PhD EnglishMila Daskalova, Bulgaria
Project: PhD English, ‘Printing and Periodical Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Asylum'.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I came to Scotland six years ago to study English Literature. After my undergraduate degree, I completed a masters in Book History at the University of Edinburgh, which made me realise that I really enjoy being near old dusty books. Pursuing a PhD was a way to stay in my natural habitat.
My main research interests lie in nineteenth-century print culture, literature and medicine. I’m also curious about the new possibilites that digital humanities open up, so I’ve recently started learning how to code.
Why did you choose Strathclyde for your postgraduate research study?
I was drawn to the supportive community of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS). As soon as I was in contact with the University, I encountered academic and administrative staff who were interested in my ideas and keen to help me bring them to fruition. The support I received as early as the application process convinced me that Strathclyde was a great place to be.
Tell us about the nature of your research?
I am tracing the emergence of asylum periodicals, i.e. periodicals that were written and printed by patients in asylums. It sounds unusual, but this was a surprisingly widespread practice in nineteenth-century Scottish and American institutions. My main objective is to figure out the reasons these publications appeared around the same time on both sides of the Atlantic, the ways they were produced, and their purposes. Was publishing simply a way to pass the time, a form of occupational therapy, an attempt to promote institutions to the public or more than all that?
Luckily, copies of these publications have been preserved. Using these alongside institutional records, press accounts and other archival materials, I’m trying to see what the history of asylum periodicals can tell us about the experience of mental illness, life in institutions, and the social role of periodicals.
What do you like about your research area?
I’m really enjoying the detective work. Trying to piece together people’s stories from fragmented pieces of evidence in the archives can be very rewarding. I also love the interdisciplinarity, though it’s a bit frustrating that I can’t sum up exactly what my area is in one word: I see it as a mix of book history, periodical, literary and media studies and history of medicine. At the same time, I enjoy the freedom of playing with ideas and methods borrowed from these fields and see how they fit together and inform each other. The interdisciplinarity of my project also means that I can participate in conversations that normally remain separate. It is exciting to be able to learn from and contribute to different discussions and get feedback from people trained in disciplines other than mine.
What’s the Strathclyde research community like?
It’s composed of people who are approachable, supportive and very passionate about their research. It’s very inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by such people.
What are the Strathclyde facilities like?
I reside in Edinburgh and visit Strathclyde once every few weeks, so I don’t use the on-site facilities that much.
Tell us about the support from your supervisor and the wider Strathclyde team?
My first supervisor, Prof Kirstie Blair, has offered me so much advice and support from the moment we started corresponding. She discussed my project with me prior to my PhD application, advised me about funding and has been giving me thorough and thoughtful feedback on my work since I began my degree. I have received the same level of support from my second supervisor, Prof Matt Smith, and everyone else in the Graduate School.
What's the best thing about Strathclyde?
The staff are very approachable and eager to help. Though I am only in my first year, I feel like I belong to a community, which is very important to me.
What would you like to do after your PhD?
I love doing research and writing, so I hope to be able to pursue these passions beyond graduating. An academic career is an option, but I’m also interested in working in the heritage and creative sectors and publishing. I’m still in the beginning of my PhD, so I try to stay open-minded and use my time as a postgraduate to try new things and see where the journey takes me.
What are the main differences between studying in Bulgaria and in the UK?
I left Bulgaria at the end of high school, so I have no experience of being a university student there. There’s definitely a larger international community here, which is a great opportunity to meet people from all around the world. I don’t think I would have had that chance back home – at least not to that extent.
What was it like moving to Scotland?
Before coming to Edinburgh, I was yearning for a new beginning. But once I arrived and the initial euphoria of being on my own subsided, I realised what a big change moving here was. Though I made new friends, and I was not entirely alone, I missed home a lot. I still do. It’s been challenging, but over the years I built relationships with people and places and grew to love Scotland. Living on my own, away from everything I know, has taught me a lot about myself.
What is it like being a student in Glasgow?
Though I’m based in Edinburgh, it’s great to be able to get to know Glasgow as well. Whenever I travel there, it feels like a nice getaway.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Doing research often means that I am spending a lot of time sitting down in front of a screen, so I like spending my free hours outside whenever possible. I like cycling around town and jogging.
If I have to stay in, cooking while listening to podcasts is one of my favourite ways to rest from studying. I’m also doing my best to run my blog about historical curiosities (http://roomofwonder.com) and to read fiction and books that aren’t related to my research.
What do you like most about the city?
Every time I’m in Glasgow, it surprises me. There is always a beautiful building I haven’t noticed or a pub with delicious food I haven’t tried. It’s always changing, always new in some way.
What’s your favourite Scottish word/phrase, and why?
Dreich. It sounds exactly like the weather it describes feels.