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Dr Elly Robson

  • Overview



    I am a lecturer in early modern history, and joined Birkbeck after completing a post-doctoral fellowship in Cambridge.

    My research focusses on early modern Britain and the Atlantic world. It examines the environmental politics generated by ambitious projects of agricultural improvement and colonial plantation, investigating wetlands, woodlands, and islands as sites of reform and conflict.

    I also specialise in public history, as managing editor of History Workshop.


    Web profiles

    Professional activities

    Managing Editor, History Workshop

    Editor, History Workshop Journal

    Professional memberships

    • Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

  • Research


    Research interests

    • the politics of water
    • the relationship between central and local politics
    • the environmental history of commons and enclosure
    • petitions, protest, riot and rebellion
    • the social history of ideas
    • spatial knowledge and cartography
    • the social and political history of agriculture
    • migration and identity
    • disaster, risk and resilience

    Research overview

    I am currently completing my first monograph, "Violent Waters: The Politics of Wetland Improvement in Early Modern England", which investigates how flagship hydraulic projects in the fens dramatically altered the pace and scale of environmental change in early modern England. These controversial ventures were driven by new forms of scientific knowledge, governors’ coercive authority, and transnational investment and migration, which collided with the local politics of custom and common rights. My study asks how wetlands were reimagined and remade in maps, pamphlets, litigation, and riots. In emphasising contestation and contingency, it complicates monolithic accounts of state building and economic progress in the fens.

    My new research project examines how early projects of ‘plantation’ transformed environments in the British Atlantic and propelled the intertwined development of empire and state between 1600 and 1660. Investigating connections between the improvement of English common lands and projects to colonise Ireland, Virginia, and Barbados, it will trace an environmental politics of cultivation that was both global in scope and profoundly local. I am interested in the interaction between global processes and the politics of small places, asking how diverse climates, local resistance, market fluctuations, labour shortages, and soil fertility led to the emergence of distinctive Atlantic ecologies and economies.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Teaching modules

    • Medieval and Early Modern Worlds (AREN293S7)
    • Mastering Historical Research: Birkbeck Approaches (SSHC247S7)
    • Crime, Poverty and Protest in England and Beyond, 1500-1800 (SSHC350S6)
    • Exploring the Past (SSHC407S5)
    • The Early Modern World, 1500-1800: Reformations and Revolutions (SSHC413S4)
  • Business and community

    Business and community


    Historical consultant on water history for the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration (2023)

    Advisory board member, ‘Fear of Missing Out’ podcast, Boldface Productions (2021-22)

    'Knowing Nature', History Workshop Podcast (2021)

    ‘Editorial: The Political Environment’, History Workshop (Nov 2021)

    ‘Deluge and disaster: the politics of risk’, History Workshop (Jan 2021).

    Podcast series: ‘Queer Activisms’, History Workshop Podcast, 2021.

    Lead editor: ‘Apocalypse Then and Now: Covid-19 in Historical Perspective’ series, History Workshop, 2020-1.