Photo of Dr Anna McKay

Dr Anna McKay BA (Hons), MA, PhD, AFHEA

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow History


Personal Statement

Dr Anna McKay researches the lives and experiences of prisoners across the British maritime world. She has written for the Financial Times, Guardian, New Statesman, BBC History Magazine, The Conversation, RTÉ Ireland, and Times Higher Education, and featured on BBC Sounds and HistoryExtra podcasts. In 2024 she was a finalist in the BBC/AHRC's New Generation Thinkers scheme, and can be heard on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking.

Anna's PhD on prison hulks - battered ex-naval warships hastily converted as floating prisons - was an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project between the University of Leicester and Royal Museums Greenwich, and was awarded in 2020. Prison hulks were used by the British government in response to a prison housing crisis - originally conceived as a short-term solution, they lasted for decades, spanning the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These dilapidated ships held both convicts and prisoners of war at home and in overseas colonial territories including Bermuda, the Bahamas, New York, Gibraltar and Ireland. Their fascinating history has been largely forgotten - this is the story of empire, prisons, and society as a whole.

Anna’s work interrogates a wealth of official reports, petitions, diaries and newspaper accounts. She has secured a range of fellowships, grants and internships; recent posts include a visiting fellowship at Yale University's Beinecke Library, the American Revolution Institute, Washington D.C., and the British Library Eccles Centre. Previous posts include a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship at University College Cork, the Pearsall Fellowship in Naval and Maritime History at the Institute of Historical Research, and a UKRI Policy Internship at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in Whitehall.

Anna has undertaken archival research in the UK, Australia, Bermuda, Canada and the Caribbean and conducted site visits to dockyards, former prisoner of war depots and penal colony sites across the world. In 2022, her article '‘Allowed to die’? Prison Hulks, Convict Corpses and the Inquiry of 1847 was awarded the Alexander Prize by the Royal Historical Society. That year, she was also awarded a 'Seal of Excellence' quality label by the European Commission for a research proposal she developed with University College Cork.