This is a repost from 2016 featuring Dr. Simon Jackson discussing Leverhulme Early Career Fellowships. He is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the University of Birmingham, where he also holds a permanent lectureship in Modern Middle Eastern History.
What did you do your PhD on?
I did my PhD in the History Department at NYU, with a focus on French colonial history in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically the French League of Nations Mandate in Lebanon and Syria.
It looked first at how the First World War changed the economic dimensions of French colonial ideology, re-igniting debates about how colonial empire should operate economically, in terms of investment, raw materials, state-corporate relations, inter-imperial borrowings and rivalry, and overall what sorts of futures post-war capitalism might yield across the political-economy of empire. Key figures were economic vulgarizers and publicists – both French and among the Lebanese diaspora in particular – people who boiled down the case for imperial economic development to appeal to a wide popular audience or to politicians in search of talking points.
The central part of the PhD then concentrated on case studies of the politics of economic development in action, notably in Lebanon in the 1920s, a period when the structure of the Mandate as a colonial state, a civic order and a category of international law and politics was slowly crystallizing. Different chapters looked at the politics of tram boycotts in different cities of the Mandate, discussions about potable water supply in Damascus and the use of trade fairs to boost commerce: the common thread was the way in which state tendering processes and the granting of concessions to provide public services became a crucible for the elaboration and contestation of visions of the political-economic future, as the Mandate’s possibilities and promises curdled.
Finally, the PhD zoomed out to take in the role of the League of Nations in all of this, and specifically the way that the League’s developing role as a purveyor of technical economic norms, a centre for the production of principles and categories of global economic life – such the commercial Open Door imposed on the Mandates – made it a focus for debate and protest about what the French were doing to the political economy of Lebanon and Syria. In particular I looked at petitions from diaspora Syrians and Lebanese around the world, notably in the United States, that raised economic issues. The effort to look at the question at different scales took me to archives in Lebanon, Switzerland, France, the UK and the US, among others.
When, and why, did you apply for a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship ?
I applied for the ECF in March 2013 while I was a Max Weber Post-Doctoral Fellow at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy. I was applying for numerous post-doctoral and permanent positions at the time, and knew of the ECF through colleagues; the Max Weber programme and the History department at the EUI also provided very strong support for the job application process, which made applying easier. One thing that was particularly attractive about the ECF was that it provided three years of funding in which to develop a project in a measured, steady fashion. There are a lot of post-doctoral positions that only last one year and can’t give much respite from the application treadmill: it’s also hard to move with family for just a year.
Intellectually, meanwhile, I had developed my dissertation project in new directions by following lines of research on concessionary capitalism that had drawn me to work on the private archives of a Beirut Ford importer and automobile dealer in the 1920s. Finding these archives (through the encouragement of colleagues) had then taken me to Detroit to look at the Ford archives there, and to an effort to think about how the political economy of the Mandate sat within a wider, even global politics of development in which Fordism, in its various forms, was a coming force and an inspiration to colonized as well as colonizing peoples. So I wanted to write a book that could tell that story: the ECF seemed a great way to find the time to do so.
Crucially, I wanted to apply to do the ECF at the University of Birmingham in order to work with staff there including Ben White and Sadiah Qureshi. Ben White in particular, who now teaches at Glasgow, works on closely related issues and historiography and had often encouraged my work, and so there was a logical and easy-to-make case for fit between my project and the focus of the host university. I had also been following work being done in the Birmingham History department on topics like the history of humanitarianism and NGOs, and thought that would help me develop new areas of interest.
What tips would you give to anyone interested in applying for a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship ?
First and foremost, have a go. It’s a very competitive fellowship, like most early career positions, but the application itself is not unduly time-consuming, which is a boon.
Second, make sure that you establish a really clear case for the fit between your project and the proposed host university, in terms of specific staff and their interests and records and also in terms of the wider department, university and community: do your homework on this. The application should show how the fellowship will work for both sides.
Third, think big and be bold in your presentation of your proposal while remaining clear and specific about its details and how you’ll undertake it: the Leverhulme guidance provides lots of help about how to frame your application so it’s important to follow that. Bear in mind too that your proposal will be evaluated by specialists but also read by non-specialists in your field: you need to communicate your project clearly to them too. As with other applications, it’s worth getting colleagues and mentors to read a draft of your proposal and offer advice.
How are you finding the fellowship ?
It’s been wonderful. The Leverhulme Trust are very supportive but also let you get on with it, and they provide a generous research budget that is administered in a flexible and common-sense fashion that takes account of, say, finding a new archival source and needing to change your calendar and budget a bit. The structure of the fellowship means that the fellow can contractually do up to a day a week of non-research work – teaching, administration and so on, in the host department. I have been convening and teaching in the MA in Contemporary History and it’s been a great way to learn the ropes of the department without getting overwhelmed. I’ve also taken on a role as Director of the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History. The department generally has been extremely welcoming socially and intellectually, and administratively it has been supportive of my need to strike a balance between working on my research while being involved in departmental life.
Would you do anything differently ?
Not overall – I’ve been very lucky to hold an ECF and it’s given me time and scope to pursue my research.
Simon Jackson is Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Birmingham, where he directs the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History. With the support of a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, he is currently completing a book on the global political economy of French rule in Syria and Lebanon after World War One, and editing another, with Alanna O’Malley, on the interrelationship of the League of Nations and the United Nations. He has previously taught at the European University Institute in Florence, where he was a Max Weber Post-Doctoral Fellow, and at Sciences-Po in Paris. He earned his PhD in the History Department at NYU.