Dr Nicola Thomas
Associate Professor in Cultural Historical Geography


Research interests

Nicola is a cultural and historical geographer who has developed several strands to her research, united by her interests in biographical approaches.

  1. Cultural and humanities perspectives on the creative economy
  2. Postcolonial geographies of gender, race and empire
  3. Histories of geography and science
  4. Gendered labour practices and career progression in higher education; equality in the workplace. 

Research projects

1. Cultural and humanities perspectives on the creative economy

Situating Craft Guilds in the Creative Economy: Histories, Politics and Practices (AHRC Early Career grant)
This research interrogates the contemporary relevance of craft guilds in the wider development of the UK creative economy through an analysis of policy and practice. Working with the Devon Guild of Craftsman and Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen alongside organisations that support the craft sector in the UK the research has considered the specificities of guilds as an organisational model within the craft sector and broader creative economy. The research addresses past and present Craft Guilds, situating contemporary Guilds within the longer history of craft sector development. The project has addressed the activities that craft guilds have traditionally organised, recognizing that such practices are precisely those now being aspired to in support of the new creative economy.

Connecting Craft and Communities (AHRC Network):
The ‘Connecting Craft and Communities’ research network is funded through the cross Research Council sponsored  Connected Communities programme. The network brought together academics, researcher-practitioners, professional and amateur practitioners, activists, creative organisations, intermediaries and policy makers to examine the changing cultures, politics, practices and skills of Craft in the 21st century. The network will enable us to focus on the key themes of the broader ‘Connected Communities’ programme and develop our understanding of the role of Craft in developing self-reliance, economic regeneration, health and well-being within communities.

Crafting Communities of Practice and Interest: Connecting ‘Online‘ and ‘Offline‘ Making Practices (AHRC Scoping Study)
This research, sponsored by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, brings together the expertise and knowledge from three sets of discussions that have occurred through the Connected Communities Programme that the project researchers have been involved with: the discussions in the Connecting Craft and Communities network of practitioners, stakeholders and academics as well as the work undertaken through the Community Media Sphere and the Creative Citizen and Complexity and the Creative Economy research projects.

The rationale for this study stems from a concern expressed in these projects that contemporary readings of online/offline communities in the creative economy are in need of closer scrutiny. In this scoping study we focus on the craft sector and the ways in which online practices impact creative sectors, both practitioners’ daily lives and wider economic activities. We also looked at the way online technologies have been used by craft organisations as well as how crafting practices are deeply embedded in everyday material practices of making (Williams 2011).

Negotiating the cultural politics and poetics of identity within the creative industries of South West Britain (AHRC standard grant)

The ‘South West’ incorporates a diverse geographical area (from Gloucestershire, to Cornwall, to Dorset), which has no distinctive territorial identity, yet encompasses many strong place-based local identities. These identities are often represented through the creative industries, some of which have deeply embedded roots and continue to exert a powerful imaginary, influencing the production and consumption of creative work and attracting makers to the area. The aim of this project is to configure a new relational understanding of place that stresses the spatial connections and the relational identities that are practiced by makers within the creative industries, and the broader institutional context they are increasingly cast in. By moving the focus away from the policy driven demands of the creative economy towards a focus on understanding the acts of creativity undertaken, we aim to understand how creative makers negotiate their place in the ‘becoming’ of the region of SW Britain

2. Postcolonial geographies of gender, race and empire

Mary Curzon: Biography
Nicola’s interests in gender, colonial discourse and postcolonial theory have led her to explore the range of possibilities that biographical encounters present for writing critical histories of empire. Principal research to date has centered on the life of Mary Curzon (1870 – 1906). On becoming Vicereine of India (1898 – 1905) Mary’s life became a web that was spun over the spaces of the British empire. While Mary Curzon can be seen as an ‘imperial‘ and ‘domestic‘ subject par excellence, studies of her personal narratives indicates that such identities were never uncontested. This research has explored the spatiality of political and corporeal concerns and has sought to understand the complexities of colonial subjectivities. This work has drawn heavily of a variety of archival sources from letters to dress and has intervened in the following interdisciplinary debates: practices of biography; travel, gender and imperialism; feminist histories of political imperial cultures; corporal geographies; dress and embodiment; material cultures; spectacle and colonial power.

This research is currently being developed as a digital biography, receiving funding from AHRC REACT and HEIF Open Innovation Platform.

3. Histories of geography and science

Knowing the Desert: Cultures and Practices of fieldwork in the explorations of W.J. Harding King (British Academy funded project with Dr Jude Hill):
Through the lens of W.J.Harding-King (1869–1933), this project addresses the history of arid zone geomorphology in the context of European cultures of science and imperialism. Between 1900 and 1914 Harding-King undertook a series of expeditions in the western Sahara desert. Within his work we see the initial imperial drives that promoted early survey expeditions augmented by a culture of fieldwork that prioritised the scientific understanding of arid zone processes. Drawing on his anthropological, survey and scientific fieldwork Harding-King positioned himself as an ‘authority’ on the region, contributing to the geopolitical and geomorphological debates circulating in the inter-war period. Harding-King’s position was contested, and the rifts that emerge are indicative of the tensions within the newly institutionalised British geographical community of the early twentieth century (Livingstone, 1992). Following recent studies we contextualise Harding-King’s work within the broad cultures of exploration and science, and to understand the situated and relational nature of the geographical knowledge he produced (Driver, 2001). The following key themes are addressed in the context of current debates in the history of science and the philosophy, nature and practice of geography: cultures and networks of knowledge; challenging hierarchies of knowledge; geographies of arid zone science and visual cultures of fieldwork.

4. Gendered labour practices and career progression in higher education; equality in the workplace.

40 years on: gender, career progression in British Geography Higher Education (WGSG/RHED RGS-IBG funded research):
Working with Avril Maddrell, Stephanie Wyse and Kendra Strauss this project links to a Women and Geography Study Group national survey of men and women studying and working in Geography Higher Education undertaken in 2010. Addressing the politics of work place environments and themes such as caring, work/life balance, career progression, discrimination the findings from this survey are a clear picture of the experiences of those working in the sector. We are now in the process of analysing the many hundreds of long form survey responses we received and are writting up the findings for papers for Area and Transactions of the IBG.

Research grants:

2013 £5,600, AHRC, Cultural Engagement Fund   
Crafting public engagement: 80 years of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen

2013 £50,000 AHRC REACT, PI TBC
Digital Biography: Digitising the Dollar Princess. Knowledge partnership grant with Bow Software

2012-13 £159,908 AHRC,  PI, Early Career AH/I001778/1
Situating Craft Guilds in the Creative Economy: Histories, Politics and Practices

2012 £40,000 AHRC, PI Connecting online and offline craft communities of practice and interest.

2010-11 £32,214 AHRC, Co-I AH/E008887/1
Connecting Craft and Communities Research Network, Connected Communities Programme

2007 – 10  £313,546 RGS-IBG, PI
Negotiating the cultural politics and poetics of identity within the creative industries of SW Britain

2009 £2400 30th International Geographical Congress 
Career Progression in Higher Education Geography, with the Women and Geography Study Group

2009 £730 The British Academy, PI Small Research Grant
Conference travel grant: 14th International Conference of Historical Geographers, Kyoto

2006 £6332
Knowing the Desert: Cultures and Practices of Fieldwork in the Explorations of W.J.Harding-King


2009-2014 AHRC CDA  (Co-I) 3 studentships An extended programme of three studentships in collaboration with the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

2010-2015 AHRC CDA  (Co-I) 3 studentships An extended programme of three studentships in collaboration with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site

2011-2014 AHRC CDA  (Co-I) 1 studentships A single studentship in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum

2012 AHRC CDA  (Co-I) 1 studentship A single studentship in collaboration with Arts for Health Cornwall  (based at University College Falmouth)

Internally funded reserach

2013 £15,000 HEIF Open Innovation Platform Proof of Concept:
From prototype to Commercialisation: Digitising the Dollar Princess (pending)

2012 £5000 Outward Mobility Fellowship, University of North Carolina, USA

2012 £1000 Link Fund: Creative Coast, Jurassic Coast Arts Programme Workshop

2011-2012 £2920 Humanities-LES Pump Priming Fund:
‘Making links with SW stakeholders for the humanities: maximising existing connections, coordinating interdisciplinary engagements’ knowledge exchange workshops and pump priming activities

2010 £10, 000 University of Exeter‘s Arts and Culture Programme Event:
‘Creativity and Place: Geographies of South West Art, 1902-2008’ exhibition and podcast

2010-2011 £10,000
Research and Knowledge Pump Prime Funding: ‘Understanding partnerships between Chinese and British digital media companies’

Externally funded teaching grant income

2012 £14, 846 GEES (PI)
Creating an open access learning and teaching resource for Historical Geography (on behalf of Historical Geography Research Group)

2011 £10,723 GEES (PI)
Teaching Historical Geographies Workshop: Practice and Pedagogy (on behalf of Historical Geography Research Group)

2008-2009 £77049 JISC GVQB0434
Creating Heritage Artefacts for Research and teaching in an E-Repository (Academic Collaborator)

Research networks

AHRC Connecting Craft and Communities network
Creative Coasts - Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site Arts Programme
Historical Geography Research Group - RGS-IBG

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