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Personal profile

Academic Biography

Joan Heggie is a Research Fellow in History in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law and a member of the Centre for Culture & Creativity.

She is currently Principal Investigator on a British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust project: 'Women as capital investors in nineteenth-century Yorkshire: Evidence from the Registers of Deeds' (June 2021-May 2023). In her role as a Research Fellow, Joan has strong links to community groups, including being a member of the Cleveland and Teesside History Society and regularly gives public talks across the region about her research. She is also a member of the Women's History Network (WHN) and the British Association for Local History (BALH).

Since coming to Teesside in 2002, Joan has worked as a researcher on several projects. From 2008-2011, she led the British Steel Archive Project, a large collaborative project with Teesside Archives, which generated new avenues of research in Teesside’s industrial history and women’s social history. Research exploring women's involvement with property using the North Riding Register of Deeds during the 18th & 19th centuries is ongoing.

Joan has a BA (Hons) in History, Gender & Politics and a Masters and PhD in Women’s Studies. Joan’s PhD (University of York, 2005) explored the experiences of lesbian soldiers within the British Army to more fully understand how institutional structures and policies regulate both gender and sexuality by controlling the female body. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, this research revealed how lesbians managed and negotiated their different identities as women, as soldiers and as lesbians. This expertise in how women transgress gender and sexuality boundaries continues to be an underlying theme in Joan's research, leading to a new collaboration with Professor Sarah Carter (University of Alberta) to write about a cross-dressing female farmer from the early twentieth century, 'Miss Jack May'.

Within the University, Joan takes a lead in supporting the wider Equality and Diversity strategy by challenging stereotypes, raising awareness and helping to break down the barriers that prevent staff and students achieving their potential. She is a member of the LGBT+ Staff Focus Group.

Summary of Research Interests

Joan’s research focuses on several areas of interest:

Women and property - Using the Registers of Deeds to investigate women’s relationship to land and property across Yorkshire since the late 18th century is an area of interest that Joan has been working on for the past few years. She has been successful in gaining external funding from both the Economic History Society and The British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust for her research. 

Women's involvement in property (2012-2017) - In her first project (partly funded by a small grant from the Economic History Society), Joan worked with volunteers, student researchers and a Research Assistant at the North Yorkshire County Record Office in Northallerton to compile a database of each transaction for two pilot periods (1784-90 and 1885-1889). An extensive gender-based analysis of the database was carried out, which provided information about each woman's family connections, place of abode and occupation. During the final phase of the project, archival and biographical resources were used to reconstruct selected women’s lives. These combined methods helped to establish how women were involved in property transactions over time and contributed to the wider debates on women as social and economic actors. The datasets for periods 1784-90 and 1885-1889 have been made available via an online search facility to increase public access, as well as via Mendeley under Creative Commons license (see Datasets). In addition, all women's wills and transactions containing only women have been transcribed. Further work is ongoing regarding the size and value of the property, as well as analysis by type of transaction. Additional archival research has helped to inform biographical reconstructions of selected women’s lives. These combined methods have helped establish how women were involved in property transactions over time and this research has contributed to the wider debates on women as social and economic actors. A book chapter providing the analysis and results of this study was published in November 2019 (see TeesRep publications).

Women as capital lenders in nineteenth-century Yorkshire: Evidence from the Registers of Deeds (2021-2023) - The overall aim of this two-year research project, which is funded by a small research grant from the British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust (SRG2021_210721), is to investigate the role that women played as capital lenders in the expansion of industrial towns and development of middle-class suburbs in nineteenth-century Yorkshire. Drawing on original documentation from the Registers of Deeds for the County of York, which offer an unique system for tracking property transfers, this project will study a large quantity of previously unresearched mortgage documentation from the late 1880s, focusing in particular on gendered patterns of behaviour and women's investment strategies in Middlesbrough and Scarborough in the North Riding. In the second phase of the project, data for two towns in the East and West Ridings, each with a different economic base, will be collected to undertake a comparative study across three industrial towns (Middlesbrough, Halifax and Hull) to investigate the similarities/ differences in female investment strategies. How might such investment by women in the expansion of industrial towns be better understood in the wider social and economic context of urban growth and changing legislation regarding married women's control over their own wealth, however modest? Were these patterns similar to other towns with a different industrial base? 

 

The history of the growth of Teesside and the global impact of its iron & steel industry is another area of interest. Using the British Steel Collection as the primary resource, Joan is exploring the companies which came to Teesside in the 19th century and the influential individuals who contributed so much to the industry. Joan published a book in 2013 on Middlesbrough’s Iron & Steel Industry which contains approximately 180 images from the Collection. From 2017-2019, Joan worked with Kirkleatham Museum as part of the 'Steel Stories: Curating a landscape of rapid change' project. After the closure of the SSI (UK) blast furnace in 2015, Joan compiled a number of oral histories from individuals affected by the closure. These oral histories, as well as Joan's expertise on Teesside's industrial past, were used within the Steel Stories year-long exhibition, which opened in April 2019 and was the winner of the 'Small Museum' category of the 'Museums Change Lives' awards 2019 (Museums Association).

After discovering an album of prints about steel making by Viva Talbot in Teesside Archives, Joan has carried out extensive historical and biographical research into Talbot’s life. This has included developing exhibitions of her original artwork. Several venues in the north east have hosted these exhibitions, including Middlesbrough's Institute of Modern Art (mima). Joan has carried out extensive research on the Talbot family home, Solberge Hall (near Northallerton), and is compiling a catalogue of Viva Talbot’s work.

 

Joan's interest in local & regional history focuses on the ways in which the industrial narrative of Teesside and the wider Tees Valley can be more fully understood by exploring the biographies of individuals who were, in some way, involved in its growth. These include (in addition to those already mentioned above): Benjamin Talbot (industrialist); John Ross (architect) and Margaret Wright (photographer).

 

The blurring of gender and sexuality boundaries continues to be an area of interest in Joan's research. Her curiosity in finding out more about the life of 'Miss Jack May', an English cross-dressing female farmer who emigrated to Canada as part of the British Colonial settlement of the prairies, was inspired by a conference paper given by Professor Sarah Carter (University of Alberta). Joan and Sarah are now collaborating on a journal article.

Research Projects & External Funding

  • 2020 British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant (SRG2021_210721) - 'Women as capital lenders in nineteenth-century Yorkshire: Evidence from the Registers of Deeds'. Total Grant: £9,948.50 (PI).
  • 2017 Heritage Lottery Fund (Our Heritage Grant with Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar) - 'Steel Stories: curating industrial heritage in a landscape of rapid change'. Total Grant: £69,800; Teesside £15,799 (CI with Professor Natasha Vall).
  • 2014 Economic History Society (Small Research Grant) – ‘Women's involvement in property transactions in the 18th and 19th centuries: a pilot study from the North Riding of Yorkshire’. Total Grant: £4,984.13 (PI).
  • Short Knowledge Transfer Partnership (sKTP) (with Middlesbrough Borough Council) towards ‘The British Steel Archive Project’. Total Grant: £17,390 (PI).
  • 2009 Museums, Libraries & Archives (Community Engagement Award) towards ‘The British Steel Archive Project’. Total Grant: £2,500 (PI).
  • 2009 Royal Academy of Engineering: Ingenious Award towards ‘The British Steel Archive Project’. Total Grant: £26,658 (with Dr Jenny Search).
  • 2009 Economic History Society (Small Research Grant) towards ‘The British Steel Archive Project’. Total Grant: £4,000 (PI).
  • 2008 Community Trades Union (Donation) towards 'The British Steel Archive Project'. Total Grant: £60,000 (PI).
  • 2008 Corus Teesside Cast Products (Donation) towards 'The British Steel Archive Project'. Total Grant: £60,000 (PI).
  • 2008 Heritage Lottery Fund (Grant) towards 'The British Steel Archive Project'. Total Grant: £250,000 (PI).

PhD and Research Opportunities

Joan welcomes enquiries from potential PhD students interested in women’s/ gender history, women's economic history (especially that related to women and property), and regional history, particularly about the industrial heritage of Teesside. 

Current PhD students - Consortium:

Northumbria University: Tom Ratcliffe (2017): Contested Cultural Landscapes (2nd Supervisor)

Enterprise Interest and Activities

2017 - Involved as an Historical Consultant during the restoration of the Central Lodge buildings in Stewart Park, Middlesbrough, part of Askham Bryan College.

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