Dr James Morris
MA in Modern History (2012)
PhD in History (2016)

What academic pathway brought you to a PhD?

I have been at York since 2006.  From 2006 to 2009 I studied a BA in History.  I then took a year's break before returning to York to study for the MA in Modern History (part-time).  After that, I went straight into the PhD.

What was the title of your thesis and a brief synopsis?

My thesis, "Oxfam in Kenya, 1963-2002", examined the role that Oxfam played in Kenyan development based on archival material from Oxford and Nairobi, as well as numerous interviews.  Whereas studies of NGOs and their place in the development apparatus have been numerous and prominent, many lack the historicism and empiricism to fully articulate the variegated functions that NGOs perform in diverse "host" countries.  The PhD project concentrated on illuminating the shifting mechanisms, dynamics and discourses of Oxfam's work in Kenya, and revealed the organisation's complex and changeable relationship with the Kenyan government, which sought to capture the rhetoric and resources of the development encounter for its own elite political purposes.  The thesis concludes that historicised in such a way, development interventions take on a much messier appearance than overarching theories of development allow.  As such, the thesis forms part of a wider endeavour to test the predominant theories of social science as regards NGOs and development empirically, and above all, historically.

Any areas of interest and challenge whilst researching your PhD?

I very much enjoyed my six months researching in Kenya, and particularly the task of navigating the Kenya National Archive, which relied on careful planning, building good relations with archivists and a slice of luck!

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

I am hugely grateful for the support of the Wolfson Foundation, who provided me with a generous scholarship that allowed for such a lengthy period of work abroad.

What advice or words of encouragement would you give those currently or thinking about producing a PhD thesis?

As regards words of encouragement, I would say simply that doing a PhD is a challenge (of course), but also a great privilege.  As long as you remain positive when problems arise, have a good long-term plan of action, and are open to new ideas and questions, then it is a fantastic and throughly enjoyable experience. It lived up to and exceeded all of my expectations.  I would do it all over again if I could!

What are you doing post PhD?

Post PhD I am writing up parts of the thesis into articles and crossing my fingers for post doctoral positions.

James Morris Photo