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Dr Alex Barber

Associate Professor (Early Modern British History)

Associate Professor (Early Modern British History) in the Department of History+44 (0) 191 33 41051
Associate Director (MA and PG Development) in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 


I was educated at a state Grammar School and Sixth Form College in Kent and along with my sister Kate was the first person in my family to take A levels and to attend university. I completed my PhD under the supervision of Professor Justin Champion at Royal Holloway where I was awarded the Thomas Holloway scholarship. Before coming to Durham, I held temporary jobs at Liverpool University and University College London.

I have three main areas of research interests. I was initially trained as a historian of ideas and have recently completed a book on the freedom of the press in England in the later Stuart period The Restraint of the Press in England, 1660-1715 ( which considers how contemporaries understood the limits of public debate before and after the lapse of licensing in 1695. My interest in censorship and the freedom of the press also led to an edited book considering the tensions between religious pluralism and free speech Manchester University Press - Freedom of speech, 1500-1850 . I am currently writing two further articles on the freedom of the press. The first discusses how the radical clergyman Edmund Hickeringill discussed the freedom of the press during the Restoration period and lobbied for free speech to form part of the Revolution settlement in 1689. The second considers how the radical freethinker Matthew Tindal associated the freedom of the press with English identity.

I maintain an interest in the rise of news culture in the later seventeenth century. I am concerned with understanding the relationship between handwritten and printed news and questioning whether the ‘news revolution’ fostered modernity in early eighteenth-century England. I was awarded a short-term fellowship to study the Newdigate Letters at the Folger Shakespeare Library and I am currently writing two further articles investigating the dynamic relationship between printed and scribal news. The first discusses how the trial of Henry Sacheverell destabilised nascent understandings of the connection between news and political culture. The second uses a series of printed and handwritten periodicals in the early eighteenth century to argue for an ideologically neutral understanding of news culture.

I am developing two book-length projects both of which are concerned with understanding Gypsy culture and identity in the European diaspora. The first is a study of my own wider Romany family, the Todds and the Scamps (my great great grandfather was Gilderoy Scamp ‘the king of the Gypsies’). I am using family records and oral history to reveal the entanglement between Gypsy and working-class cultures in circumstances of persecution and denial of ethnic identity. Entitled ‘Posh Rat’ (in Romani posh means half and rat means blood), the book suggests a more expansive history of working-class consciousness in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries beyond Northern, industrial and male stereotypes. At the same time, I am developing a project studying the language of Anglo-Romani in the late eighteenth century. Employing historical linguistics and comparative ethnography I hope to explore the rich tapestry of Romany life beyond traditional histories of crime and fictional representation. It will be imperfect, with many evidential holes, but will reveal a complex and changing world of language, kinship and nomadism which has been hidden from history. As a precursor to these projects, with Henry Miller, I am writing an article considering the impact of anti-Gypsy petitions in the 1960s and 1970s on local communities and how the National Gypsy Council lobbied for permanent sites for Travellers. If you want to know more about the work of the Council, I recommend you read my Uncle Roy Todd’s 1984 PhD thesis which analyses social policy towards Gypsies (the thesis is available as open access at the British Library). Roy was secretary of the NGC and with his wife Frankie Todd is helping me to research the history of Gypsy identity in the twentieth century: British Library EThOS: Gypsies, the community, and the state : conflict and negotiation in the development of social policies towards gypsies in England and Wales 1970-80. (

No doubt because of my background and upbringing, I have a keen interest in widening participation and the access of Gypsy/Roma/Traveller students to university. I convene the First Generation network in the History department which helps students from non-traditional backgrounds to reach their full potential. I was also one of the founders of the staff First Generation network and I am a member of its organising committee. In 2017, with Eleanor Spencer-Regan and Claire Heslop, I helped to set up an outreach programme. I work with Chad’s College and Park View School in Chester-le-Street to offer 15 of their Year 12 pupils the chance to experience student life at St Chad’s College and to offer them intellectual mentoring AIM-for-website-1.pdf ( I am currently helping the university in the process of signing the pledge which aims to support G/R/T students into and within higher education GTRSB into Higher Education Pledge | Buckinghamshire New University ( I am also writing a blog about the life of my great grandmother Pemily Scamp which will help the university mark and celebrate this year’s Gypsy/Roma/Traveller History Month (June) Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2022 - Friends, Families and Travellers (

I am happy to supervise PhD projects on later Stuart history (broadly defined as 1660-1730), especially those concerned with the history of ideas, news culture, and the relationship between Britain, mainland Europe and the Atlantic Archipelago. I also welcome applications from post-graduate students interested in researching histories of Gypsy/Roma/Traveller people, their language and culture throughout the European diaspora and in any time period.

Current supervisees

Chih-Hsin Huang, ‘The Stage Controversy: Jeremy Collier and the Moral Reform of Politics, 1688-1722’.

Chi Ho Chuk, ‘Apocalyptic Millenarianism, Fifth Monarchists and the English Revolution’.

Jeremy Goldsmith, ‘The Heralds’ Visitation, 1530-1700’.

Steven Smith, ‘Puritan Politics in the Restoration’.

Recently completed

Michael Cressey, ‘Policy and Power: Ideas, Policymaking and Practice in 1670s England’.

Finola Finn, Melancholy and the nonconforming godly in England, c.1640-1700’.

Callum Murrell, ‘Law, Politics and Political Discourse in Sixteenth-Century Manorial Norfolk’.


Research interests

  • History of Ideas
  • Freedom of the press
  • Scribal news
  • The English Enlightenment


Supervision students