Josie Freear

Josie Freear

PhD student & Postgraduate Tutor

Summary: Examining the relationship between consumer behaviour and retailing strategies in the social history of food

My research

My research looks at changes in the British diet during the twentieth century by exploring the social and cultural history of Britain c.1950 – 1980s alongside the business history of Marks and Spencer as a food retailer. I am interested in the ways in which British food retailers responded to, and indeed helped to shape, changes in the British diet through their innovative retail strategies. I also explore the political backdrop against which these changes took place by examining government policy on food, British and European food standards and legislation, and the role of cookery in the national curriculum. Some of the key areas of research which this project examines include: how patterns of food purchase and consumption have changed; where responsibilities for food safety and knowledge about food preparation lie; the role of domestic technologies and consumer commodities; and how new and ‘exotic’ dishes and ingredients have been introduced to the British diet.

This project forms part of the collaboration between Marks and Spencer and the University of Leeds.

Supervisors: Professor John Chartres, Professor Malcolm Chase and Professor Richard Whiting

About Me

I graduated from the University of Leeds in July 2009 with a first class BA (Hons) in History, followed by an MA with distinction in Modern History in September 2010. My interest in the history of consumption began with an undergraduate dissertation which used material culture to explore gender roles in early modern Venetian marriages. For my MA thesis I combined archival material from charities across the UK with original oral history research to explore the history of charity shops in Britain. This sparked an interest in British social history and, in particular, the role of British retailers in changing the way people have experienced shopping and consumption. 


I have taught on HIST 1210 The Modern World. This is a compulsory module which introduces students to a broad range of topics and historical approaches with seminar content ranging from the French Revolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis. This year I am a Postgraduate Mentor on HIST 2500 Students as Scholars, which encourages second year students to engage with the wider research community at the University of Leeds. I have also led an undergraduate research Master Class on ‘The City – Pompeii and Venice’ for which I attended a training course on how to motivate small groups.

I am involved in the design and coordination of Rixa, a series of interdisciplinary seminars for talented undergraduate students from across the Faculty of Arts. I have also delivered ‘Mock Tutorials’ to first year students during induction week.


I have been involved in the Dissertation Mentoring scheme, where I supported undergraduates studying a wide range of topics with project management and research skills during their final year projects. In 2011/12 I worked as a Postgraduate Mentor on the university-wide Students as Scholars scheme run by Leeds Humanities Research Institute.

I am currently the Postgraduate Mentor for an Undergraduate Research & Leadership Scholarship student who is using the Cookery Collection at the Brotherton library to explore seventeenth-century recipe books and medicinal remedies.

Conference and seminar papers

Postgraduate Colloquium, University of Leeds, 21st June 2011:
‘Did Marks & Spencer use a “revolutionary hygienic code” in food retailing in order to influence and shape consumer behaviour?’

Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD) conference, Food and Beverages: Retailing, Distribution and Consumption in Historical Perspective, University of Wolverhampton, 7th and 8th September 2011:
‘Marks and Spencer: a “revolutionary hygienic code” in food supply, distribution and retailing?’

Economic History Society and Social History Society joint Autumn Workshop, Consumption and standards of living since the eighteenth century: economic history, social history, cultural history, University of Huddersfield, 13th September 2011:
‘Care and convenience? Exploring cultural meanings in the consumption of chilled ready meals.’

Subject Specialist Network, Histories of the Home Study Visit to Leeds, 23rd March 2012:
‘Using the M&S Archive collections to examine consumer behaviour and retailing strategies in the social history of food.’

Social History Society Conference, University of Brighton, 3 – 5th April 2012:
‘Negotiating difference: retailing innovations and globalisation in networks of food supply, distribution and retail.’

XVIth World Economic History Congress, University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, 9th-13th July 2012:
‘Encountering the ‘exotic’ on supermarket shelves: British food retailing c.1950 – 1980.’

Historians Workshop, University of Leeds, 22nd October 2012:
Exploring the use of business archives in the study of social history.’

Other Responsibilities

I have chaired a modern British history session for the HIST 5000 (MA) Research Methodology in History conference and in 2010/11 I sat on the School of History’s Research Committee as a Postgraduate Representative.


I have completed the following University of Leeds SDDU training courses: Starting your research degree; Project managing your research degree; Time management during your research degree; Giving effective seminar and conference presentations; Preparing for your transfer; Effective learning and teaching in small groups; Learning and teaching in tutorials and seminars; Learning and teaching in lectures; Evaluating and developing your own teaching practices; Understanding student learning; Assessing student work; and Using the VLE.

I have also completed British Library Oral History training and LHRI courses on research ethics and conducting interviews.