Dr Esme Cleall

B.A., M.A. (Sheffield), Ph.D. (UCL)

Department of History

Lecturer in the History of the British Empire

Photo of Esme Ceall
e.r.cleall@sheffield.ac.uk

Full contact details

Dr Esme Cleall
Department of History
3.07
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
Sheffield
S3 7RA
Profile

I research and teach on the social and cultural history of the British Empire; the politics of difference; and race and disability in nineteenth-century Britain.

I studied at Sheffield as an Undergraduate and as a Masters student. I did my PhD in History at UCL spending an additional year as a cross-disciplinary training fellow in the Department of Anthropology. I then taught at Liverpool for two years before returning to Sheffield in September 2012.

My first book, Missionary Discourses of Difference: negotiating otherness in the British Empire, 1840-1900, explored the difference of gender and race through the writings of British missionaries stationed in nineteenth-century India and southern Africa. In particular, I focussed on the family and domesticity; sickness and medicine; and colonial violence; as key areas where anxieties around difference were particularly acute.

My current project, Colonising Disability: race, impairment and otherness in the British Empire, c. 1800-1914 is funded by an AHRC-leadership fellowship and explores the construction of disability in the nineteenth-century British Empire. In particular, I am focussing on the relationship between ‘race’ and ‘disability’ in colonial thought.

Research interests

My research is on the politics of colonial difference and exclusion in the British Empire. I am particularly interested in the production of categories of otherness including those based around race, gender, religion and disability.

Missionary Discourses of Difference: negotiating otherness in the British Empire, c. 1840-1900.

My monograph, Missionary Discourses of Difference: negotiating otherness in the British Empire, 1840-1900, explores the difference of gender and race through the writings of British missionaries stationed in nineteenth-century India and southern Africa. In particular, I focus on the family and domesticity; sickness and medicine; and colonial violence; as key areas where anxieties around difference were particularly acute. The basis of this project was my PhD research supported by the AHRC, and for an additional fourth year, by an UCL Cross-Disciplinary Training Fellowship in Social and Medical Anthropology. My work on missionaries has also resulted in articles on missionary humanitarianism, gender identities, and ‘justice’ in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, South African Historical Journal and Cultural and Social History.

Deaf Connections: a social and cultural history of deafness, c. 1800-1914.

This project analysed constructions and experiences of deafness in the nineteenth-century British World. Supported by a British Academy Small Grant, this multi-archival research explored deafness in nineteenth-century Britain, US, Ireland and Canada. It looked at how deaf people were singled out as particularly ‘other’ given their use of sign-language (seen as primitive) and strong communities as well as how deaf people responded to these claims. Outputs included articles in Gender and History, The Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History and History Workshop Journal.

Colonising Disability: race, impairment and otherness in the British Empire, c. 1800-1914.

My current project, Colonising Disability, explores disability in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century British Empire. Whilst it is impossible to calculate the exact numbers of disabled people in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, taken as a proportion of the overall population, there were many more disabled people in Britain in the past than there are today. Illnesses causing deafness and/or blindness (such as scarlet fever) were prolific and there were high rates of industrial and agricultural accidents which were physically disabling. As literary critics have demonstrated, disabled people populate British culture. Yet disability has been ignored by the vast majority of historians. My project aims to address this. As such, I ask: How did disability and race intersect in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? And how were the lives of disabled people informed by the wider colonial context?

Publications

Books

  • Cleall ER (2012) Missionary Discourses of Difference: Negotiating Otherness in the British Empire, 1840-1900. Palgrave Macmillan. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles

Chapters

Research group

Research supervision

I welcome students interested in working on the history of the British Empire; the histories of race, gender, and disability; missionary history; and the histories of nineteenth-century India, southern Africa and Britain.

Current students:

  • Katherine Everitt - Networks and Connections of Regional British Cotton Spinning Firms: 1780-1830.
  • Sabine Hanke - National identity and cultural difference in the British and German circus, 1920-1945.
  • Rachel Garratt (second supervisor, with University of Leeds) - Enabling or Disabling : deaf responses to auditory technology in the early twentieth century.

All current students

Completed students:

  • David Holland (second supervisor) - Natives and Newcomers, Marriage and Belonging - South Asian migration, settlement and working-class tolerance in the Sheffield area during the early twentieth century.
  • Fiona Clapperton (second supervisor, School of English) - From Servants to Staff : the making of a modern estate, Chatsworth 1908-1950.
  • Julia McColl (second supervisor, University of Liverpool) - Imagining the Missionary Hero:  juvenile missionary biographies, c. 1870-1917.

PhD study in History

Teaching interests

I principally teach on the history of the nineteenth-century British empire including the way in which the empire was shaped and understood in metropolitan Britain and the history of cultural imperialism. overseas I also teach on the history of disability in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain. I am interested in hearing from prospective research students who are researching the history of disability, race and gender in Britain and its empire. I am committed to decolonising the curriculum and am interested in hearing from students about ways to do this.

Teaching activities

Undergraduate:

  • HST3127/8 - Contested Visions: Imagining an Empire in mid-nineteenth century Britain
  • HST3307 - Conflict, Cultures and (De)colonisation 

Postgraduate: 

  • HST6053 - Debating Cultural Imperialism in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire
Professional activities

Administrative roles:

  • Senior Tutor (2016-2017)
  • Member of Teaching and Learning Committee (2016-2017)
  • Level One Tutor (2014-2016)
Public engagement

I am committed to working with community groups to unravel new perspectives on the past.

I have recently been working with Sheffield Voices, a self-advocacy group for adults with learning disabilities, to make a film about the history of learning disabilities in Sheffield. You can watch the film we made here.

I have been an Early Career Researcher on the University of Sheffield’s AHRC-funded Researching Community Heritage Team. As part of this project, I worked as a consultant historian on a project on 'Indian Heritage in the Peak District' led by Hindu Samaj and funded by the All Our Stories National Lottery Fund to unravel the connections between India and the Peak District National Park.

In the media:

I am a consultant historian on a project on 'Indian Heritage in the Peak District' lead by Hindu Samaj and funded by the All Our Stories National Lottery Fund.

Please see the video below of a talk I gave at a Sheffield Hindu Samaj workshop entitled Threads of Connection: A workshop of the history of cotton, India and the Peak District National Park. Please have a look at Sheffield Hindu Samaj's Youtube channel to see other talks I have given.

The 'Indian Heritage in the Peak District' project has garnered some media interest and coverage. In particular by Martin Wainwright (Northern Editor) of the Guardian.

I have written for The Conversation.