My research focuses on the social and cultural history of nineteenth century France and Britain. I am interested in the history of reading and of education, the history of chlldhood and adolescence, and am currently working on a new project on middle class family strategies and social mobility.
I am interested in the social and cultural history of Britain and France in the nineteenth century, a period of rapid change when people were calling into question old certainties and many new modes of thought and behaviour were emerging. My research focuses on the history of education and childhood, and on the history of social mobility. Studying childhood and the history of education uncovers the roots of modern ideas about the self and the role of the state. My new project examining the history of social mobility reveals some of the concrete ways in which long-standing ideas about the structure of society were being challenged in this period, and explores the ways in which familiies negotiated the opportunities available to them.
- social mobility and social structure
- childhood and adolescence
My work explores the social and cultural history of nineteenth-century England and France, focusing in particular on the history of education, the history of childhood, and on the history of social mobility.
My monograph Educating Women examined the development of schooling for middle class girls in England and France. While tracking the evolution of the teaching profession and changes in the instruction offered to girls, it highlighted differences between the dominant conceptions of femininity in the two countries and demonstrates how gender interacted with religion, social, economic and legal factors to determine the opportunities and constraints of women’s lives in the two countries. My recent work builds on this research to explore the relationship between gender and adolescence in Britain and France, examining the ways in which, in the early nineteenth century, a new wave of scientific and medical literature developed new theories of adolescence which influenced the treatment and experiences of young people in significant ways, and contributed to new patterns in family life and schooling.
A second strand in my research examines the comparative history of social mobility in England and France. In 2013 I was awarded funding by TORCH (the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) to set up an interdisciplinary research network exploring qualitative approaches to the history and study of social mobility. Entitled ‘Rags to Riches: experiences of social mobility’ this group brings together historians, sociologists, anthropologists and education experts interested in developing new ways to extend our understanding of patterns and experiences of social mobility and provides a context for my own project on nineteenth-century England and France. Exploring the fortunes of French and English families of the industrial bourgeoisie over three generations, and setting these case studies in broader statistical context, this project sheds new light on the relationship between gender, family and social mobility. At the same time, by taking a family-biographical approach and exploring the ways in which individuals and families understood and managed changes in their social position, it uncovers the intimate and emotional history of the experience of social mobility, aspects of social change which have been neglected by the existing scholarship which has been dominated by large-scale quantitative analyses.
See page on Exeter College website