Humanising Historians: Myriam Wilks-Heeg

Posted on: 21 December 2023 by Dr Myriam Wilks-Heeg in 2023 posts

Myriam Wilks-Heeg and 2022 graduates
Myriam Wilks-Heeg and 2022 graduates

In this month's Humanising Historians blog, Lecturer Dr Myriam Wilks-Heeg discusses her journey from a German town to Liverpool, exploring her unexpected path to history sparked by feminism. Beyond academics, Myriam talks about her love for running, tennis, and music.

Why Liverpool?

I'm originally from a small town in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, that became strategically important during the Cold War when it was home to 8.000 US American soldiers and their dependents. It meant that I learned to speak English (with a heavy American accent!) from an early age and that I longed to leave and travel to some of the faraway places many of the GIs had come from or were going to leave to. Initially, I only made it to Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, to go to university, but I then left to study for an MA in London, where I met my partner. After a few years of living together in Germany, we decided to relocate to Britain and ended up in Liverpool, where we both found jobs and where I completed the rest of my postgraduate education. We quickly fell in love with the city and decided to stay: I've always felt welcomed here and never like an outsider. It took me a while to get to grips with the scouse accent, although I'm quite accomplished at speaking it myself by now, apparently (or so I'm told by my friends). I also adore living by the sea: I love the ocean, any ocean and walk or run on the beach every day, in all weather conditions. I'm addicted to the sounds, the sand, and the salty air and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I don't return to Germany as often as I'd like, but Liverpool is my home now after 25 years in the UK. My children are born and bred Liverpudlians, and most of my friends are too. That said, I'm on study leave next semester and will take a few research trips to Germany in the Spring - I can't wait to go back and get stuck into examining women's magazines during the day and spending time with friends in the evenings.


Why history and who inspired you?

I've done all sorts of jobs in my life: from working as a hostess at trade fairs, barmaid, and grape picker to my stint for Merseyside Police when I first arrived in Liverpool (I still have a badge!); studying history wasn't something I ever thought of doing for a living. In fact, I was not too fond of the subject in school, as it was all about dates, who did what and when, without unpeeling any of the complex layers that make history so fascinating. So, the road that took me to become a historian is, perhaps, somewhat unconventional: my undergraduate degree is in business studies and after working very briefly for KPMG, I returned to academia as a research assistant for three years after graduating. I loved teaching, but not necessarily the subjects (marketing, accounting, and taxation). It was the 1990s; I was very young and a bit out of my depth when asked to represent women's issues in an overwhelmingly male academic department. The experience of what I felt was a somewhat tokenistic approach to gender equality left me reeling and triggered my interest in feminism and history. I remember buying the German translation of Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex in a second-hand bookshop and being bowled over by her writing about the history of women's oppression. And to this day, as a nod to what brought me here and as many of my students will know, I try to sneak her into my courses. It was then that I began to dream of completely changing careers, and when the opportunity came along for my partner and me to relocate from Germany to the UK, I took the chance to start over and pursue my new passion. So, the experience of being a young woman in a primarily male department and teaching accounting and taxation (never again!) eventually led me to become a historian. Looking back, I now understand that sometimes you only find what you love through a process of elimination and that it's never too late to go after your passions. I've since broadened my interests in history, but initially, all I wanted to do was read about the cool, forgotten women of the past and try to get them recognised. I'm very nosy and love to examine the everyday, so my teaching of history is very much informed by and focused on what people liked, what they ate and read, and how they experienced the world around them. 


Myriam Wilks-Heeg on the beach


And besides history?

In my spare time, I'm a bit of an exercise nut. I play team tennis for a club in Crosby, and while not as nimble as I used to be, it's still good fun. I also run thrice a week (very slowly!) or up to 25 km; more than anything, it keeps me sane. I've run a few races this year, and my final challenge of 2023 is a 10k Christmas run, after which I may tackle the Liverpool half-marathon in 2024 (if my sister manages to convince me!). Apart from that, I do Pilates regularly and throw in the odd yoga workshop, although I can't keep still for long and need something more dynamic. I now don't find the time during the semester, but I used to read prolifically and have been a member of the same local book group for nearly 17 years. The last books we read were Fresh Water For Flowers by Valerie Perrin and What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky, both of which I'd highly recommend.

I indulge in my love for food when not reading, running, or working. I love everything about it: buying food, preparing it, researching it, and, of course, eating it. Daily cooking for a family of five, as any parent would attest, is a bit of a chore, but when I have time, I like nothing more than trying new recipes. Over the years, I've amassed a pretty impressive collection of cookbooks, which take pride of place next to all my book group novels and favourite history monographs. At the moment, as any good German would, all efforts are concentrated on mass-producing Christmas cookies and Stollen! It just doesn't feel right not to do it at this time of year!


How about music?

My taste in music is quite eclectic; I know what I love (jazz) and what I don't like so much (punk); anything in between is acceptable, depending on my mood. I often use film clips and music in my teaching to start off lectures; they’re either linked to the topic or just something I fancy! My household is quite musical, with one of my children playing piano and the other guitar (thankfully never at the same time). Our tastes, though, couldn't be more different: my partner plays Paul McCartney and David Bowie very loudly on repeat; my eldest is a heavy metal headbanger, my middle child more of a shoegaze fan, while my youngest listens to Japanese gaming music – and not always on headphones. As you can imagine, it's quite a cacophony of sounds in our house sometimes, which perhaps explains why I seek daily refuge by the sea...