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Staff profile

Karen Sayer

Professor Karen Sayer

Professor of Social and Cultural History

Phone: +44 (0)113 283 7100 ext.212

Visiting address:

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Education / Academic qualification

  • Bachelor of Arts, Portsmouth Polytechnic

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sussex

Professional Qualifications

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society,

    2002 -
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy,

    2001 -


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’.

Research interests

Prof Sayer is currently working on a monograph for Routledge, 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.

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


Willingness to take PhD. students



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.