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Prof Karen Sayer
Professor of Social and Cultural History
BA (Hons), D.Phil
0113 2837 100
Room AS5

Prof Karen Sayer is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the HEA. Her research focus is on the rural, that is conceptualisations of rural communities, landscapes and environments; human and animal relations in agricultural work and on the farm; labour in field, farm and home; the interior spaces of farmhouse and cottage, as represented, worked and lived.

Within the Leeds Centre of Victorian Studies, and it's wider networks inc. Hull, Huddersfield and Cergy-Pontoise, she draws on material culture, illustration and text to work on Victorian social and cultural history e.g. domestic service, landscapes of marginal spaces and experiences, including nocturnal landscapes, coastlines and technologies of sight and sound, e.g. Atkinson Grimshaw's nocturns, cultures of light and illumination, the aesthetics and material cultures of hearing loss.

She works closely with heritage providers and museums in the region such as Abbey House Museum, the Thackray Medical Museum, and the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, she has delivered public lectures to these and also the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading, and has acted as a consultatnt on social and domestic history with researchers at Lion TV for 'The Edwardian Farm' and 'Wartime Farm' (on which last she appeared in Episodes 1, 4 and the Christmas Special), and at Betty for 'Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs'.

She has served as Treasurer of the British Association for Victorian Studies (2000-2006) and is currently an executive committee member of the British Agricultural History Society.

She is currently the Museum of English Rural Life Gwyn E. Jones’ Fellow, focusing on ‘Rural Boundaries: the control of rats and mice in British agriculture c. 1800-2001’

Teaching and Administration

Department of Humanities:
Research Lead

Convener Leeds Trinity Work in Progress Seminar

Modules taught within BA (hons) History include:

Special Subject: Victorian Countryside

Presenting the Past: Public Histories and Popular Presentations of the Past

Dissertations and Research Reports

Modules taught within MA Victorian Studies include:

Nature and Environment

Dissertations and Research Reports

Research Supervision:

The key, interlinking theme of my research is the ways in which bodies, materials and environments are shaped in the C19-C20th. I currently supervise students working on light and lighting within Atkinson Grimshaw's nocturns, and also on the re-presentation of the Victorians and the contemporary heritage industry. I am able to supervise students interested in undertaking doctoral work on rural life in the C19th and C20th, including social histories of the countryside, community histories e.g. of the experience of structural changes such as electrification, the history of livestock farming, the farmhouse or labourer's cottage; also social and cultural studies within the Victorian period that focus on the material culture of everyday life, and the ways in which technologies shape and are shaped by bodies and spaces.

Please contact me if you are interested in pursuing a PhD on the modern history of:

  • cultural history of farm animals
  • rural society and environments
  • rural homes and domestic life
  • material culture of everyday objects

Prof Sayer is currently working on a monograph for Ashgate, Farm Animals in Britain, 1850-2001, an environmental and cultural history project focused on farming, which addresses the changing social spaces inhabited by the farmed animal. It addresses the cultural understanding and representation of the farmed animal, as well as farming methods, and the changing spaces of the farm in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

She is also contracted as a contributing editor, with co-editors Paul Brassley and Jeremy Burchardt, for Electrifying the Countryside (Ashgate, In Press) a collection of essays on rural electrification in Britain. This addresses the infrastructure, promotion, value of and reponses to rural electrification in Britain, and seeks to raise questions about the demand for, use and reception of electrification in rural communities, and by those determined to preserve Britain's rural heritage.

Reading the material culture of objects helds by the Thackray Medical museum, Leeds, she is also collaborating on Managing the Experience of Hearing Loss, 1830-1950 (Palgrave, in press) with Prof Graeme Gooday, Professor of the History of Science and Technology, School of Philosophy, religion and History, at the University of Leeds. This addresses the circulation of knowledges about 'deafness' in the Victorian period and twentieth-century Britain before the creation of the HNS, and seeks to recover the histories of those who experience hearing loss through the histories of those technologies suppoed to 'correct' it.

Prof Sayer is a Fellow of the HEA, and her research has included critical pedagogic work on issues of ‘race’ and diversity within history; has contributed to a pedagogic workshop on concepts of class; and has published a case study on the value and use of student reflection.



Farm Animals in Britain, 1850-2001 (Ashgate, in press)

Managing the Experience of Hearing Loss in Britain, 1830-1950 (Palgrave, in press) -- with Prof Graeme Gooday

Country Cottages: a Cultural History (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2000)

Women of the Fields: Representations of Femininity in Nineteenth Century Rural Society (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1995)

Edited Collections:

Electrifying the Countryside, (Ashgate in Press) with Paul Brassley and Jeremy Burchardt

Victorian Space(s) (Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2006) – sole editor

Victorian Gothic (Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2003) with Rosemary Mitchell

Science Fiction: Critical Frontiers (Macmillan, London, 2000) with John Moore


Two York Notes: Tess of the Durbervilles (1998, revised 2005) and Jane Eyre (1998, revised 2003 and 2013)

Refereed Journal Articles (select list):

2013, '"His Footmarks on Her Shoulders"': the Significance and Place of Women within Poultry Keeping in the British Countryside, c. 1880-c. 1970', Agricultural History review, 61, II, Autumn, 2013, pp. 301-29

2013, 'Animal Machines': The Public Response to Intensification in Britain, c. 1960-c.1973' Agricultural History, Fall, 2013, 87.4

2008, ‘Battery Birds, 'Stimulighting' and 'Twilighting': the ecology of standardised poultry technology’, History of Technology (Special issue, "By whose standards? Standardization, stability and uniformity in the history of information and electrical technologies”) (2008), Vol. 28, 149-168

2007, ‘‘Let Nature be your Teacher’: W. B. Tegetmeier’s Distinctive Ornithological Studies’, Victorian Literature & Culture, (2007), 35, pp. 589-605

2002, ‘”A Sufficiency of Clothing”: Dress and Domesticity in Victorian Britain’ in Textile History Vol. 33, No. 1 May 2002.

Other Publications (select list):

2013, 'Continuity in the Land: the French peasant in the English Eye', in Mutual I(n)comprehensions: France and the English-Speaking World in the Long Nineteenth Cenutury, ed. R. Mitchell, (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013)

2006, ‘The life of a Country Cottage’ in Jo Croft & G. Smyth  (eds.) Our House: The Representation of Domestic Space in Modern Culture (Rodopi,  2006)

2005, ‘The Labourer’s Welcome: Border Crossings in the English Country Garden’ in (ed) Bonj Szczygiel et al Gender and Landscape (Routledge, 2005)

2005, ‘Paradoxical places: imagining the urban and the rural in Victorian Britain’ in W. Findlay (ed.) Paradoxe(s) Victorien(s)/Victorian Paradox(es), (Presses Universitaires Francois-Rabelais, Tours, France, 2005)

2004, ‘Modern Women’s History: A Historiography’, T. Curtis (ed.) Proceedings of History Week, (Veritas Press, Zabbar, Malta, 2004)

2003, ‘The Cottage Homes of England: Victorian Beau Ideal’ in Silvia Caporale Bizzini (ed.) We, the “Other Victorians”: Considering the Heritage of 19th-Century Thought (Publicaciones De La Universidad De Alicante, San Vincente, Spain, 2003).

2002, ‘Lucy M Boston’s The River at Greene Knowe (1959) or How to “Dip Happily” Between Reality and Fantasy’ Imperium, Vol. III, Spring 2002, accessible at

Conference and seminar papers (select list):

September 2014 -- ‘Use, Wear and Adaptation: Interpreting aids to the deaf In Victorian Britain’, Rethinking Patent Cultures: Disability, Prostheses and Patenting AHRC Workshop, Leeds City Museum, Leeds, UK

Sept 2014 – ‘The Hefted Ewe and the Creation of a Sustainable Victorian Landscape’, BAVS, University of Canterbury, Kent, UK
Sept 2014 – ‘Malta Fever: The Farmed Animal and Human Labour’ WAHVM, Imperial College London, UK
August 2014 – ‘Radical Requiems: Refashioning the Body of the Rare-Breed Farmed Animal in the Twentieth Century’ on international panel ‘Fashioning and Refashioning Nature: Aesthetics, Culture and Politics’, ISSEI, University Catolica, Porto, Portugal

December 2013, 'Electrification and the Farm', BAHS Winter conference, Institute of Historical Research, London 
Nov. 2013, 'The Aethetics of the Invisible: the Design and Meaning of the C19th Aids to the deaf', History of Science Society (HSS) Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, 
Aug 2013 - 'Visiting 'Farm' Animals: 1940-2000', Rural History 2013, Bern, Switzerland
Aug 2013 - with Dr Nicola Verdon, 'Willing and Capable': Women as Farmers in Late Victorian Agriculture' Rural History 2013, Bern, Switzerland     
April, 2013 - ‘‘’Farmers were never so much put to for dairymaids as they are now’: The Demand for Country Girls in Domestic Service’, Towards the Metropolis’, LCVS, Leeds Trinity University
March, 2013 - ‘‘Life and Labour in the Farmer’s Home’, Paper for ‘Transforming the countryside? The electrification of rural England 1890-1970’, Leeds Trinity
Sept 2012 – with G. Gooday, “Out in the Cold”: hearing  loss, technology and the politics of well-being’, SSHM, London
Aug 2012 – with G. Gooday, ‘The disappearing hearing aid: taxonomies in the management and meaning of hearing loss’, to “Disability & the Victorians: Confronting Legacies”, LCVS, Leeds Trinity
Oct 2011 - ‘Radical Requiems: the return of the past, and “pastoral” responses to intensive egg production,’ to ‘Animals, Humans, Science’ a conference on the historical development of livestock production in the twentieth century, at the Descartes Centres for the History of the Sciences and the Humanities, at Utrecht University, the Netherlands,
Sept 2011 - ‘At the Farm Gate: decomposition, decay and degeneration in the field’, BAVS, Birmingham
April 2011 – with G. Gooday, ‘The Disappearing Hearing Aid (?); spatiality in the history of the management and meaning of hearing loss’, Uni of Warwick seminar on History of Medicine, Warwick
September 2010 – ‘”Animal Machines”: the public response to intensive poultry production in the UK 1900-1970,’ Rural History 2010, Uni Sussex
April 2010 – ‘“At the Farm Gate”: The Freedom and Domesticity of Farm-Bound Animals in Victorian Britain’, LCVS Borders and Margins Colloquium, Leeds Trinity
March 2010 – ‘Slaves and Infanticide in the Heart of Darkest England: Representations of Children in the Victorian Countryside’, LCVS Victorian Childhoods Colloquium, Leeds Trinity
September 2008 – 'Battery Birds: The Animal in the Machine' for workshop on The Health and Welfare of the Manufactured Animal, Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
June 2008 – ‘Stimulighting and twilighting battery birds: reassessing the animal as machine in the twentieth century’, Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine seminar, University of Manchester
September 2006 – ‘Battery Birds, 'Stimulighting' and 'Twilighting': the ecology of standardised poultry technology’, Electrifying Cultures Conference, University of Leeds
June 2006 – ‘‘”His Footmarks on Her Shoulders”: women, eggs and commodity culture’, Food History Conference, University Central Lancashire, Preston
September 2005 – ‘His Footmarks on Her Shoulders’: women, eggs and commodity culture’, Women’s History Network Annual Conference, Southampton Institute
June 2005 – ‘Rural Women and Frontier Farming: C19th American Women at Work’, for Visible Women colloquium, Kings College, London
March 2004 – ‘Starry, Starry Night: Explorations in the History of Light’, for Social and Economic Research Seminar, University of Leeds.
February 2003 – ‘A Fine Lady Farmer: Victorian Farm Women, Perceptions and Perspectives’, for Seventh Conference on Rural and Farm Women in Historical Perspective, with Association for Living Historical Farms and Agricultural Museums, New Mexico, USA.
July 2002 – ‘The Pigsty & The Cottage: Thresholds of dirt & disease in the C19th rural community’, for Infection and Contamination conference, Edge Hill College.
May 2002 – ‘The Door on the Latch: accessing the rural home’ for Investigating the Home, Charles Booth Centre for the Study of Social Investigation study day, Open University, Milton Keynes.


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