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Gender and Sexuality

Learn more about our research into gender and sexuality
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Political cultures

Learn more about our research into political cultures
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Visual and material cultures

Learn more about our research into visual and material cultures
Oriental Museum exhibition, Marvels of China

Economic and social history

Learn more about our research into economic and social history
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Science, Technology and Medicine

Learn more about our research into science, technology and medicine
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Transnational history

Learn more about our research into transnational history
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Landscape and environment

Learn more about our research into landscape and environment

Thinking East Asia

Learn more about our Thinking East Asia (TEA) cluster
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North-East History

Learn more about our research about North-East History
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Late Antiquity

Learn more about our research into Late Antiquity
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North American Connections

Find out more about our North American Connections research cluster
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More research areas

See more research areas
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Gender and Sexuality

This research theme aims to bring together researchers concerned with histories of gender and sexuality of all kinds, and also provides a forum for discussing queer and feminist approaches to history. In practice, staff and postgraduate students at Durham pursue a wide range of topics that intersect with gender and sexuality across time periods and geographies.

Durham historians’ current research interests in gender and sexuality include:

  • age relations and generational change in eighteenth-century Britain
  • class, gender, and the family in Victorian Britain
  • gendered Anglo-Saxon notions of belonging in the early Middle Ages
  • histories of intersectional anti-Apartheid protest movements in South Africa
  • performances of British militarism around the Great War
  • sexual crimes in early modern France
  • transnational queer activism during the Cold War
  • women and collecting in modern Europe

The group is committed to cultivating an inclusive atmosphere for discussion, and we welcome expansion into additional areas in order to reflect the diversity and dynamism of the research theme. As well as providing a space to discuss methods and concepts as well as recently published scholarship and work in progress, the group aims to ensure that the insights of research on gender and sexuality are reflected in our curriculum and pedagogy. We also benefit from interdisciplinary connections across the university, participation in public events such as LGBT+ History Month, and hosting esteemed outside speakers. All are welcome.



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Political Cultures

The Political Cultures research theme draws together researchers who engage with the concept of politics in their work. We are interested in sharing and challenging definitions of ‘the political’, understood broadly as the exercise or contest of power.

A political culture is the means by which the basic question of politics – who gets what – is challenged or defended. Many members of the theme focus on the ways in which cultures inform political actions.

We prosper from a wide range of methodological approaches, including:

  • the history of political ideas, concepts and languages
  • prosopography and quantification
  • the use of visual and material sources
  • and anthropological and sociological theories of culture or the state

Most of all, we see our research historicising political cultures to test the agency or coercion of individuals in the context of institutions, material circumstances, and mentalités. This is a necessarily expansive subject, stretching from the politics of parliaments and courts to the politics of the marketplace or the kitchen table.

Postgraduate researchers in the department benefit from a rich and diverse community studying political cultures, as well as the exceptional collections of Durham University Special Collections and other local archives. The theme primarily hosts workshops to explore and discuss first drafts of work by members of the department.



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Visual and Material Culture

This research theme aims to bring together staff and postgraduate students who are engaged in the analysis and interpretation of visual and material culture from many periods and societies. It seeks to share relevant tools and approaches for interpreting a wide range of sources – from illuminated manuscripts to digital media – and to reflect upon the different forms of attention and apprehension (visual, conceptual, tactile and experiential) required by different genres of evidence.

Our aim is to disarm some of the anxieties that some historians still feel on moving beyond the familiar study of texts through demystifying what constitutes good practice and pertinent questions. To draw on and share methods developed in a range of disciplines concerned with visual and material culture, including art history, classics, archaeology, anthropology, critical theory and psychology. And to deepen appreciation of some of the extremely rich collections of visual and material culture found both within Durham University and also within museums and institutions in the region.

The research theme provides an opportunity for periodic meetings of colleagues interested in visual and material culture. It also keeps members informed about related seminars organised through centres and institutes within the university: above all the rich programme run through the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture.



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Economic and Social History

The Economic and Social History research theme brings together staff and postgraduate students with interests in economic and social history, very broadly defined. It cuts across chronological and geographical boundaries, aiming to reflect on conceptual and methodological issues that are shared by historians of different periods and places.

This group brings together staff and postgraduate students, especially those on the MA in Social and Economic History and those undertaking PhDs in relevant areas, in an informal setting to discuss current research. It also provides sessions from time to time on areas of training particularly relevant to postgraduate students, such as databases or publishing in economic and social history journals.

As the discipline becomes ever more specialised and compartmentalised, the group takes a deliberately broad definition of economic and social history in order to reflect upon the state of the field. As such, we cover a wide range of periods and places, from medieval peasants to the modern welfare state, and include research on Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia.

Current research interests include:

  • social structure and social mobility
  • poverty, welfare and living standards
  • material culture and consumer behaviour
  • slavery and the slave trade
  • natural disasters and environmental history
  • legal culture and crime
  • gender, age and household economics
  • urban mercantile culture
  • labour and class conflict
  • customary justice and land governance
  • banking and financial history
  • social memory and popular culture



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The History of Science, Technology and Medicine

How does knowledge move? What happens when scientific, technical, medical, religious, and other forms of knowledge intersect? In what ways have scientists, technicians, and physicians won and wielded cultural authority? Just what have different people in different times and places meant by terms like “science”?

These are just some of the questions members of the history of science, technology, and medicine research theme address. The theme covers a wide range of eras and regions, from medieval to modern times, and from Britain, Europe, and the United States to China and Japan.

Current research engages with questions of production, use, and exchange of knowledge within a diverse set of topics and themes, such as:

  • intellectual history
  • theology/religion
  • literaturex
  • archaeology
  • text and manuscript culture
  • visual representation
  • race, class, and gender
  • professional identities
  • media
  • politics
  • institutional history
  • the human-animal ‘divide’
  • household healthcare
  • recipe books

We maintain strong links with ongoing interdisciplinary research projects, such as the Ordered Universe, and with centres and institutes, such as the Institute for Medical Humanities, the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease, the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society.



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Transnational History

The Transnational History theme brings together scholars interested in a wide variety of transcultural, international, and global aspects of historical research. Its primary purpose is to consider the practical, conceptual, and topical concerns that are brought into focus when departing from methodological nationalism. In promoting conversation and collaboration between specialists of different time periods and geographic areas, it aims also to foster an inclusive and open research environment for the sharing of ideas and written work. 

The main historical interests of the group include:    

  • diasporas, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism
  • borderlands, border controls, and cross-border chains and flows
  • migrant and indigenous histories of nations within nations
  • global and international aspects of nation-state formation and nationalism
  • the relations of empire, anti-colonialism, post-colonialism, globalisation, foreign affairs, and diplomacy to forms of domestic politics
  • the relations of sovereignty, citizenship, and rights to imperial, supranational, and world order
  • comparative, network-based, and multi-scalar analysis and narration
  • processes of translation

All are welcome to attend one of our regular lunchtime sessions. The particular research topics pursued by current members range from vernacular architectures of early modern British colonies to British-Soviet encounters in the cultural Cold War; from boundary disputes between South Sudan and Uganda to the exile of defeated US confederate soldiers in Fiji and Brazil; from multilingual accounts of equine care during the Qing dynasty to the spatial histories of East European memory cultures; and from sexuality’s bearing on human rights to trans-local histories of England’s northeast. We warmly encourage any interested members of staff, postgraduate researchers, and PhD students to come along.



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Landscape and Environment

The Landscape and Environment research theme brings together researchers who are interested in landscapes, cityscapes and environments past and present. It seeks to explore issues pertinent to environmental history and the built environment through an application of interdisciplinary approaches and by cutting across the chronological and geographical boundaries that often define our work as researchers. Instead, we are looking to identify shared conceptual, comparative or methodological approaches and frameworks, paying particular attention to memories, meanings, identities, and values invested and discerned in historical landscapes and environments.

Current research interests of members within the research theme include:

  • Landscapes and memory
  • Environments past and present
  • Cityscapes, architecture, conservation practices
  • Histories of settlement and conflict over land

The research theme aims to bring together staff and postgraduate students to invited guest lectures as well as in regular lunchtime meetings designed to provide feedback on first drafts of members’ work or to discuss important conceptual or methodological studies that appeal across chronological or methodological boundaries.



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Thinking East Asia

Thinking East Asia (TEA) brings together colleagues and postgraduates with a shared interest in East Asian history, covering early modern and modern China, Japan, and Korea. Our research areas include intellectual history, environmental history, migration, and the history of science and medicine. We are engaged in understanding East Asia within its broader global, connected, and comparative frameworks. Over the years, we have organised seminars for external and internal speakers as well as workshops. We have welcomed visiting fellows from the Academy of Korean Studies, Harvard University, and Ohio State University. Our activities involve collaboration with academics from departments across the university, as well as centres and institutes including the Centre for Nineteenth-century Studies, the Centre for Global Understanding of Environment, Science and Technology (GUEST), the Centre for Comparative Modernities, the Centre for Comparative Chinese Studies, the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease, and the Institute for Medical Humanities. We work closely with the Durham University Oriental Museum as well as the collections at the Palace Green Library. 


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North-East History

North-East England possesses a history of international significance, with remarkable archives, relating to the history of Christianity and the Church, early medieval kingdoms, the Middle Ages, Reformation, Rebellions, Civil Wars and Revolutions, and witnessed among the earliest Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions globally, as well as histories of radicalism, religious dissent, organised labour, and working-class culture. This research cluster builds on the History Department’s long tradition of studying the history of North-East England, including in collaboration with other regional institutions and individuals. The cluster hosts regular reading groups and seminars with internal and external contributors to foster a dynamic and constructive environment to explore new theoretical and methodological approaches, to discuss work in progress, to think about opportunities for publication and (collaborative) funding applications, to recruit postgraduate students and to provide a space for them to interact with more senior scholars on a regular basis. It fosters engagement with researchers across the university and the region and with bodies such as the Durham Energy Institute. 

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Late Antiquity

Research in Late Antiquity explores the disintegration of the Roman Empire, which encompassed the entire Mediterranean at the beginning of the period, and the formation of new, more fragmented, political entities in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East; it investigates the rise, spread and institutionalisation of new monotheist religions (Christianity and Islam); and it assesses societal changes that profoundly reshaped the composition and organisation of communities. In addition, the last few years have seen a proliferation of scientific approaches that have contributed to advance research on environmental history (the late antique ‘little ice age’) and the study of disease (the ‘Justinianic plague’).

Durham’s History Department has developed a particular strength in the study of Late Antiquity, with research expertise in political history, religious history, legal history, and visual and intellectual culture. The cluster also connects with colleagues in other departments Classics and Ancient History, Archaeology, Theology, and Philosophy. The cluster hosts regular reading groups and seminars with internal and external contributors to foster a dynamic and constructive environment to explore new theoretical and methodological approaches, discuss work in progress, think about opportunities for publication and (collaborative) funding applications, and provide a space for PGR students to get in contact with more senior colleagues on a regular basis.

The cluster is connected to the Centre for Studies in the Late Ancient World (CS-LAW), housed in IMEMS.

Image credit: 

Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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North American Connections

The North American Connections cluster investigates the histories of colonial North America, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean and their global connections and ramifications. Spanning social, political, cultural, diplomatic, military, and environmental history, it aims to foster intellectual exchange with colleagues in American Studies, political science and international relations, law, and literary and media studies.


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Research Centres and Institutes

Academic members of the Department are actively involved in, and in some cases lead, a number of Research Institutes and Centres within the University.

These include:

Participation in these Institutes and Centres has helped to embed thematic foci within the Department that complement the chronological and geographical range of our research.

Durham University Centre for Contemporary African History

Find out more about the History department's own research centre- the Durham University Centre for Contemporary African History (DUCCAH)