About

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After a degree in Linguistics and teaching English abroad to speakers of other languages for a while, I went back to study Chinese at Oxford and its own extraordinary modern history, writing my MPhil thesis on education as a trigger for emigration. A few years later, after working in Asia, I joined the Ethical Trading Initiative to manage China-based projects improving workplace conditions in international supply chains. I worked with NGOs, trade unions and corporate retailers to effect change at factory level which opened my eyes to employment conditions abroad. I was then invited to bid for £230,000 of project funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to investigate migrant forced labour back in the UK, during which I worked alongside Anti-Slavery International, the Wilberforce Institute and academic institutions.

On the side, I'd been running a
family history research service and was exposed to the very real impact of nineteenth and twentieth century precarious employment on the British ancestors of my clients. My academic brain was telling me it wanted to know more. After a Master's in English Local History at Oxford specialising in the Victorian and Edwardian working classes, I decided to stay on to do a PhD. It seemed a natural move to combine my interest in this period with precarious work and migration experiences.
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One of the largest occupational sectors at the time was domestic service, an industry almost entirely staffed by women. Hidden behind walls of respectability and silence, though, workers were often highly vulnerable. I stumbled upon the foreign aspect via my research in family history. As a genealogist I’m addicted to the census returns as a source for clues and finding elusive ancestors, so coming across foreign women working with and for the British intrigued me. Female, working class and 'alien', these women were at the very edges of society. From Norwegian cooks to Jewish refugee housemaids, Indian ayahs to Japanese housekeepers: why did they come and how did they experience life in a foreign land?

And so my DPhil research was born.

I continue to run my genealogy business,
Ancestories, and carry out freelance research on ethical trade compliance in the garment industry, both of which help to shape my work on the history of women migrant workers.
Photo credits: Robert Scoble and Bill Brandt