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Major grants awarded to researchers at QMUL’s School of History

Senior researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have secured major funding awards for projects about the history of western solitude, and the history of working motherhood in Britain.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Dr Helen McCarthy and Professor Barbara Taylor
Dr Helen McCarthy and Professor Barbara Taylor

Barbara Taylor, Professor of Humanities (School of History, School of English and Drama) was awarded £860,670 by the Wellcome Trust for a four-year interdisciplinary project: Pathologies of Solitude, 18th to 21st Century.

“Loneliness today is a serious health concern. This is generally regarded as a recent development but in fact solitariness has long been perceived as a medical risk, especially a psychological risk. Our present-day concern about social isolation and loneliness is framed by this largely neglected history,” said Professor Taylor.

This project aims to remedy this neglect by undertaking the first health-related history of western solitude. Its leading premise is that the development of modern society has involved changes in perceptions of solitude whose overall tendency has been to pathologise and medicalise it. By documenting and analysing this process, the project aims to produce insights into one of humankind’s most fundamental experiences, and one of contemporary society’s most complex health challenges.

The primary research focus of the project is on Britain; its chronological starting point is the long 18th century when modern medical perceptions of solitude first took shape, with developments in this period compared to those in succeeding centuries. An interdisciplinary research network has been assembled that will bring these historical findings into dialogue with scientific research about contemporary experiences of solitude. The project will also engage with campaigns devoted to alleviating loneliness, while an ambitious outreach programme will take its findings to the general public.

Motherhood in Britain

Dr Helen McCarthy, Reader in Modern British History (School of History), was awarded £102,550 by the British Academy for Double Lives: Working Motherhood in Twentieth-Century Britain.

Images from - a unique collaboration between Helen McCarthy and the photographer Leonora Saunders
Images from - a unique collaboration between Helen McCarthy and the photographer Leonora Saunders

The project will produce the first comprehensive account of mothers' employment in Britain across the twentieth century. It offers a new interpretation of women’s work in this period, revealing the important role of ideas, and particularly of social research, in transforming the meaning of working motherhood.

“Mothers frequently earned money to support their families in modern Britain. Yet only during the second half of the twentieth century did working motherhood gradually acquire the status of a social norm. Explaining how far and for what reasons the employment of mothers became recognised as an ordinary and permanent feature of British life, rather than a moral, social and economic ‘problem’, is the principal aim of this project,” said Dr McCarthy.

The principal output of this project is a substantial monograph. In addition, there will be a photographic exhibition, magazine articles, and a radio documentary designed to engage the wider public. Collectively, these outputs will advance scholarship whilst providing rich historical context to contemporary debates about gender equality, work and care. More information about Dr McCarthy's research is available at

For media information, contact:

Mark Byrne
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London

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