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Dr Laura Forster

Lecturer (Nineteenth-century British History)

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Lecturer (Nineteenth-century British History) in the Department of History  


Biography & Research

I am a historian of ideas, political cultures and political communities in the long nineteenth century. Particularly I am interested in the social, emotional and spatial contexts in which political ideas are developed and exchanged. I completed my PhD at King's College, London and was a postdoctoral fellow at Birkbeck before taking up my post at Durham.

I work primarily on the development of British radical and socialist ideas c.1815–1930. My book-in-progress, The Paris Commune in Britain: radicals, refugees, and revolutionaries after 1871, is concerned with the political exiles of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the longer intellectual and cultural afterlives of the Commune in Britain.

There are two central argumentative threads that run through my research to date. One is the insistence that, despite well-worn arguments for British exceptionalism, the divide between Britain and continental Europe is very much a porous one – ideas, people, and projects have moved across the Channel, in both directions, throughout the modern period, and earlier. The second is that in order to find many of these connections and intellectual and political transmissions, idea-swapping must be examined in all its forms and forums, institutional and otherwise. Informal encounters and socialising constitute an important conduit for intellectual exchange, and often provide the contexts for such exchange. Indeed, I would argue that friendships, intimacies, and more diffuse sensibilities are as important as official organisations and foundational texts in shaping intellectual and political communities.

I also have an interest in the intellectual networks that coalesced around the sex reform movement, c. 1880-1930, and the ways in which international conferences in this period helped to create and legitimise communities of progressive reformers. The sex reform movement created intellectual and emotional connections that entangled political activist networks and scientific and medical communities, and drew together a broad church of progressive individuals, ideas and associations from across Britain and Europe. My work on this subject has been as part of the HERA-funded project 'The Scientific Conference: a social, cultural and political history'.

More broadly I am interested in histories of transnational radicalism, informal cultures of political and intellectual exchange, the social history of ideas, political exile, and queer spaces past and present. I am a fellow of the Raphael Samuel History Centre and an editorial fellow at History Workshop Online.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles:

Laura C. Forster (2021), 'Radical commemoration, the politics of the street, and the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871', History Workshop Journal (in print, forthcoming)

Laura C. Forster (2020), ‘The Paris Commune in the British socialist imagination, 1871–1914’, History of European Ideas, 46 (5), 614–632

Laura C. Forster (2019), ‘The Paris Commune in London and the spatial history of ideas, 1871–1900’, The Historical Journal, 62 (4), 1021–1044

Magazine Articles:

‘When the Commune came to Britain’, Tribune (Spring 2021), 86­–93

‘Building “our” Commune: exiled Communards in Britain’, ROAR Magazine, 23 April 2021

‘Radical Friendship’, History Workshop Online, 10 June 2020

Radical Object: Walter Crane’s The Workers’ Maypole (1894)’, History Workshop Online, 1 May 2020 


‘After Storming Heaven’, Novara Media, March 2021

‘Queer Joy: Taking Up Space’, History Workshop Online, February 2021

‘Queer Lives: Public History and the Queer Archive’, History Workshop Online, February 2021

‘An Age of Walls?’, History Workshop Online, September 2020

Research interests

  • Modern Britain and Europe
  • Social history of ideas
  • Spatial and transnational histories
  • Histories of friendship
  • Political exile
  • Queer spaces past and present