Professor Karen Harvey


Contact Details

Professor of Cultural History
B.A. (Manc.), M.A. and Ph.D. (Lond.)
Cultural History of the long 18th century; gender, the body & the domestic interior
+44 (0)114 22 22605
Jessop West room 2.13

Office hours: Wednesdays 09:00-10:00; 11:00-12:00


Karen Harvey read Politics and Modern History at Manchester University, before moving to Royal Holloway, University of London where she gained an MA in Women's History and later her PhD. She subsequently worked on the project 'Women, Work and the Industrial Revolution, 1760-1840' at Manchester University, was then appointed to the AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior (at the Royal College of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Royal Holloway), before joining the history department in 2003. Karen has held fellowships at the Clark Library, UCLA, the Huntington Library and the Australian Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Her research on eighteenth-century Britain has been funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, The Wellcome Trust and The Pasold Research Fund. Since joining the department Karen has been awarded a Senate Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (in 2007), has worked hard to establish interdisciplinary research links within the University and has developed a number of important partnerships with public groups and organizations. She is also currently Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts.



Karen is a cultural historian of the British long eighteenth century, with a special interest in gender. She uses a wide range of written, visual and material sources in her research, and similarly employs a number of different approaches. She is committed to interdisciplinarity, both in the approaches she takes to her sources and the journals in which she chooses to publish. A particular interest in the body and sexuality led her to write an account of the erotic culture of the eighteenth century, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), and to edit The Kiss in History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). She has ongoing research interests in masculinity, print culture (both visual and textual), material culture, and what might be termed the rather more 'impolite' aspects of the eighteenth century. Karen also has an interest in contemporary representations - both historiographical and popular - of the eighteenth-century past, including those in films and museums.

Karen's current project is a social history of Mary Toft, who took part in a hoax in 1726, during which Toft appeared to give birth to 17 rabbits. The project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is about the experiences and emotions of Toft and the people around her. It also situates the case in the context of early-eighteenth-century politics. Karen is also currently preparing a second edition of her collection, History and Material Culture (Routledge, forthcoming). Karen's most recent monograph is The Little Republic (OUP, 2012). This 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. As part of this project, Karen developed an interest in the connections between space, manuscript practices and print which led directly to Karen becoming the first Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, housed in a row of late-Georgian buildings. This residency drew upon Karen's book as well as her new reading of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (which appeared in Review of English Studies, 2014). You can read about this research on Karen's blog here. The residency involved collaboration with artists, and Karen explores the implications of this for the discipline in a forthcoming article in Cultural and Social History. Other projects include a large collaborative project on the history of sexual information and a project with archaeologists on the material early modern body. Karen’s next book project develops out of her longstanding interest in the male body, work and material culture and explores changes in the ways that gender and class identities were ‘embodied’ in the eighteenth century.


Research Supervision


Karen welcomes postgraduate students working on any aspect of cultural or social history from 1650 to 1850, and particularly those interested in gender, sexuality, material culture, the domestic interior and popular representations of the early modern. Current PhD Students:


Laura Alston - Women and Anger in Eighteenth-Century Britain


Laura Bracey - Women in the Sheffield metal trades (AHRC funded, in partnership with Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust)


Nigel Cavanagh - A study of the Elsecar community from the late eighteenth century (AHRC funded, in partnership with Barnsley Museums)


Will Finley - The Printed Image 1750-1850: towards a Digital History of Printed Book Illustration


Kate Gibson - The Experience of and Attitudes towards Extra-marital Sex and Illegitimacy in the long Eighteenth Century, 1660-1830 (Wolfson Foundation Postgraduate Scholarship)


Nicola Walker - Community, Family and Industry at Cannon Hall (AHRC funded, in partnership with Barnsley Museums)

Please click here for further information on research opportunities within the department.



Karen Harvey and John Clark, Tales From The Orchard. The History of Bank Street: Past and Present (Sheffield, 2014).

Karen Harvey The Little Republic book coverThe Little Republic: Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The first full-length study of men and the house in the eighteenth century: fills a gap in published work and historical understanding of the domestic and masculinity. Examines the relationship between ideas and practices; contributes to the methodology of cultural and social history.

Karen Harvey History and Material Culture book coverHistory and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources (ed.) (Routledge, March 2009)

Sources are the raw material of history, but where the written word has traditionally been seen as the principal source, today historians are increasingly recognizing the value of sources beyond text. In History and Material Culture, Karen Harvey embarks upon a discussion about material culture – considering objects, often those found surrounding us in day to day life, as sources, which can help historians develop new interpretations and new knowledge about the past.

Karen Harvey The Kiss in History book coverThe Kiss in History (ed) (Manchester University Press, 2005).

Writers have previously placed the action of kissing into categories: kisses of love, affection, peace, respect and friendship. Each of the essays in this fascinating book take a single kind of kiss and uses it as an index to the past. For rather than offering a simple history of the kiss, this book is about the kiss in history.

Karen Harvey Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century book coverReading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge University Press, January 2004)

Karen Harvey explores the construction of sexual difference and gender identity in eighteenth-century England. Using erotic texts and their illustrations, and rooting this evidence firmly in historical context, Harvey provides a thoroughgoing critique of the orthodoxy of work on sexual difference in the history of the body. She argues that eighteenth-century English erotic culture combined a distinctive mode of writing and reading in which the form of refinement was applied to the matter of sex. Erotic culture was male-centred and it was in this environment, Harvey argues, that men could enjoy both the bawdy, raucous, libidinous elements of the eighteenth century and the refined politeness for which the period is also renowned. This book makes a significant contribution to the history of masculinity and advocates an approach to change in gender history, one capable of capturing the processes of negotiation and contestation integral to cultural change.


Book Chapters


'The Body', Susan Broomhall (ed.), Emotions in Early Modern Europe: An Introduction (Routledge, forthcoming 2016).

'William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (1622)', Cesare Cuttica and Gaby Mahlberg (eds), Patriarchal Moments, a volume in the series Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming), eds J.C. Davis and John Morrow.

'Craftsmen in Common: Skills, Objects and Masculinity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries', invited submission for Hannah Greig, Jane Hamlett and Leonie Hannan (eds), Gender and Material Culture c.1750-1950 (Palgrave, forthcoming 2015).

'A History of Bank Street', in Karen Harvey & John Clark, Tales From The Orchard. The History of Bank Street: Past and Present (Sheffield, 2014), pp. 10-53.

'Politics by Design: Consumption, Identity and Allegiance' in Susanne Schmid and Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp (eds), Drink in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Perspectives in Economic and Social History (Pickering and Chatto, to be published January 2014), pp. 11-22.

'Masculinity Acquires a History', in Sarah Foot and Nancy Partner (eds), The Handbook of Historical Theory (Sage, 2012).

'Sexuality and the Body', in Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus (eds), Women’s History: Britain, 1700-1850 (Routledge, 2005), pp. 78-99.

'Spaces of Erotic Delight' in Miles Ogborn & Charles W.J. Withers (eds), Georgian Geographies: Space, Place and Landscape in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 2004), pp. 130-50.

'Gender and trade in Manchester, 1780-1840' (with Hannah Barker), in Rosemary Sweet and Penny Lane (eds) 'On the town': Women and Urban Life in Eighteenth-Century England, c.1660-1820 (Ashgate, 2003), pp. 111-129.

'"The Majesty of the Masculine Form": Multiplicity and Male Bodies in Eighteenth-Century Erotica', in Tim Hitchcock and Michele Cohen (eds) English Masculinities, 1660-1800 (Longman, 1999), pp. 193-214.



Journal Articles


'What Mary Toft Felt: Language, Emotions and the Body', History Workshop Journal (forthcoming spring 2016)

'Envisioning the Past: Art, Historiography and Public History', Cultural and Social History (forthcoming December 2015).

'Men of Parts: Embodiment and the Male Leg in Eighteenth-Century Britain'. Forthcoming Journal of British Studies, 54:4 (forthcoming October 2015).

'Oeconomy and the eighteenth-century 'house': a cultural history of social practice', in Alison Blunt (ed.) 'Domestic practice in the past: historical sources and methods', Special Issue of the journal Home Cultures, November 2014, Vol.11 (3), pp. 375-390.

‘The Manuscript History of Tristram Shandy’, Review of English Studies (August 2013), pp. 1-21.

'Ritual encounters: punch parties and masculinity in the eighteenth century', Past and Present, 214 (2012), pp. 165-203.

'Visualizing Reproduction: a Cultural History of Early-Modern and Modern Medical Illustrations', Journal of Medical Humanities, 31, 1 (2010), pp. 37-51.

'Men Making Home: Masculinity and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century England', Gender & History, 21, 3, November 2009, pp. 520-540.

'Barbarity in a tea-cup? Punch, domesticity and gender in the eighteenth century', Journal of Design History, 21, 3 (2008), pp. 205-221.

'The History of Masculinity, circa 1650-1800', article in (ed.) a Special Feature on Masculinities in The Journal of British Studies, 44, 2 (2005), pp. 296-311.

'What Have Historians Done with Masculinity? Reflections on Five Centuries of British History, circa 1500-1950', (with Alexandra Shepard) introduction to a Special Feature on Masculinities in The Journal of British Studies, 44, 2 (2005), pp. 274-80.

'The Substance of Sexual Difference: Change and Persistence in Eighteenth-Century Representations of the Body', Gender and History, 14, 2 (2002), pp. 202-23.

'A Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century', The Historical Journal 45, 4 (2002), pp. 899-916.

'Gender, Space and Modernity in Eighteenth-Century England: A Place called Sex', History Workshop Journal, 51 (2001), pp. 158-79.


For a full list of publications please click here.


Lecturer - The 'Disenchantment' of Early Modern Europe, c. 1570-1770, HST115 (First Year compulsory module)

This module explores the fundamental shifts in mental attitudes and public behaviour that occurred in Europe between the age of the Reformation and the age of the Enlightenment. The central focus of the course will be the examination of the supernatural – religious beliefs, but also witchcraft and magic. You will explore the changing ways in which beliefs impinged on people's lives at various social levels. You will also have an opportunity to study the impact on people's world views of such changes as rising literacy, urbanisation, state formation and new discoveries about the natural world. All these will be investigated in the institutional contexts of state and church and the ways in which they sought to channel and mould beliefs and behaviour. This module enables you to understand how the early modern period is distinctive from and links medieval and later modern historical studies.


Module Leader - Gender, Culture and Society: Britain, 1689-1837, HST246 (Second Year module)

This module will give students the chance to consider one of the most important, exciting and original areas of recent historical research: gender. The module aims to encourage students to consider broad questions and theories about gender history through one specific context: Britain between the years 1689-1837. It was during this period that Britain was transformed from an early-modern to a modern nation. Students will explore the comparative experiences of men and women during a series of momentous developments, including the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the emergence of a class society, the emergence of popular participation as a significant feature in political life, and the development of the ideology of separate spheres. The module will thus enable students to assess the part played by gender in the emergence of 'modern' British society. Students will be encouraged to explore how a focus on gender encourages new interpretations of the key economic, political, social and cultural developments of this period.

Module Leader - The Rabbit-Woman of Godalming: Reproduction, Sexuality and the Body in Early Modern Britain, 1600-1800, HST2002 (Second Year Document module)

In 1726, a flurry of news stories reported that a woman had given birth to 17 rabbits in Godalming, Surrey. Taking this case as its starting point, this module examines a range of early-modern representations of reproduction, exploring the many ways in which contemporaries used reproduction as something to ‘think with'. The module examines issues such as sexuality, medical authority, relations between men and women, race, and the politics of reproduction. Students will focus on many types of source to examine past experiences of reproduction, but also how reproduction functioned through metaphors of generation and birth. We will also widen our focus to explore how male and female bodies were imagined more generally. Students should be aware that some of our discussions will touch on sensitive issues and explicit material.

Module Leader - The Making of the Modern Home: Gender and Domesticity, England 1650-1800, HST3013/3014 (Third year optional module)

By the end of the eighteenth century, `home´ meant more than a dwelling. No longer simply a physical place, it was the focus of powerful emotional attachments, at the centre of family life, and core to British national identity. This module traces the processes involved.
From 1650, both the physical structure of the home and the economic function of the household radically transformed. Houses became larger and subdivided arguably allowing for greater privacy. Domestic material culture diversified due to economic developments in Britain and also an expansion in overseas trade. A proliferation of consumer goods transformed the domestic interior. These changes affected people's experiences and imaginings of the home. As family life transformed, the effects on men and women – and masculinity and femininity – were considerable. New forms of writing began to invest the `home´ with greater significance. Long considered the bedrock of social order, the family and its dwelling became increasingly important to society and in politics. By the end of the period, `domesticity´ was central to British personal and national identity.
The module uses a wide range of source types to explore these changes. Students study material objects, visual images and written texts, drawing on anthropology, archaeology, and the history of art, design, literature, architecture and material culture. Looking at teapots, candlesticks, floor plans, portraits, advertisements, conduct books, diaries and novels, we ask a series of questions: What did `home´ mean to contemporaries? Who had power in the household? Who did the shopping? How did changing decorative styles reflect political and cultural conditions? In what ways did changing interior design affect domestic relations? How were household power relations shaped by the material features of the domestic interior? What was `modern´ about the eighteenth-century home? This interdisciplinary module examines how changes in the physical space and economic function of the household affected both domestic power relations and the meaning of 'home'.

Module Leader - Worlds of Consumption, HST3305 (Third year comparative module)

Today we take it for granted that what we consume in some way defines who we are. Even the deliberate rejection of consumption—as practised for instance by advocates of voluntary simplicity—is regarded as a 'lifestyle choice'. We understand, too, that consumption is an intensely political topic connected to questions of identity, morality, status, and economic opportunity. How did it come to be so? This module explores this and related questions historically with the aim of illuminating the complexity and variety of consumption in the human past.

We tackle consumption in an array of historical settings: chronologically we cover the period from 1400 to the present day; geographically we explore case studies from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, studying consumption’s global and local, as well as its national, dimensions. Studying this unit will give you the chance to engage with the main themes arising from the historical study of consumption and will foster your ability and confidence in formulating analyses of a topic covering a significant period of time, approached in a comparative way, and studied at an advanced level.

Module Leader - The Early Modern Body: Identity, Politics and Embodiment, c1640-1800, HST6064 (Postgraduate module)

This module uses the subject of 'the body' to explore themes in early modern history, as well as focussing on the representation and experiences of the body itself. It draws upon a range of historical approaches, including social and cultural history, the history of emotions and the history of material culture, as well as key theoretical interventions on the body. Topics may include martyrdom and politics, pain and identity, suffering and emotion. The module engages with an emerging historiographical narrative that suggests that identities were increasingly 'embodied', based on an understanding of the body as a physical and defining entity.

Module Leader - Representing the Eighteenth Century: History & Film, HST686 (Postgraduate module)

Academic historians are increasingly interested in the ways in which history is used and delivered in popular media. Within this area of research, filmic representations are attracting considerable attention. At the same time, historians have become live to the ways in which their own discipline does not simply unearth facts, but creates narratives, deploys plots, and uses genre. On this module, we will explore both filmic and historical representations of the eighteenth century. The focus is on the uses of history in film, and the analysis of these in the context of academic 'representations' of the period.

Lecturer - Postgraduate Dissertations, HST6560 (Postgraduate)

Students undertake an individual research project, based on an identifiable collection of primary sources and present their findings in a dissertation of 15,000 words. The dissertation represents an original piece of independent research and should be based on a substantial primary source base and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. Through the dissertation students demonstrate their practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret historical knowledge. Students will work under the supervision of an expert member of staff who will provide guidance and regular tutorial support.

Lecturer - Worlds of Consumption, HST3305 (Third Year optional module)

Today we take it for granted that what we consume in some way defines who we are. Even the deliberate rejection of consumption—as practised for instance by advocates of voluntary simplicity—is regarded as a 'lifestyle choice'. We understand, too, that consumption is an intensely political topic connected to questions of identity, morality, status, and economic opportunity. How did it come to be so? This module explores this and related questions historically with the aim of illuminating the complexity and variety of consumption in the human past.

Lecturer - Paths from Antiquity to Modernity, HST112 (First Year compulsory module)

Taking you from the height of the Roman Empire to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, this module is an introduction to the dominant narrative of History, from a European perspective (though the module ventures widely beyond Europe when appropriate). Each lecture looks at a particular historical 'turning point', while the weekly seminar takes a more thematic approach, tackling historical notions such as revolutions, progress, globalisation and renaissance. By the end of the module, you'll have a sense of the broad sweep of History, fascinating in itself but particularly useful for single and dual honours students as preparation for more detailed study at Levels II and III. You will also have an appreciation of the importance of periodisation (how historians divide up time), and the problematic concept of modernity. This module is explicitly intended to aid with the transition to the study of History at University.


Public Engagement

Karen-Harvey-GluttonKaren is committed to the public understanding of the History and the past. She has developed relationships with many public partners in projects that support teaching, disseminate current research and lead to co-produced research between the academy and other groups. Karen has been Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, in Sheffield, since September 2012. During the Residency she has examined her research on men and the house in the context of these Georgian domestic spaces and alongside artists working in a range of media, and has also established an archive for the centre. She is also exploring how the model of the 'Academic in Residence' might move the academy past the more conventional models of academic consultancy or knowledge transfer. ‘Another recent project was with Sheffield Visual Arts Group and Museums Sheffield. 'Art and Craft in Sheffield: Our history in 100 Objects'. This was an exciting community-led project that engaged a wide range of audiences with the object collections in the city. Combining research on material culture with the knowledge and memories of community participants, the project ended with a display in Museums Sheffield's Weston Park Museum. Both these projects were funded by the 'Researching Community Heritage' project which has supported many successful applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund from local community groups. As part of this project, Karen worked 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. Through three AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards Karen is developing other long-standing relationships with Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Barnsley Museums. Karen is involved in three further CDAs with Chatsworth, starting in autumn 2015. Karen has represented the department on the University's Social Science Knowledge Exchange Forum and the Faculty of Arts & Humanities Public Engagement Committee. In 2007 she won a University of Sheffield 'Knowledge Transfer Opportunities Fund' grant, supported by the Higher Education Innovation Fund, for the project 'Displaying Drink: Ritual at the Eighteenth-Century Table'.

Professional Roles

Royal Historical Society - Fellow

British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies - Member


University Administrative Roles

Karen has served as a member of many of departmental, faculty and university bodies. Outside the Department, Karen has been a member of the Arts Faculty Board, the Faculty of Arts Learning and Teaching Quality Committee, the Social Science Knowledge Transfer Forum and the Arts Faculty External Engagement Committee. She has served as Faculty rep on several University project groups and is a member of University Senate. Within the Department, Karen has been Director of Learning and Teaching, Director of MA Programmes and Public Engagement Coordinator. She also held the post of Assistant Faculty Director of Learning and Teaching, with responsibility for Student Affairs, for two years.