University of Hertfordshire

Professor John Styles


John Styles

Professor John Styles


Postal address:
University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, Hertfordshire
United Kingdom


Research interests

I have published extensively on eighteenth-century British history, particularly on design, consumption, manufacturing, crime and the criminal law. My early work was on the history of crime, policing and legislation. It led me to develop an interest in using the records of the criminal courts to research a wide range of issues in economic, social and cultural history. This approach was central to my book The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England (Yale, 2007), a study of clothing practices among the common people.

Thirteen years working the Victoria and Albert Museum gave me a passion for the history of material culture, as well as a fascination with research that brings together text and object, words and things. Most recently, I have pursued this approach in the exhibition ‘Threads of Feeling’, which I curated at the London Foundling Museum in 2010-11. It displayed, for the first time, the textiles left with babies at London’s Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century.

I am currently writing a book on fashion, textiles and the origins of industrial revolution, a product of my research project 'Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800’, funded by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant. The project explores spinning as a material, economic, social, legal and cultural practice. It challenges the common assumption that hand spinning was simply an unskilled, unchanging, inefficient form of work. To understand the mechanical innovations of the industrial revolution requires an appreciation of the dynamism, as well as the limitations, of European textile manufacturing from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

Teaching specialisms

I am keen to supervise MPhil and PhD students who wish to research the cultural, social, or economic history of Britain from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, particularly consumption, design, the domestic interior, fashion, product innovation and the organisation of manufacturing.