Class of 2018: History repeating itself

Leanne Smith

Published on 30 November 2018

Wearside mum Leanne Smith picked up the Blackwell Prize for Best MA Historical Research at the University of Sunderland’s Winter Graduation ceremonies, for her analysis of an infamous sect in the 1650s – The Fifth Monarchy Men - charged with reforming society in order to bring about the second coming of Christ.

No stranger to stepping on stage and collecting prizes, having already been awarded the annual Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize last year for the best undergraduate dissertation: ‘The Struggle over Female Labour in the Durham Coalfield, 1914-1918’, Leanne says it’s “fantastic” to be recognised once again for her efforts.

She added: “Hearing the news that I’d won this prize was amazing and means so much to me. Going to University was the best decision I’ve ever made. I had been working in call centres and the left the job in 2009 to have my son. I had always wanted to go to University and thought this could be my chance to change my career. I also wanted to show my son that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard.”

Leanne, 38, signed up to Sunderland in 2014 and achieved a First Class degree in History and thanks to the confidence she’d gained and with support from her lecturers she decided to sign up for her Masters.

“I have loved studying at Sunderland and would recommend it to anyone,” says Leanne. “All of the academics in the history department are so supportive and approachable.”

Her winning research over the last year looks at a period of history in the aftermath of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), and the backdrop of Oliver Cromwell’s leadership.

She explained: “My research focuses on the use of religious and secular languages by the Fifth Monarchist Preacher John Rogers to form his republican thought during the Interregnum period. The Fifth Monarchy Men were a millenarian sect which emerged after the execution of Charles Stuart. They believed that they were charged with the role to reform society in order to bring about the second coming of Christ.”

Although her dedicated research methods remained the same, her Masters subject was a departure from her earlier awarding winning work at undergraduate level when she unearthed original research into how the Durham Mining Association (DMA) resisted pressure from colliery owners and the government to accept the introduction of female labour during the First World War.

“My research showed that the Durham Mining Association resisted reforms, because they believed it was necessary to continue the status quo. The DMA were a very conservative body, who believed that a sexual division of labour was essential to coal mining communities such as the Durham coalfield.

“Women contributed not just domestically. It was women who built the Durham mining community, who held together the family unit and brought stability that made it possible for the coal mining industry to exist – and made equality impossible in the minds of the Durham Mining Association.”

Delphine Doucet, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History, said: “Leanne has been an excellent student since the beginning of her undergraduate study. She is hard-working and this was reflected in everything she did at university. I had the pleasure of supervising her MA dissertation on the Fifth Monarchist. Her work was well-argued and added a new perspective on the importance of this group in the political crisis of the 17th Century. I am looking forward to reading more of her work when she starts her PhD.

And what is her advice to other students beginning their own educational journeys at Sunderland?

“Enjoy every minute and make sure you step out of your comfort zone!”

Leanne will be presented with her prize by Rachel Henderson, Manager of Blackwell's in Sunderland, when she graduates today the Stadium of Light.

She will beginning studying for her PhD in the New Year.