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.
I am a cultural historian of twentieth-century Britain. I have a particular interested in exploring the connections between large socio-economic forces and the ordinary textures of everyday life. My particular expertise spans the mid-twentieth century in Britain, with a broad-ranging interest that encompasses experiences of work and leisure, consumption practices, lived identities and the body, everyday technologies, design and planning, and urban and suburban life. My approach is usually interdisciplinary, fusing cultural and social history with visual culture, cultural geography and material culture. I have wide-ranging expertise in nineteenth and twentieth-century cultural history, urban studies, material and visual culture, and in gender and sexuality.
My teaching is currently focused on two modules, both of which I convene:
HIST3057 British Culture in the Age of Mass Production, 1920-1950
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; 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; and new forms of modernist mass housing and welfare centres. Often the module incorporates a field trip to the Boots D10 factory and an exploration of the Boots Archive. It might also include a dance lesson and a student-led project to recreate an afternoon at the cinema from exactly eighty year ago.
HIST2033 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 case studies, 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.
I 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, as well as to a number of MA modules.
I am currently writing a book entitled A Wonderland of Common Things: Cultures of Mass Production in Inter-war England. This focuses on the different ways in which mass production transformed English… read more
HORNSEY, R., 2016. Lázló Moholy-Nagy at the London Zoo: Animal Enclosures and the Unleashed Camera. In: LAWRENCE, M. and LURY, K., eds., The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter Palgrave Macmillan. 223-246
I am currently writing a book entitled A Wonderland of Common Things: Cultures of Mass Production in Inter-war England. This focuses on the different ways in which mass production transformed English life in the 1920s and 30s, and how it felt to participate in a modern 'democratic' consumerist culture increasingly in debt to the logics of Taylorism. Its six chapter explore such topics as: day-dreaming on the production line; factory tourism; the household 'gadget' as a technological form; branding as a seemingly democratic force; the dramaturgies of the chain store; and the use of new technologies to manage Londoners' movements.
Since joining Nottingham, I have worked closely with the nearby Boots Archive, an incredibly rich historical resource. In October 2021, I embarked on a four-year AHRC-funded research project entitled 'Chemists to the Nation, Pharmacy to the World'. With my colleague, Professor Anna Greenwood, I am exploring how Boots used health and beauty to shape both national and imperial culture.
My previous research focused on the connections between urban reconstruction and the lives of queer men in London after the Second World War. My monograph, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) 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.
I have also written academic articles on such diverse topics as the Tube Map, the work of the Independent Group, the Penguin Books logo, the London 'A-Z' street atlas, the No7 cosmetics brand, and the London Zoo.
Collaborations with the Boots Archive have included the D10 Oral History Project, collecting the testimonies of people who used to work in the famous modernist factory still operative on the Boots site. We also co-curated 'Inspiring Beauty', an exhibition that used the 80-year history of the No7 cosmetics brand to explore the social and cultural history of women (Weston Gallery, Nottingham, 2016).