James Daybell, Professor in Early Modern British History, was one of the first researchers to establish the field of early modern women’s letter writing, uncovering the hidden histories of women and their roles within society.

Letters, manuscripts, women’s letters

James’ book Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England (Oxford University Press, 2006) established his career as a leading historian of early modern British history and opened the door to innovative research of manuscripts. During his exploration of archives, libraries, court papers and church records, James revealed an unknown reservoir of women’s writings showing they were much more actively engaged in shaping and influencing society and politics than previously thought.

His international profile is underpinned by his many publications, including fourteen books and over 50 articles and essays, with projects including books on the family and materials of memory; gender and archives; and early modern gloves. He has held a number of scholarships and fellowships, led major international grant-funded projects, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Bringing history to life through public engagement

His work on gender extends to Cornerstone Heritage, alongside material culture and archival research, as way of looking at how we understand and live with the past today. James and his colleague, Professor Dan Maudlin, lend their expertise to explore how academic research with heritage sites can translate into meaningful community impact. Working in co-production with local groups and Powderham Castle, a major historic site in Devon, a range of public heritage events and activities were developed to empower participants by using history to build confidence and improve their sense of self and well-being. Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania alongside these communities, James’s research has shaped visitor experiences of heritage sites, both in the UK and USA.

James is co-founder of the hugely successful ‘Histories of the Unexpected’ podcast, which uncovers the history behind common-place subjects and objects from the paperclip to perfume. The unique show is created in collaboration with TV presenter and historian, Dr Sam Willis, and has reached over 2.5 million downloads in 193 countries around the world, plus led to multiple books, a national tour of two live shows and a new home-schooling history series for school pupils in the national lockdowns of 2020-2021.


The person behind the pioneer

If you look in the right places, in the quiet archives, record offices and libraries of the land, you might find something that changes how we view history itself.

Read more about Professor James Daybell

Public history and academic history feed into each other, and for me they are part of a holistic approach to what I do as a historian. So much of what we do in the university world now is about the translation of academic research for impact, knowledge exchange and public engagement.

As a new generation historian you need to be able to take your academic research, which you publish in high profile books and articles, and then digest it into something that can go the impact route, the public engagement route, that feeds into teaching, but also then be a popular thing to podcast about. It’s the dissemination of high-quality research in a popular form.

Professor James Daybell

Civic choice

The University is demonstrating its civic leadership through multi-million pound grants to support innovation and e-health, and addressing areas such as dental and legal deprivation in our local communities through experiential education. We were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for a third time in 2019, in recognition of two decades of ground-breaking research into microplastics and marine litter and policy impact.

Our cultural heritage research reveals and reimagines histories to look at and understand how we live with the past, today. In supporting the national effort against coronavirus, our contributions to the front line in both staff and equipment provision is complemented by our medical research into vaccinations that could potentially prevent future human-zoonotic coronavirus outbreaks.

Plymouth: a civic university