Project objectives

This project asks ‘how can thinking historically about belonging at university and its relationship with mental health help today’s students?’.

The core objective is to establish what students can learn from past students’ experiences of loneliness and community and how this knowledge can be used to improve present experiences of university.

The project has four outcomes

1. a website, hosted by Swansea University, which will host an exhibition resulting from student interaction with archival material. This website will be publicly accessible, providing a resource for stakeholders interested in the history of student mental health. It will host a reflective project blog, a methodologies page, a resources and bibliography page, and an exhibition of student-created insights and reflections across a variety of mediums.

2. a peer-reviewed academic article on the history of student belonging. This article will draw upon the student-created materials to explore significance and contemporary resonance. It will therefore position the past and present in dialogue with one another.

3. the project will empower participating students with enhanced understanding about the history of loneliness and student mental health. Importantly, it will equip them with a new lens on the contemporary academy and current student experiences.

4. the project will subsequently feed into a larger funding bid for further research on the history of student mental wellbeing during the twentieth century. This project is necessary to provide evidence for the value of taking a historical approach to student mental health and will showcase the interest of contemporary students in the experiences and voices of past students. 

Project methods

The primary methodology in History is the analysis of historical material. This entails examining material, putting it in a broader historical context, and interpreting its meaning, significance and utility to establish knowledge about the past.

This project will involve 3 steps:

1) I will visit archives and collect material that relates to the history of student mental health. This material is dispersed across multiple archives.

2) I will hold workshops with students. The institutions chosen for the workshop span Wales, England and Scotland, allowing geographically disparate student voices to contribute.

3) During and after the workshops students will submit reflections on the history of belonging and how past student experiences should inform contemporary debates about student mental health for online exhibition. 

anonymity and recordings (information for participating students)

Consent and use of data is hugely important. You will be given two documents at the start of the focus groups: a consent form for you to sign, and an information form for you to keep. These provided detailed breakdowns of what will happen to the information generated by the focus groups and how I will protect your privacy.

I’m very happy to provide these in advance – just pop me a wee email (

In summary, though: the focus groups will be recorded (via Zoom or via an app). Immediately after the focus group the audio will be transcribed and I will go through the transcript and remove any identifying information (for example, if you say ‘I’m originally from Newcastle and…’ I will change that to ‘I am originally from [a Northern city] and…’. I will hold on to these anonymised transcripts on a password-locked computer for 5 years and then destroy them. They will also be lodged with the ESRC and held according to their data standards. Because these transcripts will be made anonymous it will not be possible to extract your input after the focus group. You are, however, free to leave the focus group at any point without judgement and without explanation.

If I use a quote from the workshop in the resulting article it will be anonymous (so it might say ‘as one female student said [quote]’).

As part of the focus groups you are given the opportunity to submit a reflection for publication on the project website. You can choose if this is made anonymous or not, and you can change your mind about this at any time.