Dr Esme Cleall
B.A., M.A. (Sheffield), Ph.D. (UCL)
Department of History
Lecturer in the History of the British Empire
+44 114 222 2619
Full contact details
Department of History
1 Upper Hanover Street
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?
- Missionary Discourses of Difference: Negotiating Otherness in the British Empire, 1840-1900. Palgrave Macmillan.
- From Divine Judgement to Colonial Courts: Missionary ‘Justice’ in British India, c. 1840–1914. Cultural and Social History, 1-15. View this article in WRRO
- Jane Groom and the Deaf Colonists: Empire, Emigration and the Agency of Disabled People in the late Nineteenth-Century British Empire. History Workshop Journal, 81(1), 39-61. View this article in WRRO
- Deaf Connections and Global Conversations: Deafness and education in and beyond the British Empire, ca. 1800-1900. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 16(1). View this article in WRRO
- Orientalising deafness: race and disability in imperial Britain. Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, 21(1), 22-36. View this article in WRRO
- ‘Deaf to the Word’: Gender, Deafness and Protestantism in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland. Gender & History, 25(3), 590-603.
- Far-Flung Families and Transient Domesticity: Missionary Households in Metropole and Colony. Victorian Review, 39(2), 163-179.
- Imperial Relations: Histories of family in the British Empire. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 14(1).
- ‘In defiance of the highest principles of justice, principles of righteousness’: the indenturing of the Bechuana rebels and the ideals of empire, 1897-1900.. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 40(4), 601-618.
- View this article in WRRO Deafness: Representation, Sign Language, and Community, c. 1800-1920. In Stoddard Holmes M & Huff J (Ed.), A Cultural History of Disability in the Long Nineteenth Century London: Bloomsbury.
- From researching heritage to action heritage, Heritage as Community Research (pp. 171-186). Policy Press
- View this article in WRRO 'Sexuality' In McKenzie K (Ed.), Volume 5. A Cultural History of Western Empires in the Age of Empire (1800-1920) London: Bloomsbury.
- View this article in WRRO Producing and managing deviance in the disabled colonial self: John Kitto, the deaf traveller, Subverting Empire Deviance and Disorder in the British Colonial World Palgrave Macmillan
- Creating Religious Childhoods in Anglo-World and British Colonial Contexts, 1800-1950 Routledge
- Race and empire (pp. 1-6). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
- ‘Deaf to the Word’: Gender, Deafness and Protestantism in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland, Sex, Gender and the Sacred (pp. 195-208). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
- Research group
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
- Rachel Garratt (second supervisor, with University of Leeds) - Enabling or Disabling: deaf responses to auditory technology in the early twentieth century.
- Completed Students
- Sabine Hanke - National identity and cultural difference in the British and German circus, 1920-1945
- 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.
- 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
- HST3127/8 - Contested Visions: Imagining an Empire in mid-nineteenth century Britain
- HST3307 - Conflict, Cultures and (De)colonisation
- HST6053 - Debating Cultural Imperialism in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire
- Professional activities
- Disability Studies at the University of Sheffield – member
- History of Feminism Collective – founding member
- 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:
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.