Kate Smith


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Kate encourages contact from potential postgraduate students considering working on the following areas: eighteenth-century British material culture, women, domestic spaces, property, emotions, the senses, trade, consumption, manufacturing or skill.


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

As an historian of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain and empire, I am interested in how historical actors produced, consumed, and derived meaning from, the material world.

My first monograph, Material Goods, Moving Hands: Perceiving Production in England, 1700-1830 (Manchester, 2014), emerged from my PhD research. The book argued that Britain’s new consumer goods were important not only in fostering desire and demand but also in prompting people to engage with visual and textual representations of manufacturing, forging a link between the consuming and producing cultures of eighteenth-century Britain. I also published my findings in the Journal of Design History (2012) and Cultural and Social History (2014).


Between 2013-2014 I was Co-Investigator (with Leonie Hannan) on the UCL Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects-funded ‘100 Hours’ project. The project brought together twelve early-career researchers from nine different institutions and a range of arts, humanities, and social-science disciplines, to critically consider when, where, and how researchers handle and interpret the artifacts they study in material culture research. The project resulted in the ‘100 Hours’ website and a co-authored article (with Leonie Hannan) ‘Return and Repetition: Methods for Material Culture Studies’, published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History in 2017. I have continued to research the development of material culture methodologies and historiographies and in 2018 published the review article ‘Amidst Things: New Histories of Commodities, Capital and Consumption’ in Historical Journal.


Between 2011-2014 I was Research Fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 project, led by Professor Margot Finn. In the project, I explored consumer cultures and material cultures in global and imperial contexts. On their return to Britain, families such as the Amhersts of Montreal Park used different material practices, including building projects, collecting, painting and the display of objects purchased in India, to curate complex narratives of empire.  At the same time, other families used the meanings and emotions connected with shared objects (such as houses) to negotiate ideas of belonging and home across the ever-greater distances imposed by Britain’s imperial projects. The project resulted in my publishing peer-reviewed articles in Women’s History Review (2015) and Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History (2015). It also produced The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018), co-edited by Margot Finn and myself, to which I contributed four sole-authored chapters, one co-authored chapter and a co-authored introduction and conclusion. The publication was made freely-downloadable by UCL Press and has been downloaded 80,319 times (as of August 2021). The project sought to work collaboratively with a range of local historians, archivists, curators, family historians, academics, community leaders, heritage professionals, and students. In conversation with members of these different constituencies, we reflected on these methods in a volume New Paths to Public Histories: Collaborative Strategies for Uncovering Britain’s Colonial Past (London, 2015), co-edited by Margot Finn and myself.


My work on the material cultures of empire and the involvement of British families in such cultures has continued. In 2014, with funding from the Paul Mellon Centre, Rosie Dias and myself organised a conference ‘Visualising Colonial Spaces: British Women’s Responses to Empire’. The conference resulted in a volume British Women and Cultural Practices of Empire, 1770-1940 (London, 2018), co-edited by Rosie Dias and myself. Such work also continues through working collaboratively with the National Trust to research connections to histories of slavery and imperialism at their historic sites. I am currently supervising two AHRC-funded collaborative doctoral award projects: Charlotte Johnson is working (2019-2023) on ‘Imperial Connections: Re-examining Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire’ and Annabelle Gilmore is working (2020-2024) on ‘Slavery and Empire on Display at Charlecote Park’. Finally, such collaborative work also continues through my co-convening the IHR Partnership Seminar Series ‘The World in a (Historic) House: Global Connections and Collections’ (2020-2022).


Since 2018, I have been working on my next major research project, which will culminate in a monograph, provisionally titled Losing Possession in the Long Eighteenth Century. The project emerged out of a collaborative workshop ‘Loss, Recovery, Reclamation: Re-thinking the Modern World’ (2015) funded by Institute of Advanced Studies at UoB, an international conference ‘Understanding Material Loss’ (2017) funded by Past & Present Society and participation in the Being Human Festival on ‘Lost & Found’ (2017). Losing Possession examines what it meant to own and possess things in the long eighteenth century when greater numbers of Britons came to participate in ownership and the range of ‘things’ they possessed increased. It does so by looking to moments of loss and losing. Losing Possession explores what people did and learned when movable forms of property, such as watches, but also bank notes, dogs, and even people, went missing and what such actions reveal about concepts of possession.


After completing my PhD at the University of Warwick in 2010, I became the Charles Hummel Fellow at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee (2010-2011). During this fellowship I taught in the Art History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-curated an exhibition with Professor David Porter (English, University of Michigan) at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In 2011 I returned to the UK to work as Research Fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 project (2011-2014). Led by Professor Margot Finn, the project began at Warwick and then moved to UCL in 2012-2014.

I began at Birmingham as Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century History in September 2014 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016. Since being at Birmingham, I have designed and delivered a range of modules including ‘Powerful Stuff: Timber, Teacups, Tombs and the Making of a Modern Empire’, ‘Stray Dogs: Confronting Loss in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain’, ‘Capital Lives: Experiencing Cities in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century’ and ‘Global Cities and Urban Lives, 1695-1914’. I have convened the second-year core module ‘Public History’ since 2018. I am committed to engaging and inclusive teaching, which encourages students to develop critical thinking skills.

Alongside my teaching commitments, I have contributed to the Department of History and School of History and Cultures (SHaC) through a series of roles. I worked as the SHAC Staff-Student Liaison 2014-15 and then as the Impact Lead for History 2015-2017. Following research leave 2017-18, I became Impact Lead for SHaC 2018-2021 and contributed to preparing the submission for REF2021. In 2021, I became Director of the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures (BRIHC). The institute seeks to encourage interdisciplinary conversations about cultures past and present and champions the value of humanities research in universities and beyond.


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