Kate Gibson

Kate Gibson


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Personal profile


I am a social historian of eighteenth-century Britain, with a particular interest in the reproduction of inequality through family relationships. My first book, Illegitimacy, Family and Stigma in England, 1660-1834 was published by Oxford University Press in 2022. I am currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow working on the history of fostering and adoption in Britain from 1700 to 1839. 

I have researched and written extensively on the history of family life, sexual behaviour, illegitimacy, fostering, adoption, childcare and care work, gender, religion, and time. My work appears in The Historical Journal, Past & Present, Cultural and Social History, and The Journal of Family History.

I completed my PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2018, funded by the Wolfson foundation. I have held fellowships at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Birmingham, the Huntington Library in California, The John Rylands Research Institute in Manchester and the Royal Archives at Windsor. In 2019, I joined the University of Manchester as a postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Faith in the Town: Lay Religion, Urbanisation and Industrialisation in England, 1740-1830’, which examines the role of faith in perceptions of work, family life, space and time for ordinary people living in Northern English towns during a period of social and economic change. 

I enjoy sharing my research with a wider audience, and have spoken about illegitimacy and family life in the past more generally on BBC radio 4, and worked as a consultant for the Royal College of Physicians museum, local history groups and tv documentaries. Prior to my PhD, I worked in museums and heritage producing events and exhibitions. 

I often blog about my research. Examples include - 

'Uncovering histories of care', History Workshop Online, 30 April 2021

'"Unrelated, including foster child": finding the history of care in the census', Care Experienced History Month, April 2021

Blogs on various aspects of daily life in eighteenth-century Northern England on the Faith in the Town blog



Research interests

I am a historian of gender, sexuality and the family in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. My previous work includes research on the stigma faced by illegitimate childen in eighteenth-century England, extra-marital relationships, the role of religion in family life, and of attitudes to work, time and faith in eighteenth-century Northern towns. 

I often work with correspondence and life writings such as diaries or memoirs, poor law and court records, as well as print and popular culture sources such as novels, newspapers, ballads and caricatures. 


My Leverhulme project 'Looked-After Children: Fostering and Adoption in Britain, 1700-1839' provides the first sustained study of fostering as a form of childcare in eighteenth-century Britain. The project will reveal the extent to which fostering was widespread across the social scale, and explore issues such as the gendering of care work, its impact on household income, and the inclusion of foster and adopted children in broader concepts of ‘family’ defined by blood, law or emotion. Using correspondence and diaries written by children growing up in Britain and their families, the project analyses the impact of care over a child’s lifetime, comparing access to and the nature of care according to class, race and gender. The project is part of a growing challenge to the marginalisation of care work in historical research, with implications for our understanding of women’s historical workforce participation and current assumptions about “traditional” caring roles as gendered, low paid and low skilled.



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • John Rylands Research Institute and Library


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