Research Radar – Carmen Mangion

Dr. Carmen M. Mangion is a Senior Lecturer in the department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London.  Her research examines the cultural and social history of gender and religion in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain focusing on the formation and rethinking of identities during times of social change.  She is the author of Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age, Britain 1945-1990 (2020) and Contested Identities: Catholic Women Religious in nineteenth-century England and Wales (2008) and other publications relating to Britain’s nineteenth-century medical marketplace.  Her current research interrogates the gendered nature of the Catholic medical missionary movement, 1891-1951 in Britain and Ireland.  You can follow her on Twitter here.

Who is your favourite academic?

But, through an amazing bit of serendipity (or providence as the nuns would say!), I ended up doing my MA at Birkbeck. And then I lucked out convincing Joanna Bourke to supervise my PhD thus gaining a cheerleader for life. And, I lucked out again and I am still at Birkbeck with not only really clever colleagues, but more importantly, generous and supportive colleagues.  

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

There are various piles situated in specific reading spaces.

Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World (2017) is my fun reading by my bedside because I am besotted by drinking tea (I love a good Darjeeling) and there’s nothing like the enjoyment of a good tea history book.

For the occasional insomnia at 2am, top of the pile by the living room couch is Alana Harris & Isabel Ryan’s Sink or Swim: Catholics in Sixties Britain through John Ryan’s Cartoons (2020) because the cartoons make me laugh which is nice and relaxing at 2am.

And for work well my desk has several piles including Continuity and Change Papers from the Birgitta Conference At Dartington 2015 (2017) because I am writing a paper on memory and Birgitta.  But next on the pile (for my medical missionary project) is Sisters Crossing Boundaries (2013) by Katharina Stornig on German missionary sisters and Laura Kelly’s Irish women in medicine (2015).

What podcast do you recommend?

Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ – my latest listen was on Booth’s Life and Labour Survey! (The one on the history of gin was pretty good too!)

Who doesn’t love a bit of ‘Bad Bridget’?

For my mental health, I kind of love Claudia Hammond’s ‘All in the Mind’.

What is your favourite archive or library?

I have a soft spot for the British Library because it brings back memoirs of when I spent weeks there as a PhD student in Humanities II reading and reading and reading.

My favourite archive is in Rome – what’s there not to like about an archive in Trastevere?

I’ve been lucky to work in convent archives with archivists that tend to know their collections and that ply me with tea (and sometimes biscuits!)

What book or movie changed your life?

My name is Asher Lev.

In terms of scholarship, I will say that I was stunned into reverent silence with Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (1987) when I was an MA student at Birkbeck. I read every word marveling at the empirical depth and richness. In my own field of convent studies, Susan O’Brien’s publications have always inspired me– she manages to say so much analytically on gender, class, ethnicity whilst telling fab stories.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?


But when I’m not happy – I optimistically play the Happy song in hopes it will perk me up (Pharrell Williams).

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

A diary with which to optimistically organise my day – currently I am using one from Hema (sadly they have closed all their London shops!)

Zotero to organise my reading lists.

Atlas.ti to organise my notes.

Pots of Darjeeling to keep me going.

Also, lots of Cadbury milk chocolate.

I have simple needs.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

I would tell my younger self to be more confident about my writing and to read Lamott’s Bird by Bird particularly the chapter on ‘shitty first drafts’. Should be required reading for PhD students.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

I like to play in the dirt. It was my life-saver during Covid. I even did a bit of guerrilla gardening (I eventually received formal permission) on a weed-ridden patch of earth. I attacked the ground elder like it was the Covid Virus that I so despised. Those weeds haven’t returned – instead there are cosmos, echinaceas, rudbeckias, and tagetes. Gardening calms the mind.

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