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Deborah Oxley

Visiting Professor of Economic History from University of Oxford, UK

The human body is a new tool for understanding dynamics in economic history.

Professional biography
Research interests
Influence beyond the academy
Inspiring passions and concerns
Most significant publications
Hopes for the Visiting Professor Programme

Professional biography
I trained in economic history and sociology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia, and then began my career in economic history at the University of Melbourne before returning to UNSW. In 2007, I emigrated and I am now Professor of Social Science History at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of All Souls College. I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and the Academy of Social Sciences. Currently, I am a Leverhulme Major Research Fellow working on a new book, Weighty Matters: A somatic history of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

What are your main research interests?
(1) Weighty Matters exploits new data on historical body mass to examine how local labour markets contributed to shaping household distribution, and the long-term consequences for health (Meredith & Oxley 2015). This had intergenerational effects, transmitted via mothers (Oxley 2015). Gender discrimination against girls has recently been found when examining stature of 19th century factory children (Horrell and Oxley, 2016). I’m interested in how children grew, especially in Britain, Australia and South Africa. (2) Collaborative project on 19th century criminal justice, The Digital Panopticon, linking London court records with convict transportees and prison data, exploring the long-term consequences of different modes of punishment.

How does your research have influence beyond the academic world? Does this include any roles you have beyond the academy?
My current work on measuring gender differences in human growth will have influence on how medics interpret height-for-age z-scores based on the World Health Organisation growth standards.

Work on convicts always gains public interest. Most recently, we wrote a popular piece on ’10 myths of convict Australia’ for the BBC History Magazine (Meredith & Oxley, 2016).

Is teaching still a significant part of your working life? What particular method or approach would you say characterises your teaching?
Although currently a research fellow, I still supervise and recently taught a paper on Crime and Punishment in Britain at Masters level. Previously, I ran the M.Sc. and M.Phil. programmes in Economic and Social History – the most enjoyable teaching I have ever done. The programmes featured practical training in quantitative and qualitative research methods, around a core paper What happened, and Why? This examined social science epistemology and the implications for historical research. We covered history, economics (experimental, institutional, etc.), psychology, political science, anthropology, sociology etc. My approach is interdisciplinary and interactive, and I always have the desire to push students to be the best they can.

What specific passions or concerns particularly inspire you in your work?
Understanding the dynamics of history, how they play out in the present, and the implications for social justice and human welfare.

Which of your publications would you regard as the most significant and why?
Horrell, Meredith and Oxley, ‘Measuring misery: Body mass, ageing and gender inequality in Victorian London’, Explorations in Economic History, 46 (2009) – because it pioneered the use of body mass as a tool for understanding distribution in household consumption.

Also related to that earlier work, my 2015 co-authored article, ‘Blood and Bone’, in the journal History of the Family (2015) teases apart the connections between economic opportunity and bargaining power in shaping consumption, and links outcomes to Waaler mortality surfaces.

Meredith and Oxley, ‘Food and fodder: Feeding Britain, 1700-1900’, Past and Present 222.1 (2014) – because it helps resolve the 19th century food puzzle, identifying a fall of 1000 kcal/day per adult male equivalent. It demonstrated what human needs were, how available calories fell below these needs, and what the consequences were for hunger, work effort, maternal health and infant welfare.

What are you particularly hoping to achieve during your time as a Visiting Professor in Gothenburg?
I am excited to be working with Gothenburg’s excellent team of economic historians on their new project examining ‘Socioeconomic dimensions of diet and health during the 20th century: A longitudinal study’. Christer Lund and Stefan Öberg are both making original contributions in their respective fields of labour markets and households, and demographics, families and anthropometrics. The Visiting Professorship will enable me to develop my ideas in an internationally comparative framework, return to my earlier interest in household budget data, as well as accessing the exceptional wealth of longitudinal data available in Sweden. I am also looking forward to engaging with graduate students interested in fostering interdisciplinary approaches to the past.

All Souls College
The Digital Panopticon

Founders & Survivors

Deborah Oxley


Would you like to meet Deborah and/or have an idea for future cooperation?

Send an email to her contact person at the School:
Christer Lundh

Or visit her home university website!

Focus areas:

  • Gender and health inequality
  • Households and labour markets
  • Nutrition history
  • Colonial economic development
Page Manager: Karin Jansson|Last update: 6/8/2016

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