Professor of History, Manchester Metropolitan University

I am a social and economic historian of eighteenth-century England, with particular interests in the histories of retailing and consumption, both by the urban middling sorts and the rural elite.

Much of my work is collaborative and interdisciplinary - a reflection, in part, of my background in historical geography, which I studied for my DPhil at Oxford University, writing my thesis on the role of the urban system in early industrialisation in northwest England. Since then, I have worked with geographers, art historians, heritage professionals and historians from the UK and across Europe on projects funded by the AHRC, The Leverhulme Trust, the European Union and the Pasold Trust.

I am the founding editor of the journal History of Retailing and Consumption co-chair of the Material and Consumer Culture network in the ESSHC, and a member of the Manchester Centre for Regional History.

I joined MMU in 2015 having previously held positions at the University of Northampton, Coventry University and Staffordshire University.

My research ranges across the economic, social and cultural history of England in the long eighteenth century. I have worked on industrial, urban and regional development in the Midlands and north-west England, published as The First Industrial Region (MUP, 2004) and Towns, Regions and Industries (MUP, 2005); the construction and articulation of social and business networks, and the geographies of leisure and retailing. The last of these involved research, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, on the inter-relationship between the spaces and social practices of polite leisure and shopping in provincial towns which was published as Spaces of Consumption (Routledge, 2007). More recently, my book Sugar and Spice (OUP, 2013) comprises a major study of the changing world of the grocery trade in the period 1650-1850 – a time during which both retailers and consumers transformed their behaviour and attitudes in the face of a range of new exotic imports. I have also co-edited several collections of essays that explore retailing and consumption in a comparative European context, most recently Selling Textiles in the Long Eighteenth Century (Palgrave, 2014).

I recently completed a project, supported by the AHRC, which explores Consumption and the country house, c.1730-1800. Through detailed case studies of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire country houses, this project links the identity, supply networks and consumption practices of the gentry. It has already produced a number of journal articles and book chapters, and a monograph, Consumption and the Country House, published by OUP.

Alongside this, I am developing my research into the relationship between fashion, taste and second-hand circuits of exchange, seeking to challenge traditional notions that second-hand markets were based on economic necessity. But my main focus at present is a joint project with our Marie-Curie Fellow, Dr Cristina Prytz (Uppsala University), which explores physical and emotional comfort in the English and Swedish country house during the long eighteenth century. We are currently planning small exhibitions to be held in a number of Swedish houses.

Experience

  • –present
    Professor of History, Manchester Metropolitan University