Professor Karen Harvey

Professor Karen Harvey

Department of History
Professorial Fellow and Professor of Cultural History

My teaching focusses on the social and cultural aspects of eighteenth-century Britain. I'm particularly interested in how men and women experienced their lives in the context of wider understandings of power, gender and the body. 

Feedback and office hours

By appointment.


  • PhD History, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • MA Women’s History, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • BA Hons Politics and History, University of Manchester


I joined the University of Birmingham as a Professorial Fellow in 2017. Before this I worked at the University of Manchester (on the project 'Women, Work and the Industrial Revolution, 1760-1840') and the AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior (at the Royal College of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Royal Holloway). I then worked at the Department of History at the University of Sheffield from 2003-2017.

I have held fellowships at the Clark Library, UCLA, the Huntington Library and the Australian Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. My research on eighteenth-century Britain has been funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, The Wellcome Trust and The Pasold Research Fund.

At Birmingham, I am the Director of the Birmingham Eighteenth Century Centre and a member of the Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies. As a historian of the British long eighteenth century, I also look forward and therefore my work also intersects with the interests of the Centre for Modern British Studies.


I teach specialist undergraduate modules on women, gender and the body as well as contributing to the MA in Early Modern History'. 

I currently supervise 7 PhD students, working on topics that include women and animals in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, women in seventeenth-century ballads and black women in eighteenth-century England.

Postgraduate supervision

I offer PhD supervision in several areas of eighteenth-century British history, particularly cultural and social history and the history of gender. I welcome collaborations with external partners. I am currently supervising PhDs on women and emotions (Laura Alston), women landowners in Shropshire, 1760-1860 (Sara Downs), women and animals in seventeenth- and eighteenth-England (Poppy Freeman-Cuerden), black women in eighteenth-century England (Montaz Marche), women in seventeenth-century ballads (Ellie Sutton) and eighteenth-century Cannon Hall (Nicola Walker).

Find out more - our PhD History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


I am a cultural historian of the British long eighteenth century, with a special interest in the body and gender. I have ongoing interests in the body and sexuality, masculinity, print culture (both visual and textual) and material culture. My current major research project is the Leverhulme-funded 'Material Identities, Social Bodies: Embodiment in British Letters c.1680-1820' (2021-25) which uses thousands of letters by men and women to explore the relationships between the physical body, self and social identity, and experiences of ‘embodiment’. One article from the project was published in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2019), and another will be published in a Routledge collection in 2022. Our project will create a public database which includes transcription and digital images of many of these letters.

Other recent research projects include the collaborative project with archaeologists The Material Body and a collection of essays from this project will be completed with Manchester University Press in 2021. I co-organized the conference, Pretty Ugly: Early Modern Beauty, 1400-1800 in January 2019, and am editing a book on beauty in the Enlightenment for Bloomsbury. Another conference, Socially-Engaged Public History: Practice, Ethics and Politics, took place in January 2019, drawing on my public history work with a range of partners. More recently, the conference Epistolary Bodies explored letters and the body in the eighteenth century. A book arising from the conference will be completed with Routledge in 2021.

My most recent book, The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder (Oxford University Press, 2020) is a social history of Mary Toft, who took part in a monstrous birth hoax in 1726 during which Toft appeared to give birth to 17 rabbits. The project is about the experiences and emotions of Toft and the people around her, and also situates the case in the context of early-eighteenth-century politics.

A second edition of my collection, History and Material Culture was published in 2018.

My previous books include The Little Republic (OUP, 2012), in which I reconstructed men's experiences of the house, examining the authority that accrued to mundane and everyday household practices and employing men's own concepts to understand what men thought and felt about their domestic lives. My first book, Reading Sex (CUP, 2004), examined ideas of gender difference in eighteenth-century erotic culture. 

I am committed to the public understanding of the History and public engagement in this area. I have developed relationships with many public partners in projects that support teaching, disseminate current research and lead to co-produced research between academics and other groups. This includes a community project with Sheffield Visual Arts Group and Museums Sheffield, 'Art and Craft in Sheffield: Our history in 100 Objects', and a project with staff and residents at Roundabout, a charity for homeless youth, on their refurbished eighteenth-century hostel. Hostel residents produced displays and a short film about the hostel, having visited archives and other historic sites. I have supervised several AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards, and am currently in the supervisory team for 3 PhD students working between the University of Sheffield and Chatsworth on the history of servants: From Servants to Staff: The Whole Community in the Chatsworth Household 1700-1950.

Other activities


Recent publications


Harvey, K 2020, The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford University Press. <>


Harvey, K 2019, 'Epochs of embodiment: men, women and the material body', Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 455-469.

Harvey, K 2018, 'Rabbits, Whigs and Hunters: Women and Protest in Mary Toft’s monstrous births of 1726', Past & Present, vol. 238, no. 1, pp. 43–83.

Harvey, K 2015, 'Men of arts: masculine E=embodiment and the male leg in Eighteenth-Century England', Journal of British Studies, vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 797-821.

Harvey, K 2015, 'What Mary Toft felt: women's voices, pain, power and the body', History Workshop Journal, vol. 80, no. 1, pp. 33-51.

Harvey, K 2015, '‘Envisioning the Past: Art, Historiography and Public History’', Cultural and Social History, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 527-543.


Harvey, K 2015, Craftsmen in Common: Skills, Objects and Masculinity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. in Gender and Material Culture c.1750-1950: Hannah Greig, Jane Hamlett and Leonie Hannan. Palgrave Macmillan.

View all publications in research portal

Culture and collections

Schools, institutes and departments

Services and facilities