I come from Port Talbot in South Wales and some years ago returned to live and write in Wales, this time on the north Pembrokeshire coast. In between, universities largely determined where I lived. I was an undergraduate student in Medieval and Modern History at Birmingham University, did an MA at Swansea and a doctorate in Manchester. There followed almost thirty years lecturing, initially in Kent then in London. From 1989 until 2004 I was Professor of History at the University of Greenwich (previously Thames Polytechnic). I loved working with students, especially mature students who had previously lacked the opportunity to study History in any depth and I particularly enjoyed research supervision. My own research and publishing developed alongside my teaching. Initially fascinated by labour history (my first article, published when I was 22, was on the aftermath of Chartism in South Wales) I was part of the generation influenced by E.P.Thompson’s ‘History from Below’ and had been taught at Birmingham by Dorothy Thompson.
In the early 1970s women’s history came into its own and I was fortunate enough to be part of that exciting development, working on women’s employment in Victorian Britain and later on gender history and suffrage. My first book ‘By The Sweat of Their Brow’ was a pioneering study of women’s employment at British coalmines. I also wrote an award-winning book for schools called ‘Coalmining Women’. I was a founder member of the editorial board of the international journal ‘Gender & History’.
In recent years I’ve become fascinated by the creation and structuring of biography and now see myself as a biographical historian, writing about the period alongside the person: a modern version of ‘Life and Times’. Biographies of the translator, businesswoman and collector Lady Charlotte Guest (co-authored with Revel Guest) and the American-born actress Elizabeth Robins have been followed by an unusual and revealing experiment: writing the lives of a husband and wife. They are the war correspondent Henry W. Nevinson and the journalist, suffragette and international humanitarian, Evelyn Sharp. I was a Charter Fellow at Oxford University (Wolfson College) when researching these two biographies. Michael Holroyd has recently described the Nevinson biography as ‘a pleasure to read’. My last biography was a life of Lady Rhondda.
Throughout this time I have maintained my interest in Welsh history and am a vice-president (and former Chair) of Llafur, the Welsh People’s History Society. I edited the first book of essays on Welsh women’s history. I was an Honorary Professor at Aberystwyth Univiersity for ten years and now hold that position in the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University. I’m a former member of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
I have also sat on the Advisory Council of the Institute of Historical Research and been a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Learned Society of Wales and a member of Literature Wales and the Society of Authors. In July 2014 I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.