Our research

Historian in focus

Matthias Rohrig Assuncao

Over the next few months we'll be focusing on a different member of our Department. This month we take a look at Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção and his work on the history of Capoeira.

We are internationally recognised for the quality of our research across a broad range of areas from 1450 to the present. More than two-thirds of our research was rated 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' in the REF 2014.

Members of our Department have a huge variety of research interests, ranging from social and cultural history to politics and international relations. Themes of particular research interest include gender, class, health and medicine, political cultures and the quest for citizenship, new perspectives on the early modern world, popular culture, and memory and life stories.

Research clusters

The Department of History at the University of Essex was founded on the principle of undertaking pioneering research in comparative social and cultural history. Today, we continue this legacy by pursuing innovative research into the histories of diversity, citizenship and identity-formation in a globalized context. Research in the Department is organized through the following, overlapping, research clusters which bring together academic staff, postgraduate students and visiting and postdoctoral fellows.

  • Africa and its diaspora

    Africa and its diaspora

    We teach and research the African Diaspora in the broadest possible sense, which is to say African people and their descendants across the Atlantic world since the 1500s. With Africa and its history serving as a common touchstone, our specific interests encompass the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and plantation slavery, post-emancipation, African and creolized cultures in the Americas, racial formation, constructions of gender and sexuality in Southern Africa and the Americas.

  • Cultures of class

    Cultures of class

    The concept of class has been fundamentally important in understanding how modern societies function and how they change. Many historians in the department at Essex study class formation and class conflict in very different contexts, looking at the influence of material circumstances on such processes. However, we also study the different ways of life or cultures that classes create and through which they express themselves and make sense of the world. We are interested in consciousness as much as activity therefore, in languages and ideologies of class – the symbolic dimension of collective identity.

  • Early modern perspectives

    Early modern

    Our cluster, which studies Europe in the years 1450-1750, is formed of well-known and expert scholars of Europe, European colonies and the Atlantic World, with diverse and exciting research interests including witchcraft, martyrdom and religious violence, gender, material culture, early modern space, the body, urbanization and the history of the book. We are interested in the continuities with preceding eras in European history as well as the causes and consequences of the massive, social, religious, economic and political changes of this period. Our methodologies range from archival history to digital approaches to history. Above all our approach to the history of the period focuses upon the lived experience of ‘ordinary people’ and their interactions with power and culture, as well as their approaches to the natural and supernatural worlds.

  • Health, medicine and community

    • Convenor: Xun Zhou
    • Key project: Public Health Campaigns and Healing Practices in the PRC funded by the European Commission Research Executive

  • Memory and life stories

    Memory and life stories

    This cluster covers a range of historiographical approaches. Its smallest common denominator is the interest in individual experiences as a source of historical research. This includes letters, diaries, memoirs and autobiographical texts, and also court records or biographical sketches and interviews allowing the reconstruction of life stories, subjectivities and identities. Additionally, the cluster is interested in aggregated forms of life stories or memoirs up to collective biographies or public memory and commemoration. Methodologically the members of the cluster are interested in micro-history, oral history, prosopography and the connection of these approaches with macro-history.

  • Political cultures and citizenship

    Political cultures and citizenship

    • Convenor: Matthew Grant
    • Key project: National Services Life Stories funded by Leverhulme

    We define political history broadly, focusing on the construction and representation of political ideas within institutions and throughout popular culture, and the impact of those ideas on the lived experience of individuals and social groups. We research Citizenship as a historically and culturally contingent concept which defines the relationships that exist between individuals and states and between individuals themselves.

  • Women, gender, and sexuality

    Women, gender and sexuality

    We research and teach on women, gender, and sexuality across a broad and diverse range of historical contexts: from the early modern to the modern eras, in Africa, Europe and the Americas. Our critical analyses of gender, and how it framed (and continues to frame) knowledge about people’s lives and sexual identities, are further situated in relation to other axes of power: race, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, and beyond. Interdisciplinary in historical approach, our scholarship draws on a dynamic range of sources affording rich and textured evidence on the contested meanings of gender, gender identity, and sexuality.

Research centres

Our Department contains three research centres:

More about our research

A passion for football, combined with being told she couldn't play because she was a woman, was enough to ignite Professor Alison Rowlands' shining career as an authority on gender history.

Verses and Cudgels was written and directed, as a joint project, by Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção. The film documents stick playing and its insertion into the Afro-Brazilian culture in the Paraíba valley.

Postgraduate study

Postgraduate student from the Department of History

We are a leading centre for history postgraduate study at both Masters and PhD level. Become part of our active research community and benefit from the expert teaching and supervision of our academic staff.

Our academic staff

Dr Nadine Rossol

Our academic staff are internationally recognised for their expertise across a range of areas in history. Find out more about their research interests by reading their staff profiles.

AHRC funding

PhD student in library

Apply for a PhD studentship for your doctoral study funded by the Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Watch our videos

Screenshot from student interview video

Watch a taster lecture, hear our students’ opinions of their study experience and see our staff talking about their latest research. Our videos will show you the passion and enthusiasm that we offer.