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Steven King

Professor of Economic and Social History

School of Arts & Humanities

Staff Group(s)
History, Languages 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 word 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).

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.

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 2021. An earlier book from the project - P. Jones and S. King, Pauper Voices, Public Opinion and Workhouse Reform in Mid-Victorian England - will be 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. 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 two projects: The first looks at the impact of Covid-19 on care home populations and asks why we have not learnt from the past in terms of dealing with potentially vulnerable institutional populations. The second 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.

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.

Sponsors and collaborators

Steven has held grants 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.


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

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

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

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


Course(s) I teach on

  • Student cleaning Harold Larwood's boots
    Undergraduate | Full-time / Part-time (day) | 2020

  • Student in Library
    Postgraduate research | Full-time / Part-time | 2020

  • Magnifying glass on books
    Postgraduate taught | Full-time | 2020