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Joanna Bourke

  • Overview



    Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, (retired) and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is also the Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College. Bourke is the Principal Investigator of an interdisciplinary Wellcome Trust-funded project entitled ‘SHaME’ (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters, which explores medical and psychiatric aspects of sexual violence). SHaME is Directed by Dr Ruth Beecher. Bourke is the prize-winning author of fifteen books, as well as over 120 articles in academic journals. In 2022, Reaktion Books published "Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence" (also published by Chicago University Press) and Oxford University Press published "Birkbeck: 200 years of Radical Education for Working People". Her books have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, and Greek.

    Joanna Bourke is a New Zealander by birth. As a young child, she lived in New Zealand, Zambia, Solomon Island, and Haiti. She went to Auckland University (New Zealand) to do her BA and MA and, from there, to the Australian National University in Canberra to complete a doctorate on women in nineteenth-century Ireland. After brief posts in the 1980s and early 1990s at the Australian National University and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she was appointed to Birkbeck College in 1992.

    Her first book was "From Husbandry to Housewifery, a history of female labour in rural Ireland in the nineteenth century". After writing a book on the British working classes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ("Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1860-1960"), her interests turned to the experiences of men and women in wartime. After a number of books on the cultural history of modern warfare (including "Dismembering the Male" and "An Intimate History of Killing"), she turned to the history of the emotions (especially fear: a book entitled "Fear: A Cultural History") and to the history of rape ("Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present"). More recently, she has published "What It Means To Be Human". In 2014, she published "The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers" and "Wounding the World. How Military Violence and War Games Invade Our Lives". She explores these topics through the lens of gender, intersectionalities, and subjectivities. In 2019, she was the author of "War and Art: A Visual History of Modern Conflicts". In 2020, she published "Loving Animals: On Bestiality, Zoophilia, and Post-Human Love" (Reaktion Books). She is the Principal Investigator for an interdisciplinary, Wellcome Trust funded project SHaME (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters), which explores medical and psychiatric aspects of sexual violence from a global perspective. The first book from this project is entitled "Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence", published in 2022 by Reaktion Books and Chicago University Press.



    • I am the Principal Investigator for the interdisciplinary, Wellcome Trust project SHaME (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters), which explores medical and psychiatric aspects of sexual violence globally. Because I have retired, the Director of SHaME is now Dr Ruth Beecher. See, twitter @shme_bbk and @bourke_joanna

    • I have written the history of Birkbeck for the College's bicentenary. See https:// and twitter @BBKKnowledge and @bourke_joanna

    Office hours

    I have taken early retirement.


    Web profiles

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Principal Investigator of SHaME
    • Lead for the History of Birkbeck Bicentenary Book and Theses Project

    Visiting posts

    • Gresham Professor of Rhetoric, Gresham College, 09-2019 to 09-2023
    • Global Innovation Chair, University of Newcastle (Australia), 01-2017 to 10-2020

    Professional memberships

    • Fellow of the British Academy

    • Fellow of the Royal Historical Association

    Honours and awards

    • Council of the British Academy, The British Academy,
    • Fellow of the British Academy, The British Academy,
    • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Royal Historical Society,
    • Birkbeck College Orator, Birkbeck College,
    • Wolfson Prize for The Intimate History of Killing, Wolfson Foundation,
    • Fraenkel Prize for The Intimate History of Killing, Fraenkel Foundation,
    • 3 Golds for "Eyewitness. A History of Twentieth Century Britain" (1910-19, 1940-49, and "Most Original Overall"), Audio Society,
  • Research


    Research interests

    • Sexual Violence, historically and today
    • Animals and human-animal relations
    • Violence
    • War, history of
    • Emotions, history of (especially fear and hatred)
    • Psychiatry, history of
    • Medicine, history of
    • The Body, history of

    Research overview

    Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is also the Gresham Professor of Rhetoric (London, 2019-2023). She is the Principal Investigator on a five-year Wellcome Trust-funded project entitled “SHaME” (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters: October 2018 to September 2023). She is the prize-winning author of fourteen books, as well as over 100 articles in academic journals. Among others, she is the author of From Husbandry to Housewifery: Women, Economic Change and Housework in Ireland, 1890-1914 (1993), Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (1996), An Intimate History of Killing (1999), Fear: A Cultural History(2005), Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present (2007), and What it Means To Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present was published in 2011. In 2014, she was the author of The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers and Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play are Invading our Lives. In 2019, she published Loving Animals. In 2022, Reaktion Books published Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence (also published by Chicago University Press) and Oxford University Press published Birkbeck: 200 Years of Radical Education for Working People. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, and Greek. Disgrace will be released as an audio book. An Intimate History of Killing won the Wolfson Prize and the Fraenkel Prize. Her 40-CD audio history of Britain, entitled “Eyewitness” won the Gold for the Best Audio Production for Volume 1910-1919, Gold for the Best Audio Production for Volume 1940-1949, and the Gold for the Most Original Audio for all 10 volumes. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular correspondent for newspapers.

    Research Centres and Institutes

    Research clusters and groups

    • Mind and body
    • Conflict and violence
    • Public history

    Research projects

    Sexual Violence, Medicine, and Psychiatry

    Post doctoral staff

    • Ruth Beecher
    • Rhian Keyse
    • George Severs
  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I welcome prospective PhDs and postdocs working on sexual violence, animal history, violence, sexuality, and war.

    Recent or current PhD students:


    A Microhistory of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, 1963-2003
    Birkbeck and the Politics of Adult Education, 1866-1920
    Psychiatric Evidence in Court Proceedings for Sexual Violence Survivors
    Pain, Emotion, Self, Subjectivities, and Insanity, 1880-1930
    Rape Victims and Feminist Organisations in Paris Today
    Degeneration Theory in Scandinavian Racial Sciences, 1880-1922
    The Contribution of African and Caribbean Troops to the First World War

    Since 2000, the following students of mine (sole supervisor in all cases, unless indicated) have been awarded PhDs:

    21. Susanna Shapland, "Defining the Elephant: a History of Psychopathy, 1891-1959", 2018

    20. Linda Maynard, “Brotherly Love in the Great War”, 2017

    19. Steffan Blayney, "Health & Efficiency: Fatigue, the Science of Work, and the Working Body in Britain, c. 1870-1939", 2017

    18. Neil Penlington, "Men and Marriage in England 1918-60: Consent, Celebration and Consummation", 2017

    17. Jane Crellin, "Marion Post: New Deal Photographer, Femininity, and Racial Egalitarian, 1938-1941", 2017 (co-supervised with Professor John Howard, KCL), MPhil

    16. Simon Jarrett, "The Road to Dr Down's Idiot Asylum: The Creation of the Idea of Intellectual Disability, 1700-1867", 2016

    15. Hazel Croft, “War Neurosis and Civilian Mental Health in Britain during the Second World War”, 2016

    14. Janet Weston, "Curing Sexual Deviance: Medical Approaches to Sexual Offenders in England, 1919-1959", 2015

    13. Clare Makepeace, “’A Pseudo-Soldier’s Cross’”: The Subjectivities of British POWs Held in Germany and Italy During the Second World War”, 2013

    12. Ashleigh Melvin, “The Other World: Religion and the Western Front during the Great War”, 2013

    11. Maryam Philpott, “The Experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy in the Great War”, 2013

    10. Alena Marie Papayanis, “The Renegotiation of America: Gender, National Identity and the Gulf War”, 2012

    9. Louise Hide, “Inside the Asylum: Gender and Class in English Mental Hospitals, 1890-1914”, 2011

    8. Cormac Deane, "The Frame of Exception: US Film and TV Featuring Terrorism 1990-2010", 2010 (co-supervised with Professor Costas Douzinas)

    7. Jane McGaughey, “Irish Masculinities in Ulster, 1890-1922”, 2008

    6. Paul Hodges, “British Atrocities During the First World War”, 2005

    5. Carmen Mangion, “Catholic Women Religious in C19 England and Wales”, 2004

    4. Ivan Gibbons, “Irish Nationalism and the British Labour Party”, 2004

    3. Sean Brady, “Homosexual Identities and Gender in Nineteenth Century Britain”, 2003

    2. Jim MacPherson, “Irish Women and Nationalism, 1890-1922”, 2003

    1. Brian Green, “Social Change, Social Reform, and Gender in Southwark and Bermonsey”, 2000


    Since 2000, I have been the external examiners for the following PhDs:


    32. Eilish Boyle, "Visibility, Agency and Care Amongst Facially and Psychologically Wounded Veterans in Interwar Britain", University of Leeds, 2020

    31. Georgia Ella McWinney, "'I Can Doctor Myself Up Without Going to the Doctor': Vernacular Medicine in the British World During the Great War", Macquarie University (Australia), 2020

    30. Jack Doyle, “The Pathless Sky: Violence and Culture in First World War Air Services”, University of Oxford, 2019

    29. John Patrick Collins, "The Professionalisation of Surgery: An Examination of Surgeon-Patient Encounters in Britain 1750-1850", University of Auckland, 2020

    28. Louise Elizabeth Heren, "An Ugly Epoch: Male Sexual Violence in Interwar Scotland, 1918-30", University of St Andrews, 2019

    27. Nicholas Basannavar, “Speaking About Child Sexual Abuse in Britain, 1965-1991”, Birkbeck College (other School), 2018

    26. Claudia Zini, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Contemporary Art from a Post-Conflict Society”, 2 vols, The Courtauld Institute of Art, April 2019

    25. Emma J. Purce, "Freak Shows at British Seaside Resorts 1900-1950", University of Kent, 2017

    24. Hannah Rose Woods, "Anxiety and Urban Life in Late Victorian and Edwardian Culture, 1880-1914", Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, 2017

    23. Ryan Ross, “Accidents and their Medico-Legal Sequelae in Twentieth Century Britain: Time, Trauma, and Writing History”, University of Queen Mary, 2017

    22. Michael Robinson, “Nobody’s Children: Shell Shock and Rehabilitation in Ireland, 1914-1938”, University of Liverpool, 2017

    21. Kylie Galbraith, "From Our Correspondent: The British Press and Nazi Germany, 1933-1939", University of Adelaide, 2017

    20. Scott King, "Rationality Under Fire: The Incorporation of Emotion into Rational Choice", University of Sussex, 2014

    19. Giulia ní Dhulchaointigh, “Irish People in London, 1900-1914”, Trinity College Dublin, 2013

    18. Sarah Chaney, “Self-Mutilation and Psychiatry: Impulse, Identity, and the Unconscious in British Explanations of Self-Inflicted Injury, c. 1864-1914”, University College London, 2013

    17. Greg J. Tinker, "The Cultural Memory of the Second World War: D-Day Veterans and Commemoration in Britain", University of Reading, 2013

    16. Victoria Louise Bates, "Not an Exact Science: Medical Approaches to Age and Sexual Offences in England, 1850-1914", University of Exeter, 2013

    15. David Bruce Cherry, “Sex and Morale: The Sexual Life of the British Soldier on the Western Front, 1914-1918”, University of Reading, 2012

    14. Spiros Tsoutsoumpis, “Irregular Warfare in Occupied Greece: Masculinity and Morale in the S.O.E. and the Greek resistance”, University of Manchester, 2012

    13. Clare Elizabeth Rhoden, “The Purpose of Futility: Leadership in Australian Great War Narrative”, University of Melbourne, 2011

    12. Amanda Kaladelfos, “Crime and Outrage: Sexual Villains and Sexual Violence in New South Wales, 1870-1930”, University of Sydney, 2010

    11. Marian Elizabeth Allsopp, “Invisible Wounds: A Genealogy of Emotional Abuse and Other Psychic Harms”, London School of Economics, 2009

    10. Lisa Godson, “The Design of Public Events in the Irish Free State 1922-1929”, Royal College of Art, 2008

    9. Anurag Jain, “Relations Between Ford, Kipling, Conan Doyle, Wells and British Propaganda During the First World War”, Queen Mary, University of London, 2008

    8. Jane Tynan, “Representations of Soldiering, British Army Uniform, and the Male Body During the First World War”, University of the Arts, 2008

    7. Susan Aspinall, “Nurture as Well as Nature: Environmentalism in Representations of Women and Exercise in Britain, 1880-1920s”, University of Warwick, 2008

    6. Stuart James Hogarth, “Reluctant Patients: Health, Sickness and Plebeian Masculinity in C19 Britain”, London Metropolitan University, 2008

    5. Rachel Sarah Duffett, “A War Unimagined: Food and the Rank and File Soldiers of the First World War”, University of Essex, 2008

    4. Elizabeth Roberts, “Freedom, Faction, Fame, and Blood: British ‘Soldiers of Conscience’ in Three European Wars”, University of Sydney, 2007

    3. Gabriel Koureas, “Unconquerable Manhood: Memory, Masculinity, and the Commemoration of the First World War in British Visual Culture, 1914-030”, Birkbeck (History of Art), 2004

    2. Stephen Andrew Ball, “Policing the Land War”, Goldsmiths College, 2000

    1. Rose Lindsey, “Nationalism and Gender: A Study of War-Related Violence Against Women”, University of Southampton, 2000

    Doctoral alumni since 2013-14



    I am currently on research leave, so am only supervising PhD students, as well as being the Principal Investigator of SHaME Project (Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters: see

  • Publications




    Book Section

    Conference Item


    • Mangion, Carmen M. and Bourke, Joanna and Hide, Louise (2012) Perspectives on Pain: Introduction. 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century (15), Birkbeck University. ISSN 1755-1560.
  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • sexual violence
    • rape
    • animals
    • sexuality
    • emotions, especially fear and hatred
    • what it means to be human
    • art and war
    • war, cultural history
    • psychiatry, history of
    • Birkbeck and London Mechanics Institution, history of
    • Masculinity
    • The body
    • History of medicine and medical humanities


      I am involved with significant outreach and engagement in relation to my leadership of SHaME (sexual Harms and Medical Encounters). See