Name: Dr Isla Forsyth
Research institution: School of Geography, University of Nottingham
Research career length: 4 years
Research Council: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Location: Nottingham, England
Brief summary of research: Cultural and historical military geographies
Higher English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Modern Studies
BA Geography University of Glasgow
MRes University of Glasgow
PhD in Geography University of Glasgow
Teaching Assistant in geography
Different subject areas employ different research methods. As a cultural and historical military geographer, Isla Forsyth spends a good deal of her time examining documents and artfacts in university, museum and art gallery archives, in an attempt to narrate forgotten voices from the past.
Research cannot be defined from the outset, since you don't know exactly what you will find. If you ask good questions and work in a subject you’re interested in, it can lead you to uncover unexpected, important and new perspectives and knowledges. I study the role of the military in shaping the world we live in - not just in battlefields, but how the military diffuses through and alters culture, knowledge and individual lives. My research aims to produce a collection of overlooked narratives of those who have been enrolled in the military and have shaped, in some way, the geographies of contemporary conflict and the militarisation of culture. I believe these forgotten voices and experiences of the past, these personal experiences are important to histories of conflict and studies on violence. I'm also keen to understand how the nature of the military and methods of warfare, are influenced by factors, such as culture, politics and the environment in which they exist.
I spend a lot of my time exploring historical archives in universities, museums and art galleries, which I then draw on to present my ideas at conferences and seminars, write research papers, teach students, participate in research and reading groups and participate in collaborative activity with other researchers. I also present my work to the general public at museums and history societies.
I had fantastic geography teachers at school, which really encouraged me to study the subject in higher education. They made it interesting and were an extremely well organised department. After leaving school, I spent two years travelling through Europe and Central and South America, which further fired my passion for geography. At university, I chose course options that promoted an interest in historical and cultural geography. With the support of my undergraduate tutor, I felt confident and enthusiastic about applying for the Master’s course and seeking funding.
I find it satisfying to know that my research is contributing to knowledge in the subject and that it is of interest to other people. My work on militarism is particularly important right now because it helps to place current conflicts in historical context and add insight into contemporary methods of conflict across the planet.
Historical research can be lonely, since you spend many hours, days and weeks, alone at a desk going through mounds of documents. Yet, it is that work that enables you to develop incredibly fruitful collaborations. Sharing what you found with others, finding points of connections, or themes in common with other researchers. The friendships and bonds you build whilst doing such an intense research project are incredibly supportive and make the experience a lot of fun.