Dr Timothy Cooper
I am a historian of modern Britain. My scholarship seeks to understand the intersections of society and nature, particularly in everyday experiences of environmental change. I am particularly interested in the environmental histories of the 'edges' of the British Isles, especially Cornwall, where I live. Methodologically, my work focuses on the use of personal testimonies as evidence, whether as oral tellings, autobiography, or written personal accounts. These offer a vital insight into the texture and meaning of human encounters with nature and the environment, that is not generally available through the dominant scientific approaches.
My scholarship involves thinking about the environmental history of modern Britain 'from below'. I am particularly interested in popular understandings and perceptions of nature and environmental change that go beyond the elite and 'expert' contexts dominant in many studies of environmental policy and politics. I have a particular interest in oral history and personal testimony approaches to accounts of environmental change.
My research has a number of different strands to it. The first of these is centred on the histories of oil infrastructures and pollution in modern Britain and their relationship to everyday perceptions of environmental issues. I am presently completing an oral history of the Torrey Canyon oil spill of 1967, that explores popular memories of environmental disaster in the context of social change in modern Cornwall. I have also written about the Sea Empress disaster in 1996 using existing oral histories to write about the embodied experience of environmental disaster.
A larger, and more diffuse, project is an ongoing exploration of the history of the environment and everyday life in modern Britain, which I am exploring through case studies, or 'micro-histories' of particular moments of change in popular perception of the natural world.
I am also very interested in the 'socio-environmental' history of Cornwall, a place that has had repeated and radical environmental change imposed on it over the centuries. It is particularly interesting case of the intertwining of environmental change with the politics of identity.
If you are interested in seeing some examples of my work then the links below offer some places to start.
- 'Fear of Falling: Navigating Cornwall's Post-extractivist Landscape', Literary and Visual Landscapes Symposium, University of Bristol, 2021
- 'A conversation with Abigail Sidebotham on the Sea Empress Oil Spill of 1996', While Horse Press Blog, 2022.
I am always keen to discuss possible PhD or Master by Research supervisions across the broad field of modern social, cultural and environmental history. I have supervised students on topics ranging from creative writing and the archive to sociological studies of modern Cornish identity.
As a diverse group of scholars in literary and historical studies, the Department of Humanities at the Penryn Campus offers an outstanding interdisciplinary environment for postgraduate students in the humanities.
- Annabel Banks, Poetry and the Archive (completed 2016)
- Richard Harris, Civil Society in Cornwall (completed 2016)
- Matt Blewett (2018-) Cornwall and Democracy
- Lena Ferriday (SWWDTP, 2020-) Embodied Experience and Landscape in South West England
I teach modern British history mostly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in social history and environmental history, though I also teach on the history of climate change from a global history and history of science perspective.
I am a strong believer in the value of 'workshop' and research-led approaches to teaching history. Or perhaps it would be better to say that I think it is less desirable to 'teach' history as opposed to offering students ways of encountering and making history for themselves. As someone with a terrible memory for things like dates, I think that what we discover for ourselves we are both more likely to remember and to find more relatable to our own experiences.
I was born in Cornwall and brought up in Camborne town. I am the son of two working-class Londoners from Tottenham and Stepney, from whom I first learned to think, and wonder, about history. I was educated at Camborne School in the nineties, which was then still part of the first-rate comprehensive school system and had incredibly dedicated teachers as well as an outstanding history programme. I went to university in 1997, studying first at Oxford for my undergraduate degree and completing doctoral studies at Cambridge. I have been trying to repair the damage these did ever since. I researched and taught briefly at the University of St Andrews - working with John Clark, an absolutely exemplary scholar and historian of science and environment - before joining the history programme at the University of Exeter's, then new, Penryn Campus. Here, I learned the enormous value of oral histories from working alongside Anna Green, and have increasingly tried to weave personal testimony, spoken and written, into my empirical work.
My background has taught me to be suspiscious of institutions of higher learning that seek to claim 'elite' status, which so often peddle ignorance as knowledge and prejudice as experience, erasing the knowlegdes of the 'unlearned' that offer deeper than surface ways of understanding the cosmos. This approach informs both my teaching and my research where I have over the years relearned the importance of the kind of 'rescue' history first unconsciously taught me by listening to stories of my parents' early lives in working-class London. I am interested in excavating, and listening again, to the wisdom inherent in such everyday voices, rather than the kind of turgid historiographical scholasticism that seems to have taken over historical practice in many quarters. I'm a strong believer that, while universities are vital places to rediscover and understand the past, they are definitely not the places where that past is made, nor, for that matter, where encountering the past matters most. We are all historians of some kind, and doing historical research is something that should be available to everyone.