courses and workshops to help you with this, but the main impetus must come from you. 

What’s the social side like? How do you find the Postgraduate community?

The American Studies postgraduate community is friendly and supportive. There are meet ups in the postgraduate bar. If I am getting writer’s block, fellow students with similar research interests are always happy to meet for a coffee and a chat. The Students Union also provides activities and events for postgraduates, and I have met other postgraduate students through these. You have to make more of an effort to socialize than when you are an undergraduate, but you can still have a good social life.

What has most surprised you about your postgraduate study at UEA? 

In many ways it was actually easier than I thought it was going to be. I assumed it would be harder to maintain the momentum, but my interest in the topic has never flagged. I have had some lows, but not as many as I thought I would. Certainly, the support of my supervisors and fellow PhD students has also helped me through.

Any highlights of your experience?

Of course, it has to be my field trip to New Orleans. It’s no myth about Southern hospitality. I was a visiting scholar at the University of New Orleans, and they couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. At the archives, the Sisters of the holy Family Convent and the Museum of Free Colored people, everyone was pleased to help me with my research. New Orleans is such a magical place and I got to go the French Quarter every day. I can’t wait to go back. 

What kind of activities you have got involved with at UEA (e.g. networks, conferences, events, outreach) that have helped your research? 

I joined various associations such as the British Association for American Studies and the British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrAnch). Both of them hold regular conferences and BrAnch also organize conferences and workshops for Postgraduates, which I found especially helpful in networking and getting advice on various aspects of my PhD. 

What is writing your thesis or preparing for a viva like (if you’ve got there yet!) 

I am in the process of editing my thesis at the moment. It is strange going back to something which I wrote several years ago, but it is also reassuring, because I can see how far I have come, both in terms of knowledge and also written skills. 

What would you say to someone thinking of coming to UEA? 

Well, as a mature student, I would say it’s never too late. If you’re passionate about your subject and want to research it further, go for it, whatever your age! 


School of Art, Media & American Studies

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