Dr Alysa Levene

Reader in History

I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge and then worked a research officer at the University of Bath before moving to Oxford Brookes as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in April 2004. I became a permanent member of staff soon afterwards.  My research focuses on the history of child welfare and the family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and I have published on the history of illegitimacy, child health and childhood more generally. I teach in all of these areas, including a specialist third-year Advanced Study module on the history of childhood and youth. My latest research has been a complete change and I have just published a book on the history of cake, which came out with Headline in 2016.


My teaching is all concerned with experiences of everyday life, from the huge social and economic changes brought about by the industrial revolution, to long-term processes of development and cultural change surrounding marriage, childhood, demography and family life. I believe that to understand the decision-making and experiences of individuals we must appreciate the wider contexts they lived in. In my modules students are encouraged to explore these wider contexts and through them, analyse and challenge common perceptions of how individuals at all levels of society related to those around them.


  • U67506, Everyday Life in Britain (first year)
  • U67921, History Work Based Learning (second year)
  • U67779 Advanced Study in Social and Cultural History: Childhood and Adolescence in the West, 1750-1950 (third-year double Honours module)

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised PhD students in a range of areas in economic, social and medical history, and am happy to hear from prospective students working in these areas. At the moment I am supervising projects on child domestic servants, and the implementation of the New Poor Law in Hertfordshire. Previous students have successfully submitted theses on religion and the workhouse in eighteenth-century Westminster, the history of smallpox in eighteenth-century Oxfordshire, and the Making and remaking of the ‘Normal Child’ in England, c. 1880-1914


Like my teaching, my research focuses on experiences of daily life within the context of childhood and the family. My particular specialism is the health and welfare of poor families in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. My book The childhood of the poor: welfare in eighteenth-century London came out with Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. My previous monograph, Childcare, health and mortality at the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800: Left to the mercy of the world was published by Manchester University Press in 2007.

My new book Cake: the short, surprising history of our favourite bakes is out with Headline in 2016.

I am currently working on a new and exciting project on networks, religion and community in nineteenth-century Liverpool. This study examines the impact of industrialisation and migration on functional networks, by linking charity and community records with households.


  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Book chapters


  • Cake: the short, surprising history of our favourite bakes (Headline, 2016)
  • The childhood of the poor: welfare in eighteenth-century London (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • Childcare, health and mortality at the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800: 'left to the mercy of the world (Manchester University Press, 2007)
  • (ed, with T. Nutt, and S. Williams) Illegitimacy in Britain, 1700-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
  • (general editor), Narratives of the poor in eighteenth century Britain, (Pickering and Chatto, April 2006), and editor of Volume 3, Institutional responses: the London Foundling Hospital

Journal articles


  • 'The meanings of margarine in England: class, consumption and material culture from 1918 to 1953', Contemporary British History 28:2 (2014), pp. 145-165.
  • (with Kevin Siena), 'Reporting dirt and disease: child ill-health in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England', Journal of Science and Literatrue, 6:1 (2013), pp. 1-17.
  • ‘Child patients, hospitals and the home in eighteenth-century England’ Family and Community History, 15:1 (2012), pp. 15-33
  • 'Pauper apprenticeship and the Old Poor Law in London: feeding the industrial economy? Economic History Review, 63:4 (2010), pp. 915–941.
  • Poor families, removals and ‘nurture’ in late Old Poor Law London’, Continuity and Change, 25:1 (2010), pp. 233-262.
  • 'Between less eligibility and the NHS: the changing place of poor law hospitals in England and Wales, 1929-1939', Twentieth Century British History (2009) (available online at doi: 10.1093/tcbh/hwp018)
  • '"Honesty, sobriety and diligence": master-apprentice relations in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England', Social History, 33:2 (2008), pp. 183-200
  • 'Children, childhood and the workhouse: St Marylebone, 1769-81' London Journal 33:1 (2008), pp. 37-55
  • 'Family breakdown and the "welfare child" in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain', History of the Family 11(2006), pp. 67-79.

Book chapters

  • 'Charity apprenticeship and social capital in eighteenth-century England', in N. Goose and K. Honeyman (eds), Children and Childhood in Britain, c. 1650-1900 (forthcoming)
  • 'Child abandonment', in L. Brockliss and H. Montgomery (eds), Childhood, violence and the Western tradition (Oxbow Books, 2010)
  • 'Childhood and adolescence', in M. Jackson (ed.), Oxford Encyclopaedia in the History of Medicine (OUP, 2011)
  • 'Family and community', in J. Marten and E. Foyster (eds), A Cultural History of Childhood and Family, Vol. 4, The Age of Enlightenment (Berg, 2010)
  • 'Saving the innocents: nursing foundlings in Florence and London in the eighteenth century', in J. Henderson, P. Horden and A. Pastore, (eds), The impact of hospitals, 300-2000 (Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 375-94
  • 'The mortality penalty of illegitimate children: foundlings and poor children in eighteenth-century England', in A. Levene, T. Nutt, and S. Williams, Illegitimacy in Britain, 1700-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)