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.