Phoebe Gill

Phoebe Gill

Department of History
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Sexual Knowledge and Publishing in Britain and Ireland, 1910s-1960s
SupervisorProfessor Matt Houlbrook and Dr Mo Moulton
PhD History


  • BA (Hons) History
  • MA (Taught) Social Research with Distinction


I studied History at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2019. I was awarded ESRC 1+3 funding, and completed my MA in Social Research at Birmingham in 2020, before beginning my PhD in History the same year. I have also worked freelance as a researcher and content and SEO writer since 2020 on a range of projects from children's history resources to e-commerce strategy content.


Postgraduate Teaching Associate, University of Birmingham. 2nd-year module, History in Theory and Practice, 2021-2022.


My research looks at the creation, diffusion, and reception of sexual knowledge in print culture in Britain and Ireland between the 1910s and 1960s. In particular, I am interested in how sexual knowledge was constructed and presented within marital and sexual advice books, the processes and relationships behind the creation of these texts, and how and where members of the public accessed them. Thinking through the processes behind the making of sexual and bodily knowledge in this format complicates ‘top-down’ narratives of information spread, and allows for a more nuanced understanding of how the sexual and embodied was becoming part of the cultural and personal in this period.

As part of my research, I am interested in conceptions of sexuality and sexual bodies within advice literature. Thinking about heterosexuality as a twentieth-century construction problematises understandings of the presentation of sexual relationships and bodies in these texts. Going beyond this notion to explore what specific work these understandings were doing culturally within the spread and development of sexual knowledge adds complexity to an area of study—marital advice literature—that has, until recently, taken heterosexuality for granted. Furthermore, presentations of ideal sexuality, sex, and bodies were strongly classed, gendered, ableist and driven by imperial assumptions about race. This was not only present through explicit eugenics-based approaches taken by various ‘sex experts’ writing this literature, but also in the wider context that authors, publishers, book distributors, and readers existed in. Understanding the different levels these constructions worked on is an important part of unpicking the significance and meaning of advice literature for both those who wrote and published it and the non-experts who read and learned from it.

My thesis project engages with questions of knowledge dissemination, popular culture, self-fashioning and sex as part of identities, and theoretical concepts of sexuality. It intends to explore ways to expand how historians engage with sexuality and gender through drawing on histories of books, publishing, visual and material culture, and spatial histories.

Other activities

Papers given

  • 'Embodied Experiences of Sex in Letter-Writing to Marie Stopes, 1918-1939', Women's History Network Student Conference 2021: Studying Herstories (8 March 2021).
  • 'Embodied Experiences of Sex in Letter-Writing to Marie Stopes, 1918-1939', Personal Correspondence 1400-Present Conference, Northampton History Department (16 April 2021).
  • 'Let's Talk About Sex: Sex and Bodies in Twentieth-Century Publishing', Life Cycles Seminar Series, Institute of Historical Research (1 February 2022).

Conference organisation

  • Organising Committee Chair, Economic and Social Research Council Midlands Graduate School Conference, March to June 2021. Conference hosted online by the University of Birmingham on 23 June 2021.
  • Organising Committee member, Modern British Studies Postgraduate Conference: We Are Still Here! A PGR Research Showcase, March to July 2021. Conference hosted online by the University of Birmingham on 8-9 July 2021.

Research grants/study trips

  • Economic and Social Research Council 1+3 PhD funding, 2019-2023.
  • British Association of Irish Studies Postgraduate Bursary Prize, May 2021.
  • Funding for a research trip to archives in Dublin. Completed December 2021.