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Steven King

Professor of Economic and Social History

School of Arts & Humanities

Staff Group(s)
History, Heritage and Global Cultures


Steven King is Professor of Economic and Social History. His research spans the period from the early 1700s to the present and encompasses Britain and Europe. He has in the past published on histories of industrialisation, disability, medicine, mortality, courtship, illegitimacy and women's suffrage, but the central pillar of his published work has been the subject of the past, present and future of the British and European welfare state. Steven is currently PI on the AHRC Standard Project Grant 'In Their Own Write' (CI, Dr Paul Carter at The National Archives) which aims to write the history of the New Poor Law (1834-1929) from the perspective, and using the words of, the poor themselves. He also holds as PI a grant from the Pasold Trust for his work on nineteenth century textile history. These interests and themes feed directly into undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, including HIST30720 (Britain, War and Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries) and HIST40120 (Engaging Research). Most recently he has begun a project (with Dr. Andrew Gritt and Dr. Ruth Mather) on Nottinghamshire Lace in global perspective, including aspects such as material culture, recycling, cotton supply chains, and historic links to slavery.

Steven has supervised 33 PhD candidates to completion as first supervisor, and is keen to hear from further potential candidates wanting to explore research on any of the themes referenced in this profile. Those who do not already have a fixed and definite topic in mind might find it useful to talk to him about his pre-packaged projects. Encompassing thematic areas such as textile history, disability history, histories of courtship and marriage, protest and resistance, workhouses, and histories of language and self, these projects bring together sources that Steven has collected over many years of research but which he will never have the time to exploit himself.

Career overview

Steven King joined Nottingham Trent University in 2020. He has previously held posts at the University of Leicester, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Central Lancashire and the Institute of Historical Research. Prior to his academic career, Steven worked for the National Westminster Bank. At Oxford Brookes he held the roles of Associate Dean (Research) and Associate Dean (Resources). For the University of Leicester he fulfilled a number of roles around research, widening participation and leading research centres before becoming PVC and Head of the College of Social Sciences.

Research areas

At the core of Steven's current research sits the question of how poor people understood, experienced, and contested the welfare systems to which they were notionally subject. His current AHRC project uses pauper and advocate letters written to the central authorities of the post-1834 New Poor Law to explore these themes and the jointly authored book currently emerging from the project - In Their Own Write: Contesting the New Poor Law - is under contract with McGill-Queens University Press for 2022. An earlier book from the project - P. Jones and S. King, Pauper Voices, Public Opinion and Workhouse Reform in Mid-Victorian England - was published by Palgrave in 2020. Steven has also asked similar questions about agency, negotiation and the malleability of state power for the Old Poor Law, and his Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019) won the 2019 British Academy's Peter Townsend Prize and the 2020 British Records Association Janette Harley Prize . This collective work builds upon and feeds into other projects and interests including:

The experience and construction of disability

Clothing, with a particular focus on the actuality and symbolism of clothing for poor people

Madness and the poor law

The life-cycles of ordinary people, with a particular focus on death and courtship/marriage

Old age and its construction

Institutional histories

Poor childhoods

Histories of literacy and epistolarity

Sickness and poverty

Looking ahead, Steven has recently begun four projects: The first looks at the way disability was understood, portrayed and constructed in the period from the 1750s to the present. Amongst other things, he asks 'Is it better for the disabled to have moral or legal rights?' His second project looks at the long history of benefit cheats from the 1600s to the present. A third and bigger project starts from the hypothesis that the central medium term outcome of Covid-19 will be the need for political elites to conduct a new conversation, and conclude a new settlement, with its welfare citizens. The project explores what previous moments of international welfare convergence of this sort can tell us about how that conversation can be conducted and what its outcomes might be. Finally, he leads  a University-wide project on Nottinghamshire  lace in global perspective.

External activity

Steven is Executive Editor of Family and Community History and has filled this role since 2004. He is also a board member of the N.W. Posthumus Institute and a member of the Peer Review College for the ESRC. In 2020 he was elected as Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Sponsors and collaborators

Steven has held more than £5,000,000 worth of grants across the spectrum from the Leverhulme Trust, Wellcome Trust, British Academy, AHRC, ESRC, EU, British Council and Pasold Trust. He is currently PI on grants from the AHRC and Pasold Trust described elsewhere in this profile.


N. Carter and S. A. King, ‘“I think we ought not to acknowledge them [paupers] as that encourages them to write”: The administrative state, power and the Victorian pauper’, Social History, 46 (2021), 117-44.

P. Jones and S. A. King, Navigating the Old English Poor Law: The Kirkby Lonsdale Letters, 1809-1836 (Oxford University Press, for the British Academy, 2020)

P. Jones and S. A. King, Pauper Voices, Public Opinion and Workhouse Reform in Mid-Victorian England – Bearing Witness (Basingstoke, 2020)

P. Jones and S. A. King, ‘Fragments of Fury? Lunacy, Agency and Contestation in the Great Yarmouth Workhouse, 1890s-1900s’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 51 (2020), 235-65.

S. A. King and C. Beardmore, ‘Contesting the workhouse: Life writing, children and the later New Poor Law’, in L. O’Hagan (ed.), Rebellious Writing: Contesting Marginalisation in Edwardian Britain (Oxford, 2020), 65-94.

R. Abdullah, R. Weston, H. Mansoor, P. Jackson and S. King, ‘Manufacturing transformational change through asset orchestration’, in M. Zakaria, A. Abdul Majeed and M. Hassan (eds.), Advances in Mechatronics, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering (Singapore, 2020), 154-60.

S. A. King, Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s (London, 2019); Winner of the 2019 British Academy Peter Townsend Prize

C. Beardmore, C. Dobbing and S. A. King (eds.) Family Life in Britain, 1650-1910 (Basingstoke, 2019).

S. King, ‘Configuring and Re-Configuring Families in Nineteenth-Century England’, in C. Beardmore, C. Dobbing and S. A. King (eds.) Family Life in Britain, 1650-1910 (Basingstoke, 2019), 229-253.

P. Carter, J. James and S. A. King,Punishing Paupers? Control, Discipline and Mental Health in the Southwell Workhouse, 1836-1871’, Rural History, 30 (2019), 161-80.

S. A. King, Sickness, Medical Welfare and the English Poor 1750-1834 (Manchester, 2018)

H. Mansoor, R. Weston, R. Abdullah, S. King, P. Jackson and P. Foley, ‘A systemic approach to applying asset orchestration theory’, International Journal of Agile Systems and Management, 11 (2018), 315-39.

C. Muldrew and S. A. King, ‘Cash, wages and the economy of makeshifts, 1650-1800’, in J. Hatcher and J. Stephenson (eds.), Seven Centuries of Unreal Wages (Basingstoke, 2018), 267-306.

See all of Steven King's publications...

Press expertise

The Past, Present and Future of the Welfare State

Courtship and marriage

Vaccines and pandemics

Care homes/adult social care

Histories of disability

Histories of medicine

Ageing and old age