Dr Ben Thomas

The Royal Naval Reserve in rural Scotland and Wales, c. 1900-1939

Ben Thomas recently completed his PhD at the University of Aberdeen, entitled 'Cultures of Empire in the Scottish Highlands, c. 1876 and 1902'.  This study asked what happens to traditional ideas about British imperial engagement when we look below the level of the nation, and explored more generally the interactions between the local and global.  By 'thinking regionally' about the British imperial experience, his study showed that sub-national experiences and levels of belonging were often vital to shaping the tone and form of imperial cultures in Britain.
One of the major findings to emerge from his study was that British military cultures were often highly localised phenomena, with part-time military service particularly important to the crofting communities of the north-west Highlands and Outer Hebrides.  The popularity of part-time military service spanned both the Army Volunteers and Royal Naval Reserve, and was one reason for the disproportionate losses suffered by the Western Isles in WWI.  Yet whilst both the Volunteers and Territorials have received considerable academic attention, the Naval Reserve emerged as a particular under-explored institution given their importance in the social lives of many fishing communities.  Ben will therefore be using the IHR Alan Pearsall Fellowship to begin research into the RNR in Great Britain and Ireland, and will use his time at the IHR to explore the place of the Reserves in northern Scotland and northern Wales in the early 20th century.  By examining the place of the RNR in the 'Celtic Fringe', he will ask whether the Reserves were really a pan-British institution, or whether local and regional differences continued to affect how part-time military service was perceived and experienced.

Research and publications


Round Table: Visions of Empire: Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1870–1939.  By Brad Beaven. Manchester. Manchester University Press. 2012. 234 pp. $105 (hardback). Britain and the World, 7.2 (2014): 270–282.

Academic Affiliations

Ben is the Development Officer for the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland (ESHSS) http://www.eshss.co.uk/

Media Appearances

Ben appered on an episode of the BBC tv series Who do you think you are? in August 2015, giving expert advice on local Highland history to tv baker Paul Hollywood.  Ben's tv debut was a smash success, and he has been widely complemented for 'sounding quite intelligent' by those who watched.