Laura Forster

Laura Forster


Personal profile


I am a historian of ideas, political cultures, and political communities in the long nineteenth century. Primarily I am a historian of modern Britain and France, but very much interested in the mobility of ideas and peoples across European borders and beyond. I am particularly interested in the social life of ideas: the social, emotional, and spatial contexts within which ideas are produced and propagated. Broadly speaking, then, I'm interested in how activists, political groups, and ordinary people experience and generate political ideas. As such, my work is also concerned with the afterlives of revolutionary and radical activity, in how memories and mythologies of past activism are redeployed in new historical presents. 

I completed my PhD at King’s College London and I was a postdoctoral researcher at Birkbeck and a lecturer at Durham before coming to Manchester. 

My book-in-progress, The Paris Commune in Britain: radicals, refugees, and revolutionaries after 1871, is concerned with the political refugees who came to Britain following the Paris Commune of 1871, and the longer intellectual and cultural afterlives of the Commune in Britain. Parts of this research appear in Tribune, ROAR Magazine, DOPE Magazine, and Novara Media.

I also have an interest in the intellectual networks that coalesced around the sex reform movement, c. 1880-1930, and the ways in which international conferences in this period helped to create and legitimise formal and informal communities of reformers and activists. This research has been as part of the HERA-funded project 'The Scientific Conference: a social, cultural and political history'.

At Manchester I am now working on a major new research project concerned with delineating the relationship between intimacy and radical politics in Britain c.1819-1914. Situated at the matrix of scholarship on class, emotion, and politics ‘Intimate radicalisms: feeling political in nineteenth-century Britain’ is an intimate history of ideas. The project interrogates the ways in which political and activist communities are forged in everyday life, and the encounters and atmospheres that facilitated both the spread and the development of socialist ideas, broadly understood, in nineteenth-century Britain.

I am also working on an interdisiplinary project on the theme of 'Radical Friendship' which grew out of a series I produced as an editorial fellow at History Workshop Online

Research interests

The Paris Commune in Britain: radicals, refugees, and revolutionaries after 1871

I am currently finishing a monograph titled, The Paris Commune in Britain: radicals, refugees and revolutionaries after 1871. The book will be the first published study of the political refugees of the Paris Commune who came to Britain following the defeat of the Commune in 1871. The book deals with the intellectual impact of these revolutionary refugees, and the longer cultural and political afterlives of the Paris Commune in Britain.

Following the defeat of the Paris Commune in May 1871, thousands of Communards fled France to avoid imprisonment or death. As a result, around 3500 refugees (c.1500 Communard, plus their families) arrived in Britain in the early 1870s. The intellectual encounters and collaborations between these political exiles and their cross-Channel sympathisers left an indelible mark on British radical political culture.

The Paris Commune in Britain is about radical ideas, and about the people and places that make them. It is about how ideas are forged, propagated, and lived, and the mechanisms by which past radicalisms are mobilised in new presents. 


'Intimate Radicalisms: Feeling Political in Nineteenth-Century Britain' 

There is no politics without feeling. People are moved to political positions. But what moves them? How did ordinary people become politicised in the nineteenth century? My current project, 'Intimate Radicalisms: Feeling Political in Nineteenth-Century Britain' addresses these questions by interrogating intimate practices that were politically generative for radical and socialist communities in nineteenth-century Britain. Oppositional politics of the nineteenth century are the subject of rich and varied scholarship: we know how socialist doctrines developed, how radical politics were communicated on the page and the platform, and that politics ‘happened’ in innumerable forms and forums. But what of the bodily, emotive, and experiential world of radical politics? ‘Intimate radicalisms’ argues that without appreciating these intimate feelings and practices we cannot grasp the power of political ideas.

Developing a unique approach grounded in the history of ideas and recent interdisciplinary methodologies on emotion and affect, ‘Intimate radicalisms’ foregrounds intimate practices to offer an alternative lens through which to understand the genealogy of radical and socialist thought in Britain, c. 1815-1914. For politically minded people, practices such as sharing food, hosting guests, and collective mourning both enacted forms of communal politics, and provided opportunities to talk about such politics. Understanding these intimate practices, therefore, is key to understanding both the transmission and the construction of political ideas. The project focuses on three distinct types of political encounter – political funerals, lecture tours, and anniversaries and celebrations – across the century, and undertakes a comprehensive study of intimate practices associated with these events.

‘Intimate radicalisms’ signals a shift away from the canons of intellectual history and from the disembodied context of discourse. Instead, the project conceives of the history of political thought as intimate, embodied, sociable, active, and often most visible in informal spaces of encounter. The three events underpinning ‘Intimate radicalisms’ were commonplace, and they were organised and attended by a broad church of groups and individuals across the century. The practices shaping all three were communal, the subjects emotive, and their occurrence demanded hospitality which created additional encounters in living rooms, pubs and at firesides. The project interrogates these public events to show how much of their political potency came from the unique intimacies they generated. Simultaneously then, intimacy, conventionally considered private and individual, will be shown to have important collective political implications.


External positions

Editorial Fellow , History Workshop Online



  • Histories of activism
  • Social history of ideas
  • History of intimacy
  • Transnational History
  • Modern Britain
  • Paris Commune 1871
  • Queer spaces
  • Histories of radicalism
  • Friendship
  • Political refugees
  • 19th Century
  • Spatial history
  • History of ideas


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