Department of History

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Richard Hornsey

Lecturer in Modern British History, Faculty of Arts



I began my academic life with a BA Hons in Politics & Philosophy at Leeds University, before staying on to complete an MA in Cultural Studies. After doing a PhD at the University of Sussex, I worked for ten years as a Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol. I joined the History Department at the University of Nottingham in September 2013.

Expertise Summary

I am a cultural historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century urban Britain. I am particularly interested in uncovering the connections between larger socio-economic forces and the ordinary textures of everyday life. My work often focuses on twentieth-century London, with an interest on cultures of consumption, the management of the body, and everyday urban practices and performances. Recently, I've become particularly interested in advertising during the 1920s and 1930s, and in the commercialisation of beauty culture. I have wide-ranging expertise in nineteenth and twentieth-century cultural history, urban studies, material and visual culture, and in gender and sexuality.

Teaching Summary

My teaching is currently focused on two modules, both of which I convene:

V13386 British Culture in the Age of Mass Production, 1920-1960

This module usually runs every year as a third-year Special Subject. It explores the social and cultural impact of Britain's uneven transition towards Fordist systems of mass-production during the middle years of the twentieth-century. Topics include: the meanings of new types of factory work; the modernisation of branding, advertising and retail; interwar suburbia and the impact of the radio and the motorcar; new forms of mass-produced leisure, like the cinema and ballroom dancing; attempts to know 'the masses' through social investigations or market research; new forms of modernist mass housing and welfare centres; post-war town planning; and the social complications of consumer affluence in the 1950s. Usually the module incorporates a field trip to the Boots D10 factory and an exploration of the Boots archive. It may also include a dancing lesson and a student-led project to recreate an afternoon at the cinema from exactly eighty year ago.

V12200 Cultural Histories of Urban Modernity, 1840-1900

This is a one-semester second-year option module that usually runs each year. Using London and Paris as it's main examples, it charts the rise of the modern city in the second half of the nineteenth century, and how this was experienced by the ordinary people who lived there. Many of the things we explore on the module are now taken-for-granted facets of urban life, but by looking back to a time when they were unfamiliar and strange, we can engage more critically with their power dynamics and everyday politics. Topics include: the rebuilding of the city; the pavement as a social space; ways of looking at and being in the crowd; the rise of maps, statistics and house numbers; the meanings of the home and interior decoration; the department store and the development of shopping as a leisure activity; the contested figure of the public urban woman; how the slums were imagined and understood; the birth of the museum and its ways of knowing the world.

In addition, I usually supervise Dissertations, on all aspects of nineteenth and twentieth-century British cultural history.

I also contribute to the first-year modules Learning History and Roads to Modernity, and to the second-year lecture series Doing History.

Research Summary

I am currently working on a number of projects that consider different ways in which everyday life was transformed in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s. These are linked by my overarching interest… read more

Selected Publications

Current Research

I am currently working on a number of projects that consider different ways in which everyday life was transformed in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s. These are linked by my overarching interest in how (and to what extent) British people became 'modern' during this period, and how particular industrial or bureaucratic logics infiltrated everyday life and 'modernised' people's ordinary experiences.

My first project concerns the impact of Taylorist conveyor-belt technologies, both inside and outside the factory. As well as exploring specific attempts to implement factory regimes, I am also considering how a range of allied devices - from the film strip to the escalator - remade and reconfigured the bodies, habits and competencies of those who encountered them. This is, in effect, a historical study of the bureaucratisation of movement and attention, and of new attempts to manage the way people moved through and experienced the city. So far this has produced a couple of articles on pedestrian crossing lanes and on the Tube Map. In the pipeline are further articles on automatic escalators, on film editing techniques, and on the cultural reception of so-called Belisha Beacons.

My second project explores innovations within advertising and branding during the interwar period, and how these may have opened up new frameworks for thinking about and imagining democracy. I am currently writing an article on the rise of brand mascots, as the first exploration of these ideas.

Since joining Nottingham, I have begun to work closely with the Boots Company Archive in Beeston. We have been collaborating on the D10 Oral History Project, to collect the testimonies of people who used to work in the celebrated modernist factory still operative on the Boots site. I was also involved in co-curating 'Inspiring Beauty', an exhibition that used the 80-year-old No7 brand to explore women's changing experiences, and which ran at Nottingham's Weston Gallery in Spring 2016.

Please note: I am currently on research leave, for the second semester of the 2015-16 academic year.

Past Research

My previous research has focused on the connections between urban reconstruction and the lives of queer men in London after the Second World War. My 2010 book, Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (Minnesota University Press) explored how post-war everyday life was re-formed by new types of managerial expertise across a range of spatial domains. This drive, which emerged out of such allied disciplines as town planning, psychology and visual design education, sought to combat the instabilities of the commercial metropolis and its disordered dynamics of both sexual and consumerist desire. In particular, the project traced how these disciplinary forces helped transform queer male relations, practices and selfhoods during this period.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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