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 Two Office Hours: Mondays 12:00-13:00 and Wednesdays 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

Alexander Hitchman - Popular Appeal and Political Mobilisation: A Study of Legal Pamphlets and the Law in the Early 1640s.

Further information on research opportunities within the department.



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

'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

Accordion title

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.

Civil War and Restoration London, c.1640-1670, HST3081/3082 (Third Year optional module)

Civil War and Restoration London, c.1640-1670, HST3081/3082

The course begins by surveying civic culture and society in the pre-civil war period, focusing on London's political and religious environments. We will introduce major themes in the history of early modern London: crisis and stability; participation and exclusion; religious uniformity and diversity; and public opinion. This will form the backdrop for our exploration of civil war London: we will consider the role which the city played in the outbreak of this conflict, and the extent to which Londoners experienced civil war in their own city, examining mass political mobilization, fears of popish plots, crowd protest and petitioning, the role of the printing press, and divisions in the city. We then move on to consider religious developments, particularly the growth of radical sects and the reactions they provoked, asking whether the 1640s sees the emergence of a genuine religious marketplace in London. We will see political and religious contests become entwined in the post-civil war period, and will trace the 'struggle for London' as it unfolded up to and after the execution of Charles I. Throughout, we will be interested in the extent to which civic culture was challenged and transformed by this explosion in political mobilization and religious diversity. These issues will inform our discussion of the Restoration period, in the second part of the course. We will examine the extent to which a successful royal Restoration was possible in London, how this was destabilized by the continuing politics of religion, and the ways in which plague and fire exposed the tensions underlying London society in this decade. Overall, the course will aim to develop students' understandings of urban culture, society and politics within the context of mid-seventeenth-century London, and their critical skills in interpreting contemporary source material in documentary format.

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 Level Three tutor.