Leeds Trinity Professor awarded MERL fellowship to explore rat control in British agriculture

Professor Karen Sayer has received this year’s Gwyn E. Jones Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) fellowship for her project on ‘Rural Boundaries: the control of rats and mice in British agriculture c. 1800-2001’.
The Museum of English Rural Life, which is owned and managed by the University of Reading, houses the most comprehensive national collection of objects, books and archives relating to the history of food, farming and the countryside. The Gwyn E. Jones Fellowship provides opportunities for researchers to develop and disseminate new work in the broad arena of rural research.

Rats and mice have been, and are, a constant presence in barns, byres and stalls, stacks and yards, fields and hedgerows, farmhouses and cottages. Boundary animals; wild, yet sharing farms and farmland, towns, waterways and river banks, rats and mice are able to travel miles to find food. They damage farm buildings and machinery (and electrical cabling); they soil and consume food, seed and fodder in store; and pose a risk to both animal and human health through disease. Yet, as traps and arsenicals gave way to anticoagulants, so the impact of vermin control became a concern for environmentalists and conservationists. This study will use archival, photographic and object resources at MERL to investigate the perception and control of rats and mice in rural Britain 1800-2001.
Professor Sayer is Professor of Social and Cultural History at Leeds Trinity University. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Professor Sayer’s research focus is on the rural; conceptualisations of rural communities, landscapes and environments; human and animal relations in agricultural work and on the farm; labour in field, farm and home; the interior spaces of farmhouse and cottage, as represented, worked and lived.
Professor Sayer commented:
“I am honoured to be in receipt of this Fellowship, which offers me a very real opportunity to undertake significant work at the Museum of Rural Life at the University of Reading. This is a fantastic archive and I look forward to working with team there as much as working on the topic itself.”

Professor Ray Lloyd, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) of Leeds Trinity University, added:
“This is great news for both Professor Sayer and the University.  Karen is an enormously well-respected and talented academic, and this well-deserved fellowship recognises not only the contribution she has already made to her field, but her potential for outstanding work in the future.  We are working hard to build on our reputation for high quality research, and recognition such as this is both heartening and invaluable.”
Dr Ollie Douglas, Assistant Curator at MERL, added:
“Professor Karen Sayer is a longstanding supporter of the Museum and we are very much looking forward to working more closely with her on this project. She is a leading figure in rural history and will bring great insight and expertise to bear on the Museum’s collections. We also hope to benefit in many other ways from the partnership afforded by her MERL Fellowship.”
Professor Sayer is a member of the CREST CAIRN Research Network for agriculture and rural research.