Karen Harvey

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

I am a cultural historian of the British long eighteenth century, with a special interest in the body and gender. I have ongoing interests in the body and sexuality, masculinity, print culture (both visual and textual) and material culture. My recent research projects include the collaborative project with archaeologists The Material Body and an individual research project on experienced of the body - or ‘embodiment’ - in the eighteenth century. I co-organized the conference, Pretty Ugly: Early Modern Beauty, 1400-1800 in January 2019, and am editing a book on beauty in the Enlightenment for Bloomsbury. Another conference, Socially-Engaged Public History: Practice, Ethics and Politics, took place in January 2019, drawing on my public history work with a range of partners. More recently, the conference Epistolary Bodiesexplored letters and the body in the eighteenth century. A book arising from the conference will be published with Routledge in 2021.

My most recent book, The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder (Oxford University Press, 2020) is a social history of Mary Toft, who took part in a monstrous birth hoax in 1726 during which Toft appeared to give birth to 17 rabbits. The project is about the experiences and emotions of Toft and the people around her, and also situates the case in the context of early-eighteenth-century politics.

A second edition of my collection, History and Material Culture was published in 2018.

My previous books include The Little Republic (OUP, 2012), in which I reconstructed men's experiences of the house, examining the authority that accrued to mundane and everyday household practices and employing men's own concepts to understand what men thought and felt about their domestic lives. My first book, Reading Sex (CUP, 2004), examined ideas of gender difference in eighteenth-century erotic culture. 

I am committed to the public understanding of the History and public engagement in this area. I have developed relationships with many public partners in projects that support teaching, disseminate current research and lead to co-produced research between academics and other groups. This includes a community project with Sheffield Visual Arts Group and Museums Sheffield, 'Art and Craft in Sheffield: Our history in 100 Objects', and a project with staff and residents at Roundabout, a charity for homeless youth, on their refurbished eighteenth-century hostel. Hostel residents produced displays and a short film about the hostel, having visited archives and other historic sites. I have supervised several AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards, and am currently in the supervisory team for 3 PhD students working between the University of Sheffield and Chatsworth on the history of servants: From Servants to Staff: The Whole Community in the Chatsworth Household 1700-1950.


I joined the University of Birmingham as a Professorial Fellow in 2017. Before this I worked at the University of Manchester (on the project 'Women, Work and the Industrial Revolution, 1760-1840') and the AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior (at the Royal College of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Royal Holloway). I then worked at the Department of History at the University of Sheffield from 2003-2017.

I have held fellowships at the Clark Library, UCLA, the Huntington Library and the Australian Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. My research on eighteenth-century Britain has been funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, The Wellcome Trust and The Pasold Research Fund.

At Birmingham, I am the Director of the Birmingham Eighteenth Century Centre and a member of the Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies. As a historian of the British long eighteenth century, I also look forward and therefore my work also intersects with the interests of the Centre for Modern British Studies.

Willingness to take PhD students


PhD projects

I offer PhD supervision in several areas of eighteenth-century British history, particularly cultural and social history and the history of gender. I welcome collaborations with external partners. I am currently supervising PhDs on women and emotions (Laura Alston), women landowners in Shropshire, 1760-1860 (Sara Downs), women and animals in seventeenth- and eighteenth-England (Poppy Freeman-Cuerden), black women in eighteenth-century England (Montaz Marche), women in seventeenth-century ballads (Ellie Sutton) and eighteenth-century Cannon Hall (Nicola Walker).