Department of History

Our research

Student in Square 4 circa 1972

Informing our present by exploring our past

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.

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 Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.

Research clusters

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 is organized through the following, overlapping, research clusters which bring together academic staff, postgraduate students and visiting and postdoctoral fellows.

Race and 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

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 cultures

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: Daisy Payling
  • Key project: Public Health Campaigns and Healing Practices in the PRC funded by the European Commission Research Executive

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.

War, 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.

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.

Holocaust research

Our department has a long-standing commitment to Holocaust research and education. Related activities include organising our University's annual Holocaust Memorial Week, which includes the presentation of the Dora Love Prize to local schools, as well as the journal The Holocaust in History and Memory.

Postgraduate research

Our postgraduates actively contribute to our research profile. Our list of current PhD theses shows the broad range of historical research currently being carried out in our Department. You can view completed history PhD theses in our Albert Sloman Library.


See our individual academic staff profiles for full lists of publications by our staff, or search our research repository. Our staff also regularly publish work as part of our ongoing research paper series.