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Professor Vanessa Harding

MA, PhD (St Andrews)
Professor of London History (part-time from 2012)

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room B11
27 Russell Square

Tel: 020 7631 6284


  • Introduction
  • My research interests over the years have centred on the social, economic, and physical development of London from the 14th to the 17th centuries, and on the problems of understanding and charting London’s demography over that period. I am particularly concerned with how we can reconstruct a picture of the built environment and populate it with families, households and economic activities. The study of death and burial practices contributes to this; so too does analysis of health, disease and medical knowledge among Londoners. Social change and the ‘modernisation’ of 16th- and 17th-century London is an important theme.
  • In recent years I have directed or co-directed research projects on 'People in place: families, households and housing in early modern London' (AHRC, 2003-6); 'Housing environments and health in London, 1550-1750' (The Wellcome Trust, 2006-8); ‘ The London Hearth Tax project’ (AHRC, 2007-10); ‘Life in the suburbs: health, domesticity and status in early modern London’ (ESRC, 2008-11). See and
  • I am also interested in the archival and documentary sources for London and urban history, and in editing historical sources for publication. In 2012 I became General Editor of the British Academy Records of Social and Economic History series, with responsibility for co-ordinating the publications in the series.
  • Academic background
  • Vanessa Harding was made Professor of London History at Birkbeck in 2009. She was first appointed to Birkbeck in 1984, as ‘New Blood’ lecturer in London history, after working on the Victoria County History of Essex and on a research project, The Social and Economic Study of medieval London. She works on the history of late medieval and early modern London, with a recent focus on health, disease, and the environment.

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • Property history and population history
  • Urban mortality, including plague, and its social impact
  • Family and household in London
  • Health and medical knowledge
  • Early modern archives and documentary sources
  • Teaching
  • I teach part of the BA Group 1 course, ‘British History, 1500-1750’. I teach MA options on ‘Early Modern London: society and culture’ and ‘Death, disease and the early modern city’. I supervise BA and MA dissertations in these broad areas.
  • PhD supervision
  • I currently supervise or co-supervise MPhil/PhD students working on:
  • Portraits of children in 16th-17th century England
  • Christ’s Hospital and the poor of London, 1552-1666
  • Almshouse provision in later medieval and early modern London
  • Early Modern London and the Rules of Business: London Merchants and Institutions, c. 1661-1763
  • Recent MPhil/PhDs (co-)supervised include:
  • Building pathology and health in early modern London
  • Capital in the countryside: early modern Wiltshire and London
  • Medical remedies and recipes in the 16th century
  • Henry VII and London
  • The furniture trade in early modern London
  • The Dutch in London, 1660-1720
  • The invention of change-ringing in early modern England
  • The management of grammar schools in the suburbs of London, late 16th-early 17th century
  • The role of London in the creation of a Quaker transatlantic community in the late 17th and early 18th centuries


  • Books, including editions of sources and edited collections
  • Vanessa Harding and Koichi Watanabe, eds., Memory, History, 
and Autobiography 
in Early Modern Towns in East 
and West (2015)
  • A.Wareham, M.Davies, C. Ferguson, V. Harding, and E.Parkinson, eds. The London and Middlesex Hearth Tax Returns (British Academy, 2014)
  • The dead and the living in Paris and London, 1500-1670 (CUP, 2002).
  • London Bridge: selected accounts and rentals, 1381-1547, (London Record Society vol. 31, 1995 for 1994) with Laura Wright
  • A Survey of documentary sources for the history of London before the Great Fire (London Record Society 22, 1985), with Derek Keene
  • Journal articles
  • ‘Introduction’ and ‘Memory, History, and the Individual in the Civic Context: Early Modern London’, in Vanessa Harding and Koichi Watanabe, eds., Memory, History,
and Autobiography 
in Early Modern Towns in East 
and West (2015), pp. 1-16, 109-20.
  • ‘London and Middlesex at the Restoration: an introduction to the Hearth Tax’, in A.Wareham, M.Davies, C. Ferguson, V. Harding, and E.Parkinson, eds. The London and Middlesex Hearth Tax Returns (British Academy, 2014)
  • ‘The last gasp: death and the family in early modern London’, in James Kelly and Mary Ann Lyons, eds., Death and dying in Ireland, Britain, and Europe. Historical perspectives (Irish Academic Press, 2013), pp. 77-94
  • ‘Houses and households in Cheapside c.1500-1550’ in Matthew Davies and James A. Galloway, eds., London and beyond : essays in honour of Derek Keene (2012), pp. 135-54
  • ‘Housing and health in early modern London’, in V.Berridge and M.Gorsky, eds., Environment, health and history (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
  • 'Sons, apprentices, and successors in late medieval and early modern London: the transmission of skills and work opportunities', in F-E Eliassen and K.Szende, eds, Generations in towns (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009)
  • 'Working wives and economic growth: urban familes in the pre-Industrial era', in Il ruolo economico della famiglia, secc. XIII-XVIII, ed. Simonetta Cavaiocchi (Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F.Datini", Prato (2009).
  • ‘Names and numbers: gathering and sharing information in early modern London (c. 1500-1700)’ and ‘Early Modern England and the Written Word’, in Koichi Watanabe (ed.) Chu-kinsei Akaibuzu no Takokukan Hikaku / Multilateral Comparative Study on Archives of Medieval and Early Modern Times (2009)
  • 'Cheapside: commerce and commemoration' in Jean E Howard and Deborah Harkness (ed.), The places and spaces of early modern London (special issue of Huntington Library Quarterly 71.1 (2008), 77-96
  • ‘Families and housing in seventeenth-century London’, Parergon 24.2 (2007), pp. 115-38.
  • 'Shops, markets and retailers in London's Cheapside, c. 1500-1700',  in Buyers, sellers and salesmanship in medieval and early modern Europe, ed. B. Blondé, P. Stabel, J. Stobart and I. Van Damme (Studies in European Urban History 9, Brepols, Turnhout, 2006), pp. 155-70
  • 'Employment and opportunity: the building trades in London, 1450-1600', in L'edilizia prima della Rivoluzione Industriale secc. XIII-XVIII: atti della trentaseiesima Settimana di Studi, 2603- Aprile 2004, ed. Simonetta Cavaiocchi (Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F.Datini", Prato: serie II.36, Le Monnier 2005), pp. 991-1011
  • 'Les vivants et les morts dans les métropoles de l'époque modern', special issue on 'Cultures politiques, identités sociales en Grande-Bretagne', Histoire, Economie, & Société (1.2005), pp. 89-107
  • 'The Crown, the City and the Orphans: the City of London and its finances, 1400-1700' in Urban public debts, urban  government and the market for annuities in Western Europe (14th – 18th centuries), ed. M.Boone, K.Davids, and P.Janssens (Studies in European Urban History 3, Brepols, Turnhout, 2003), pp. 51-60
  • 'Choices and changes: death, burial and the English Reformation' in The Archaeology of Reformation, 1480-1580, ed. R. Gilchrist and D.Gaimster (Maney Publishing for Society for Medieval Archaeology/Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, 2003), pp. 386-98.
  • 'Recent perspectives on early modern London', Historical Journal, 47.2 (2004), pp. 1-16
  • 'London, Change and Exchange', in in H.S.Turner (ed.)  The culture of capital: property, cities, and knowledge in early modern England (Routledge, 2002), pp. 129-38
  • 'Maintaining London Bridge, c. 1380-1550: costs and resources', in Donatella Calabi e Claudia Conforti (eds.), I Ponti: forma e costruzione dall'antico all'architettura del ferro, (Documenti di architettura, Milano, 2002) pp. 1-12
  • 'Real Estate: Space, Property and Propriety in Urban England' in special issue of Journal of Interdisciplinary History (32.4, Spring 2002) pp. 549-69
  • 'City, Capital and Metropolis: the Changing Shape of Seventeenth Century London', in J.F.Merritt (ed.), Imagining Early Modern London: Perceptions and Portrayals of the City from Stow to Strype, 1598-1720 (Cambridge University Press 2001), pp. 117-143
  • 'Controlling a complex metropolis, 1650-1750. Politics, parishes and powers', London Journal 26 (2001), pp. 29-37
  • 'Memento mori: la peur de l'agonie, de la mort et des morts a Londres au XVIIe siecle', Histoire Urbaine 2 (Dec. 2000), pp. 39-57.
  • 'Reformation and culture in England, Wales and Scotland, 1540-1700', in P. Clark (ed.) Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 263-88
  • 'Whose body? A study of attitudes towards the dead body in early modern Paris', in B.Gordon and P. Marshall (eds.), The place of the dead. Death and remembrance in late medieval and early modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 170-87
  • 'Death in the City: mortuary archaeology to 1800', in I Haynes, H. Sheldon, and L. Hannigan, (eds.), London under ground. The Archaeology of London (Oxbow Books, 2000), pp. 272-83
  • 'Citizen and mercer: Sir Thomas Gresham and the social and political world of the city of London', in F.Ames-Lewis (ed.), Sir Thomas Gresham and Gresham College (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1999), pp. 24-37.
  • 'Diversity and success in the medieval city' (review article) Journal of Urban History 24 (1998), pp. 627-42
  • 'Burial on the margin: distance and discrimination in the early modern city', in M.Cox (ed.), Grave Concerns: death and burial in England, 1700-1850 (York: Council for British Archaeology Research Report 113, 1998), pp. 54-64
  • 'Research priorities: an historian's perspective', in M.Cox (ed.), Grave Concerns: death and burial in England, 1700-1850 (York: Council for British Archaeology Research Report 113, 1998), pp. 205-212
  • 'Mortality and the mental map of London: Richard Smyth's Obituary', in R.Myers and M.Harris (eds.), Medicine, mortality and the book trade (Cheam: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1998), pp. 49-71.
  • ‘Twenty years of writing on London History, 1975-1995: Early modern London, 1550-1700’, London Journal 20 (1995), pp. 34-45; reprinted in Patricia A. Garside (ed.), Capital Histories, a bibliographical study of London (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 41-52.
  • 'Cross-channel trade and cultural contacts: London and the Low Countries in the late fourteenth century', in Caroline M. Barron and N.Saul, eds., London and the Low Countries in the late Middle Ages (Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1995), pp. 153-68
  • 'Medieval documentary sources for London and Paris: a comparison', in J.Boffey and P. King, eds., London and Europe in the later Middle Ages (Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, 1995), pp. 35-54
  • 'Burial of the plague dead in early modern London', in Epidemic disease in London ed. Justin Champion (Centre for Metropolitan History Working Paper Series 1, 1993), pp. 53-64
  • 'Communicating London's early history' (review article), Urban History 20 (1993), pp. 225-32.
  • 'Burial choice and burial location in later medieval London' in Death in Towns, Urban responses to the dying and the dead, 100-1600, ed. S.R.Bassett (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992) pp. 119-35.
  • 'The population of London, 1550-1700: a review of the published evidence', London Journal 15 (1990), pp. 111-28.
  • ' "And one more may be laid there": the location of burials in early modern London', London Journal 14 (1989), pp. 112-29.


  • I am an occasional contributor to television and radio programmes, usually on the history of London, death, and the Great Fire
  • BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, 'The Great Fire of London'

Professional membership

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, since 1991; Honorary Secretary, The Royal Historical Society, 2007-11
  • Member, English Heritage London Advisory Committee, 2012-15
  • Member, management committee, British Academy Hearth Tax project, 2011-
  • Reviews Editor (pre-1800), Urban History, 2006-14
  • Member, Historic Towns Atlas Committee (Britain), 1997- ; member, Executive Committee, 2012-
  • Member, Editorial Board, Early Theatre, 1997-
  • Member, Editorial Board, Urban History, 1994 -

Current activities

  • I am currently planning a project to reconstruct the map of London on the eve of the Great Fire, in partnership with the Historic Towns Trust and colleagues at the Centre for Hearth Tax Research at Roehampton University and the Centre for Metropolitan History at the University of London.
  • Together with Dr Kristin Heitman, I am planning a symposium on the Bills of Mortality, an important source for understanding the health and governance of early modern London, to be held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, in 2018.
  • I am also researching a 17th-century Londoner, Richard Smyth, whose writings and collections illuminate many aspects of London life, including family, neighbourhood, sociability, and the development of a professional ‘middling sort’. Writings in his hand are currently in the British Library, Guildhall Library, Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian Library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, while books from his large private collection are even more widely scattered.