Interview with Mats Morell

Mats Morell

Professor Mats Morell is Head of Research and the Director of PhD studies at the department. Mats grew up in rural Västmanland and came to Uppsala as a student of economics in 1975 but soon discovered economic history. He started the PhD programme at the Department of Economic History in 1979 and supported himself as a substitute teacher and assistant at the department. In 1987 he defended his thesis on Swedish food consumption from early 1600’s to mid-1800s. Mats has since then worked at our department, but also at SLU Uppsala (Agrarian History) in the 90's and later at Stockholm University (Economic History).

Why is Economic History an important subject?
Economic history is a subject that gives social science studies context and comprehension. It is also a subject that challenge and critically examines. We do not take data, institutions (rules) or theories for granted. We test how these have emerged (data), why they exist and how they function (the institutions) and also what relevance they have (theories).

Tell us a about an ongoing research project
I work together with Maja Lundqvist (doktorand), Marja Erikson (post doc) on a project that problematises the agrarian economic development in Mälardalen, the agricultural revolution.

What motivates your research?
Curiosity, the need to understand and the more I learn the more interest grows. This may be cause for a nerd alert but specialisation is necessary and I also aim to produce easily accessible syntheses that summarise great events and also textbooks and historiography, i.e. the research you conduct. Method is important, but the context is crucial to me. Irrespective of my precise research problem I always seek to understand, more broadly, its relationship to its historical surroundings.

You are Director of PhD Studies and also Head of Research at the department. Tell us what that entails.
As Director of Studies I am responsible for the administration of the PhD programme. I meet with supervisors and PhD students to follow up on their progress and try be available to the PhD students as much as possible. I handle communication with the Faculty, our sister departments and the Swedish Postgraduate School in Economic History. As Head of Research I coordinate research at the department, which is broad and based on our researchers own knowledge and interests. I try to encourage our researchers to seek resources to publish their research and also find collaborations with other like-minded researchers. I am also responsible for the Higher Seminar where PhD students and researchers present and ventilate their work.

What tips do you have for someone who are just starting a career as a researcher?
Always formulate and reformulate your research issues, read and develop, always keep the issues with you. Keep writing and formulate, I believe that helps your thinking. Go to seminars, discuss with fellow researchers as much as possible. I it also beneficial to show an interest in what your PhD peers are working on.

December 2018