Photo of Tom LengDr Tom Leng

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

Lecturer in History

Intellectual history; 17th Century commercial discourse, practice and policies; colonial projects and commerce; civil war politics

+44 (0)114 22 22583 | Jessop West 3.12

Semester One 2019/20 Office Hours: Mondays 11:00-12:00 and Thursdays 11:00-12:00



Tom-Leng-2I became a lecturer at the History Department at Sheffield in 2005, having previously completed both my B.A. and Ph.D. at the university. I have previously taught at the University of Nottingham, and worked on a number of projects at the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) here at Sheffield.

My Ph.D. was on the subject of Benjamin Worsley (1618-1677), an individual most famous for having claimed to have drafted the Navigation Act of 1651, the major piece of English commercial legislation to that date, but whose diverse interests also encompassed experimental science, alchemy, and spiritual introspection. I published my thesis as a monograph in 2008 as part of the Royal Historical Society's Studies in History series, entitled Benjamin Worsley (1618-1677). Trade, Interest, and the Spirit in Revolutionary England.

My current project is on the Merchant Adventurers of England in the seventeenth century.



My current project is entitled 'Disorderly Brethren: the Merchant Adventurers of England, c.1588-1688'. It examines internal conflicts within merchant communities and companies, and the social and intellectual geneses of seventeenth century 'free trade' campaigns, with a particular focus on the Company of Merchant Adventurers who monopolised the cloth trade with northern Europe.This project seeks to uncover the social and political implications of commercial activity, and the nature of merchant cultures in different regional and international contexts.

I am also interested in the role of the enemy in parliamentary discourse in the English civil war and revolution.

Research Supervision

I would be interested in supervising students with an interest in any element of English overseas trade and exploration in the early modern period, as well as aspects of economic life more broadly.

Current students:

  • Kay Tapply - A social and intellectual biography of Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland.
  • Michael Bennett (second supervisor) - Merchant Capital, Hybrid Knowledge, and the Formation of English Colonial Labour Regimes c.1600 – c.1700.
  • Mabel Winter (second supervisor) - Reputation, Law, and Commercial Life in Seventeenth Century England: The Case of Thompson and Company in 1677.

All current students by supervisor

Completed students:

  • Alexander Taylor (second supervisor) - Venting Smoke: The Trade and consumption of Tobacco in Early Modern England and Wales c 1625-1685.
  • Alexander Hitchman (second supervisor) - They themselves will be the Judges what commands are lawfull': Legal pamphlets and political mobilisation in the early 1640s.

PhD study in History



Benjamin Worsley (1618-1677). Trade, Interest, and the Spirit in Revolutionary England (2008: Boydell and Brewer for the Royal Historical Society 'Studies in History' series)

This book is an intellectual biography of an individual whose diverse interests served as a window into a range of historical themes ranging from commercial policy to empire, the history of science and medicine, intellectual change, and the intersection of political and religious history. Worsley was an associate of the celebrated intellectual circle centred on Samuel Hartlib, and the book offers a reconsideration of the nature of this group. Worsley also acted as a state-employed expert on the subject of overseas trade, and so the book considers the growing political significance of commerce in the 'mercantilist' era and the Navigation Act of 1651, which Worsley probably co-authored.

Book Chapters

'Shaftesbury's Aristocratic Empire', in Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683, ed. John Spurr (Ashgate, 2011).

This chapter is part of a collection of essays on one of the major political figures of the Restoration. It considers Shaftesbury's career as a colonial statesmen and entrepreneur, examining the connections between his role as founding proprietor of the colony of Carolina, his personal interests in settlements such as Barbados and the Bahamas, and his role in colonial government. It argues that Shaftesbury combined an interest in the commercial potentialities of colonial settlement with a continued commitment to the social and political dominance of aristocracy: his empire would serve as breeding ground for an aristocracy transformed by international commerce.

'Epistemology: Expertise and Knowledge in the World of Commerce', in Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire, ed. Philip Stern and Carl Wennerlind (Oxford University Press, 2013).

This chapter considers the production and communication of knowledge about commerce, and the problems which attended this task. It considers how commerce was presented as demanding expert knowledge, positing the merchant as possessing exceptional insight into a practice which was becoming increasingly important to the state. However, the type of knowledge produced by merchants was suspected precisely because these merchants had an interest in its production. The chapter outlines intellectual and political strategies to resolve this problem.

Journal Articles

‘The meanings of “Malignancy”: the language of enmity and the construction of the parliamentarian cause in the English Revolution’, Journal of British Studies 53.4 (Oct. 2014), pp. 835-858.

This article deconstructs a character that was ubiquitous within parliamentarian pamphlet literature in the English civil war: the “malignant,” whose “party” had been identified in the Grand Remonstrance of December 1641 as conspiring to destroy parliament and the true religion. Thereafter, the existence of this party became central to parliamentarian justifications of the war effort and to the activities of radical extra-parliamentary activists. The malignant thus became bound up in contests within the parliamentarian coalition, something reflected by the issuing of new remonstrances by London's Presbyterians, Levellers, and the New Model Army, each of which hinged on the identification of a new enemy. Despite these efforts, the specter of the malignant continued to haunt parliamentarian discourse after the regicide, although its meaning became increasingly ambiguous, symptomatic of the challenges facing the post-regicidal regimes as they sought to transcend the ideological parameters of the civil war in the name of “settlement.”

‘‘Citizens at the door’: mobilising against the enemy in Civil War London’, Journal of Historical Sociology 28, 1 (2015), pp. 26-48

This article considers how the image of the enemy was deployed by parliamentarian activists in civil war London. It focuses on the “malignant party” identified in parliamentary discourse as guilty of dividing crown and parliament and precipitating civil war. Endorsing the reality of this party became a means for activists to assert their status as those most “well-affected” to parliament, and to legitimise their own political agency within the terms of parliamentary discourse. By learning to speak the language of parliament, these activists were able to participate in the construction of the parliamentary cause, and to shape its future.

‘Interlopers and Disorderly Brethren at the Stade Mart: Commercial Regulations and Practices Amongst the Merchant Adventurers of England in the Late Elizabethan Period’, The Economic History Review 69, 3 (2016), pp. 823-843.

This article examines the role of merchant companies in structuring overseas trade in early modern Europe by considering the commerce of the Merchant Adventurers of England, the ‘regulated’ Company which monopolized the cloth export trade to Germany and the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It examines the Company's trade to its German ‘mart’ town of Stade at the close of the sixteenth century through a detailed case study of the trade of one particular merchant, John Quarles. Using correspondence between Quarles and his factors overseas, it considers how membership of this regulated trading company impacted on the practice of its members, both through its formal regulatory regime and the informal pressures that came with corporate affiliation. However, corporate privileges also created ‘shadow economies’ inhabited by the excluded, those castigated by companies as ‘interlopers’. The article considers the connections between interlopers and those ‘disorderly brethren’ of the company who were prepared to violate corporate regulations in pursuit of opportunities. It shows how the regulatory regimes of merchant companies were shaped by the changing practices of members and non-members as they responded to the structural changes facing European trade in the early modern period.

'Conflict and co-operation in the discource of trade in seventeenth-century England', The Historical Journal, 48, 4 (December 2005), pp.933-954.

This article re-examines the intellectual context of commercial policy and regulation in seventeenth-century England. It questions the common assumption about so-called 'mercantilist' writers: that they saw trade as in some way finite and therefore won by one nation at the expense of another. It presents early modern commercial discourse as more complicated than is often recognised, and closely linked to the making of state policies.

'"A Potent Plantation well armed and policeed": Huguenots, the Hartlib Circle, and British Colonization in the 1640s'
, The William and Mary Quarterly, lxvi, 1 (January 2009), pp.173-194.

This article offers the first full account of an unsuccessful attempt to found an English colony in present-day North and South Carolina, which was led by a number of Huguenot projectors and promoted by the Hartlib Circle. Although the project ultimately failed, its history tells us much about attitudes towards colonial settlement in the mid-seventeenth century, and how they were changing.

'"His neighbours land mark": William Sykes and the campaign for 'free trade' in civil war England', Historical Research, 86, 232 (May 2013), pp.230-252.

This article casts new light on the 'free trade' movement against trading companies that was associated with the parliamentary cause and radical groups such as the Levellers in the 1640s, by examining a previously unknown protagonist: the Hull merchant William Sykes. Analysis of Sykes’ anti-monopoly actions and writings in the context of free trade discourse suggests a social vision that was communalistic rather than individualistic, a vision which also led him to challenge another perceived monopoly, the national church.


Module Leader

The Export of England: Seventeenth Century Trade and Empire, HST239 (Second Year optional module)

The Export of England: Seventeenth Century Trade and Empire, HST239

This module considers the commercial and territorial expansion of seventeenth-century England. It examines how England’s commerce was transformed from the largely bilateral cloth trade with Europe conducted by mercantile corporations, to a multilateral commerce conducted under several conditions (the ‘navigation system’, ‘free trade’, joint-stock companies). These changes coincided with the foundation of North American and West Indian colonies, building on earlier experiences in Ireland, and the course will consider their developing relations with the metropolis. Throughout, the focus will be on whether these changes were a consequence of deliberate ‘mercantilist’ state policies, or of the initiative of thousands of individuals.

Merchants, Mariners and Migrants: The English Overseas c1570-1624, HST3142/3 (Third Year Module)

Merchants, Mariners and Migrants: The English Overseas c1570-1624, HST3142/3

The period c.1570-1624 saw a reorientation of England’s global position, as increasing numbers of English people began to venture into unfamiliar regions. This course charts the nature and significance of their travels. We will encounter merchants in Europe, the Ottoman Empire and the far east, settlers and conquerors in Ireland and America, explorers in the frozen seas of the far north, and pirates in Spanish America. The latter part of the course focuses on the foundation of England’s first ‘successful’ American colony, Jamestown. Throughout, we consider the motives driving these ventures, and the complex nature of the encounters that ensued.

Work Placement, HST681 (Postgraduate module)

Work Placement, HST681

This module aims to give you an insight into the day to day workings of a museum, school or research institute, in order to develop history-specific vocational skills and promote reflection on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia. The module provides a vocational component to the Department of History postgraduate portfolio, and may be of particular interest to those MA students not planning to pursue a PhD after their studies. You will choose a placement from those offered at the start of the academic year and then negotiate a role within that placement relevant to their area of study. Following a placement of approximately 100 hours with an employer an essay will then be completed by you reflecting on the work you undertook. Seminars and tutorials before and after the placement will allow students to compare and contrast their experiences.

Universal Reform in Revolutionary England: Exploring the Hartlib Papers, HST6044 (Postgraduate module)

Universal Reform in Revolutionary England: Exploring the Hartlib Papers, HST6044

This module is an introduction to a major archival resource held at Sheffield University Library and available in a searchable electronic edition, the papers of Samuel Hartlib (1600-1662), a German-born intellectual reformer, publisher and `intelligencer´ based in London from the 1620s to the end of his life. It introduces you to Hartlib´s milieu, the `circle´ of likeminded collaborators with whom he surrounded himself, in context of the broader intellectual changes of the period (including the stirrings of the `scientific revolution´, the `sceptical crisis´ of the seventeenth century, and the often utopian aspirations of the English revolution).

Palaeography, HST6850 (Postgraduate module) Palaeography, HST6850 (Postgraduate module)

In this module for candidates following the early modern pathway through the MA in historical research, students are introduced to the different forms of law hand and secretary hand current in the early modern period, noting transitional styles and the emergence of italic script. A range of transcription conventions are also explained. For each session, students will be required to prepare transcriptions of a representative selection of manuscript materials.


Early Modernities, HST6059 (Postgraduate module)

Early Modernities, HST6059

This core module involves a critical analysis of the many ways in which assumptions about the characteristics of 'pre-modern' and 'modern' cultures and societies, and the transition from the former to the latter, have shaped historians' approaches to the early modern period. These assumptions have considerable implications for the ways that source materials are interpreted, the choice of interpretative models which are deployed, and the manner in which early modern history is written. A series of seminars will introduce students to theme and topics in early modern history, analysing and evaluating the interpretative models proposed by a number of scholars, and focusing on the issues of 'individuality' and 'self-hood' in the early modern period. The sources available to those writing early modern history will be a complementary focus of the module, which will also introduce students to the technical and methodological problems associated with the effective use and interpretation of a range of pre-modern sources, but concentrating on personal diaries and journals as a genre for exploring individuality. In the final module unit students undertake a detailed historical analysis of a historical building of the period (Bolsover Castle).

Dissertation, HST6560 (Postgraduate module)

Dissertation, HST6560

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.

Public Engagement

Public Engagement

To Follow.

In The Media

To Follow.

Administrative Duties

Current Administrative Duties

I am currently acting as co-director of Sheffield’s early modern research centre, SCEMS