Sarah C Hartley
MA in Modern History (2014)
PhD in History (2017)

What Academic Pathway led you to do a Masters?

I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2013, an MA (Hons) in History from the University of St Andrews, and went straight on to do the taught Modern History MA at York.

What modules did you take and what was the topic of your dissertation?

As well as the core module, I took modules on ‘Global Visions and Local Action: The History and Politics of International Health’, ‘Japan's Empire and the Making of the East Asian Order: From the 1860s to the Cold War’, and ‘Twentieth Century China’. At undergraduate I primarily took modules on eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe so I greatly enjoyed expanding my knowledge of History both temporally and geographically during the MA.

Building on my new-found interest in international health I wrote my dissertation on 'Who Counts, Counts: ‘International Health’ and the Measurement, Prevention and Treatment of Malnutrition, the South Pacific 1945-1960’, examining why and how the Colonial Medical Service, the UN agencies, and the South Pacific Commission (a regional development organization) measured malnutrition in Fiji differently.

Did you receive any external funding via a scholarship or bursary?

No, I was lucky enough to be able to live with my grandparents during the MA, they were great company and kept me well fed!

Any areas of interest and challenge whilst researching your dissertation?

Researching my dissertation was the first time I had used archives that were not based at my University. It was quite exciting visiting various specialist libraries and archives, but each is different – so it took a day or two to understand how each one was organized. I soon discovered that the political situation in Fiji and the South Pacific were very complicated, but that gave me plenty of scope to use my MA as a springboard towards a PhD project.  

What advice or words of encouragement would you give those currently, or thinking about, pursuing a MA?

Don’t be nervous about taking modules on themes, periods, or regions that you have never studied before, you will be well taught and it can be very rewarding. In terms of practical advice for researching your dissertation, email archives well ahead of time for advice, build in an extra day or two during your research trip to figure out how the archive works and to follow up on discoveries you might make there, take two camera batteries if possible, and bring a jumper (they can be cold even in Summer).

What are you doing post MA?

I was fortunate to join my MA supervisor Prof. Sanjoy Bhattacharya’s Wellcome Trust funded project, "Primary Health Care in South Asia and Beyond", as a PhD student straight from completing my Masters. I am currently writing up my thesis ‘Feeding Health: the international and Colonial Politics of Maternal and Child Health in Fiji 1945-1975.’ I’m based at the Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH), which is attached to the History Department, and which is also a WHO Collaborating Centre. I’ve recently had an article ‘Interweaving Ideas and Patchwork Programmes: Nutrition Projects in Colonial Fiji, 1945-1960’ (which is loosely based on my MA dissertation) accepted for publication by the journal Medical History. I enjoy being part of a friendly team that promotes inter-disciplinary work on themes of broad medical, scientific, environmental and public health importance.

Why would you recommend York?

I think York is a great place to study as a History postgraduate for several reasons. You will be taught and supervised by academics who are leaders in their fields and there are also always a variety of talks by visiting speakers going on, whatever your particular interests. We are lucky enough have use of the Berrick Saul building - a good study space and a place to meet postgraduates from across the humanities (there is even cake on Thursday afternoons). I also like the ethos of the University as a whole, I think York is a socially conscious institution, which comes through in everything from the student run societies to the annual York Talks and Festival of Ideas. York as a city is safe (just watch out for the geese!), has good transport links to the rest of Britain, and is big enough to be interesting and small enough to get around on foot. Most of all it has a rich history of its own - from the Romans to the railways!'