Case study

Historian's research inspired by East Midlands link to India

A trip to India opened up Oliver Godsmark’s eyes to the power of research - and a potential new career path. Oliver is now a Senior Lecturer in History, a Programme Leader for MA History and a researcher in our Identity, Culture and Representation research centre. And his research now informs many of the modules in our History programme.

The initial spark of interest

Oliver grew up in the multicultural city of Leicester. He soon developed an interest in History, particularly in South Asian cultures and societies. This was because he had so many close friends who came from a South Asian background. He says: “As a child, conversations with these friends and their parents helped generate an interest.”

Oliver was further introduced to South Asian history during secondary school, which created a moment of awakening. He was eager to explore history at university.

University was always a goal for Oliver, although he was the first in his family to go. He enjoyed education and he was excited to dive straight into his history degree.

He studied BA in History, MA in Modern History and completed his PhD (History) all at the University of Leeds. It was during his masters degree that Oliver had the opportunity to travel to India.

A trip to India and finding his passion for research

The idea of a trip to India was in the hope Oliver could use collected materials to support his dissertation. After receiving funding from the Royal Historical Society (RHS), Oliver went to India for two weeks in 2009 and spent his time in Mumbai and New Delhi undertaking his archival research.

This trip to India sparked a passion for research that Oliver didn’t know he had. Engaging with documents from the 1940s-50s gave Oliver a feel for Indian politics, culture and society in this period of time. This was just a starting point for Oliver and his research.

He says: “What really got me into research was the opportunity to go to India as part of my master’s degree, during which time I visited archives in Delhi and Mumbai. I was fortunate enough to return for six months whilst completing my doctoral research.”

Ultimately, Oliver went back to India to conduct more research in the archives for his doctoral research and thesis. For this trip, he received funding from the RHS, the Economic History Society, and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, as well as his PhD scholarship from the University of Leeds.

It is here that Oliver started writing his book which is his proudest achievement throughout his research career. His book ‘Citizenship, Community and Democracy in India’ was published in 2018, and he was excited to share it with interested audiences.

It isn’t a surprise that Oliver has been back to India multiple times since his first research project.

Oliver Godsmark in a classroom.

Going to India and using the archives there can definitely stimulate new research ideas for the potential future, and many more trips are to come.

Dr Oliver Godsmark
Senior Lecturer in History and Programme Leader for MA History

Inputting his own research into the undergraduate programme

Oliver joined the University of Derby as a Senior Lecturer in History in 2019 and soon became the Programme Lead for MA History. Teaching in higher education offers Oliver the opportunity to discuss and debate key ideas, controversies, and issues in history. This is something Oliver has always enjoyed doing.

He says: “I’m passionate about getting young people interested in history, particularly those who traditionally might not have had the opportunity to engage with history in a higher educational context.”

In 2020, the undergraduate History programme was revalidated to incorporate more global history and global perspectives. This provides our students with greater opportunities to engage. Oliver was able to include his own research and knowledge into many modules throughout this programme. His articles and his book are featured in the reading list.

Oliver says "I want to teach to help demonstrate the value and impact of doing a history degree for a whole variety of jobs and professions. This can be in relation to the analytical, critical, communication skills that a history degree provides, or a wider sense of historical literacy that comes from undergraduate study and can help us more effectively understand our contemporary world.”

How the University of Derby has helped

Building a relationship with Derby Museum

Oliver has developed a strong relationship with Derby Museum. This was supported by the University's Impact Accelerator Fund. Derby Museum is keen to gather information and expertise relating to South Asian, imperial and global histories. Oliver provides his input and knowledge to the museum and leads workshops with Museum Volunteers and Visitor Experience Assistants (VEAs).

He says: “I like to see my engagement with public audiences as a more dialogic process, whereby it is through conversations with interested parties that I can work out the impact of my work”

Opportunities are also created for our students to get involved in museum interpretation through the labelling of objects within collections.

Oliver hopes to use his relationship with Derby Museum as a model for other museums and institutions to get involved in this work.

South Asian community in the Midlands

Currently, Oliver is working on an article about the South Asian community in the Midlands. He wants to understand how relations between China and India in the 60s helped impact and shape their domestic politics and actions. It is very early in the process of this research project, so the impact outcomes are yet to be found. However, Oliver is hoping to show the links between local and global history in this context. He also wants to contribute to new readings of decolonisation and the Cold War during this period.

Exploring this also opens up a number of future avenues that Oliver could take his research through, as they relate to British and diasporic histories. With this, he can develop his current knowledge and share it through his workshops. Oliver is keen to explore more of how local places can be seen as nodal points connected to larger global themes and processes throughout history.

Oliver’s journey into research has shown that research doesn’t always have to be a career goal from the outset. A spark of interest can happen when you are least expecting it.

Oliver Godsmark in a classroom.

Dr Oliver Godsmark
Senior Lecturer in History; Programme Leader for MA History

Dr Oliver Godsmark is Senior Lecturer in History with an interest in colonialism, South Asia and India’s partition. His research focuses on citizenship and democracy, caste and tribe, and the South Asian diaspora. Experienced in public-facing history, he teaches across the undergraduate History programme, and is the programme leader for MA History.

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