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Dr Alex Brown

Associate Professor (Late Medieval and Early Modern British History)

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Associate Professor (Late Medieval and Early Modern British History) in the Department of History +44 (0) 191 33 41069
Fellow in the Durham Research Methods Centre  
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies  



I joined the department as Assistant Professor of Medieval Economic and Social History in January 2018, having first arrived as an undergraduate in 2005 and stayed on to complete my postgraduate and postdoctoral studies here. I work on the economic and social history of rural England across the medieval and early modern periods. My first book was a study of how rural society in Durham adapted to the economic problems of the fifteenth-century recession and how this affected their ability to respond to the inflation of the sixteenth century. This explored a range of different issues but especially the role of path dependency in shaping the size, rent and tenure of landholdings, three of the most crucial factors in the development of agrarian capitalism. 

My current research explores the fear of downward social mobility in late medieval England. This challenges the image of medieval society as ‘an age of ambition’ by examining the ubiquitous fear of social decline, and demonstrating how this fear could contribute to the transformation of society: change can, after all, be wrought by people desperately trying to preserve the status quo. Previous studies have tended to focus upon the success of socially ambitious, generally male, careerists, and to ascribe to these entrepreneurial figures the most agency in the production of change. In contrast, my research reveals the important role played by gender and the life cycle in the articulation of this fear of downward mobility: marriage and old age in particular were moments when social decline seemed at its closest in medieval society. 

I have also developed a particular interest in memory and the varied ways that individuals and institutions contested this. Some early modern enclosure riots, for example, were in part the culmination of centuries-long boundary disputes, whilst monks were especially pernicious in cultivating a distinctly myopic institutional memory of particular events. Given that so many of our records were created by specific institutions, it is all the more important that we understand how medieval people were themselves utilising these records, including both why they sought to preserve some documents and conveniently forget others. 

Research Interests
  • The economic and social history of pre-industrial England
  • Rural and agricultural history
  • Social structure and social mobility
  • Institutional memory
Research Supervision

I welcome enquiries from students interested in any aspect of medieval or early modern economic and social history, especially using the archives of Durham Priory and the Bishops of Durham.


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