Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

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 the domestic life of electricity in India 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 environmental history in the modern period, social and cultural history in Britain during the C19th and C20th, including social histories of the countryside, animal history (farm animals and livestock), 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.

Calculated based on number of publications stored in Pure and citations from Scopus

Personal profile


Prof Karen Sayer is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Senior 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.

Her contribution to the field began with Women of the Fields (MUP 1995) and includes Country Cottages: a Cultural History (MUP 2000), and with co-editors the edited collection Transforming the Countryside: the electrification of rural Britain (Routledge, 2017). She has most recently completed work on a Wellcome Trust National Collaborative Award with researchers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Newcatle, Lincoln and Resading.

Within the Leeds Centre of Victorian Studies and it's wider networks, she draws on material culture, illustration and text to work on Victorian social and cultural history of landscapes of marginal spaces and experiences, e.g. nocturnal landscapes of waterways, rivers and coastlines, material technologies of sight and sound, cultures of light and illumination, the aesthetics and material cultures of hearing loss.

She works closely with artists, heritage providers and museums at the national level such as the LastStation art project, the Museum of English Rural Life, and others in the region such as the Thackray Medical Museum. She has delivered public lectures to these and also the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, has been intervuiewed a number of times for BBC Radio 4, and has appeared on Wartime Farm and Who Do You Think You Are?

She is currently Chair of the British Agricultural History Society (founded 1952) and British representative to the European Rural History Organisation. She has served on the Agricultural History Society's journal Agricultural History and has had the pleasure and privilege to serve on the Fite Committee, and as the Chair of the Conference Committee for the 2022 Annual Meeting in Stavanger, Norway.  She has recently completed three years serving on the American Society for Environmental History's Alice Hamilton Prize Committee.

She is currently University Research Lead.

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 has just published, with co-editors Paul Brassley and Jeremy Burchardt, Transforming the Countryside: the electrification of rural Britain (Routledge, 2017). This addresses the infrastructure, promotion, value of and reponses to rural electrification in Britain, with comparative chapters on Canada and Sweden, and raises 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 adult 'deafness' in the Victorian period and twentieth-century Britain until just after the First World War, 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 History

School Of Arts and Communication Academic Member of University-level Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee

University Impact and Public Engagement Champion

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


Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sussex

Award Date: 1 Jun 1992

Bachelor of Arts, Portsmouth Polytechnic

Award Date: 1 Jun 1988

External positions

External Examiner, Ba (Hons) History, Bath Spa University

1 Sept 201631 Aug 2020

External Examiner, MA Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

1 Sept 201631 Aug 2019


  • D History (General)
  • Sustainability
  • Agricultural history
  • Environmental history
  • Rural history

REF 2029 UOA

  • UOA27 - English Language and Literature


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