Dr Alison Twells

Dr Alison Twells

Professor of Social and Cultural History


I research and teach British history in the C19th and C20th, with a focus on:

· religious cultures, gender, class and imperialism/transnationalism;
· the intersection of local and global history; decolonising history;
· gender history and the history of sexuality;
· community history and heritage;
· creative history and the applications of history/the humanities in the wider world.

I am Professor of Social and Cultural History, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a HEA National Teaching Fellow (2015).


After completing my BA in History with African and Asian Studies at the University of Sussex (1985-1988), I qualified as a secondary teacher of history and R.E. My first 'proper job' was at the Development Education Centre (South Yorkshire), where I developed The Empire in South Yorkshire, a history resource for the Secondary curriculum (Key Stages 2 and 3). This resource explores the global and imperial dimensions of local history.

During this project, I became familiar with a collection of historical documents in Sheffield Archives and Local Studies Library that captured my imagination and led to a part-time MA in History at Sheffield Hallam University (1990-1993) and then a PhD at the University of York (1993-1997). My research focused on encounters between early nineteenth-century British reformers and missionaries and the people on the receiving end of their ‘civilising mission’, both in Britain and overseas in the South Pacific, West Africa and the Caribbean. I joined Sheffield Hallam University as a full-time member of staff in 1998, having previously held lecturing posts at the University of Humberside and the University of Nottingham.

I believe that academics should be engaged with the places in which our universities are rooted. I have presented on aspects of my research at Heritage Open Days, Off the Shelf Festival of Words, International Women's Day events etc. and have a particular commitment to uncovering some of Sheffield's more hidden histories. For example, I have co-written a school history resource inspired by anti-slavery activist Olaudah Equiano's visit to the town in 1790, developed the Edward Carpenter History Walk and supported community campaigns for the commemoration of Carpenter and abolitionist Mary-Anne Rawson. I also run modules in which students produce public history. From a pedagogical perspective, I am interested in the relationship between academic, public and creative histories and the role of the latter in
inspiring student engagement and understanding of the value of historical knowledge and historical thinking in relation to present-day concerns. I was awarded a prestigious HEA National Teaching Fellowship in 2015 for my work in the development of community-facing history teaching in HE.

C19th religious cultures, social reform and imperialism/transnationalism; the British missionary and anti-slavery movements; the intersection of local and global history; C19th and C20th gender history and the history of sexuality; Edward Carpenter's circle; community history and heritage; history teaching and learning; creative history and the applications of history and the humanities in the wider world.


Department of Humanities

College of Social Sciences and Arts


BA Honours History
BA Honours English and History

Making History: Sex and Gender in the Archive (Level 4)

Applied History: Work and Community (Level 5)

History in Practice (Level 5)

Community History (Level 6)

Northern Soul: Representations of the North of England, 1800-2000 (Level 6)

Twentieth Century Women (Level 6)


My current academic research focuses on the following areas: sex and gender in WW2 letters and pocket diaries; Edward Carpenter's Sheffield; and ‘creative history’ and the applications of history and the humanities in the wider world.

Sex and gender in WW2 letters and pocket diaries: This project stems from the serendipitous gift of a suitcase of seventy-one pocket diaries from my great aunt, Norah Hodgkinson (1925-2009), who began writing a daily diary as a twelve-year-old scholarship girl in 1938. Norah's diaries raise questions about ways of reading the brief and disjoined entries in a pocket diary, and whether such diaries give us access to the inner lives of people usually absent from the historical record -- in this case, a young working-class woman. They also reveal an intriguing story of romance and deception during WW2.

’Creative history’: I knew from the outset on inheriting my aunt’s diaries that I wanted to write for a wider audience and I completed the MA Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University to this end. I have a special interest in the field of ‘creative histories’, i.e. histories that are made in imaginative ways and presented in formats other than the academic monograph.

Edward Carpenter's Sheffield: I have written about the process of developing the Edward Carpenter walk and issues concerning the categorisation of C19th sexualities in relation to LGBTQ public history. I am particularly interested in the ‘global’ Carpenter: his travels in India and Sri Lanka and the connections between his life of activism in late C19th/early C20th Sheffield and his friendships with writers such as Walt Whitman and Olive Schreiner.

The applications of history and the humanities in the wider world: I am currently working on an inter-disciplinary project with Professor Julia Hirst at SHU and Gertie Whitfield, creative historian and former PSHE Advisor, in the development of a suite of resources which use historical sources to teach the Relationships and Sex Education curriculum in schools. I am also engaged in a collaborative project with teachers and educators to further develop and make more widely available research on the theme of The Empire in South Yorkshire/decolonising local and regional history.


Twells, A., Furness, P., Bhanbhro, S., & Gregory, M. (2018). 'It's about giving yourself a sense of belonging’: community-based history and well-being in South Yorkshire. People, place and policy online, 12 (1), 8-28. https://extra.shu.ac.uk/ppp-online/

Twells, A. (2018). Iron Dukes and Naked Races: Edward Carpenter's Sheffield and LGBTQ Public History. International Journal of Local and Regional History, 13 (1), 47-67. http://doi.org/10.1080/20514530.2018.1451446

Twells, A. (2015). ‘Went into raptures’: reading emotion in the ordinary wartime diary, 1941-1946. Women's History Review, 25 (1), 143-160. http://doi.org/10.1080/09612025.2015.1047250

Twells, A. (2013). An Africa of religious life : Fredrika Bremer’s American Faith Journey, 1849-1851. Journal of Women’s History, 25 (1), 158-181. http://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2013.0010

Twells, A. (2012). The innate yearnings of our souls : subjectivity, religiosity and outward testimony in Mary Howitt's Autobiography(1889). Journal of Victorian Culture, 17 (3), 309-328. http://doi.org/10.1080/13555502.2012.697742

Twells, A. (2006). Missionary Domesticity, Global Reform and ‘Woman's Sphere’ in Early Nineteenth‐Century England. Gender & History, 18 (2), 266-284. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0424.2006.00429.x

Twells, A. (2001). Empire and others: British encounters with indigenous peoples, 1600-1850. ECONOMIC HISTORY REVIEW, 54 (3), 552-553.

Twells, A. (1998). “Happy english children”. Women's Studies International Forum, 21 (3), 235-245. http://doi.org/10.1016/s0277-5395(98)00021-1

Twells, A. (1996). ‘A state of infancy’: West Africa and British missionaries in the 1820s. Wasafiri, 11 (23), 19-24. http://doi.org/10.1080/02690059608589478

Twells, A. (1995). “So distant and wild a scene”: language, domesticity and difference in Hannah Kilham's writing from West Africa, 1822-1832. Women's History Review, 4 (3), 301-318. http://doi.org/10.1080/09612029500200085

Book chapters

Twells, A. (2016). Women at the intersection of the local and the global in schools and community history in Britain since the 1980s. In Midgley, C., Twells, A., & Carlier, J. (Eds.) Women in transnational history : connecting the local and the global. (pp. 180-200). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge: https://www.routledge.com/Women-in-Transnational-History-Connecting-the-Local-and-the-Global/Midgley-Twells-Carlier/p/book/9781138905788

Twells, A. (2011). "We ought to obey God rather than Man” : women, anti-slavery and nonconformist religious cultures, 1800-1840. In Clapp, E.J., & Jeffrey, J.R. (Eds.) Women, dissent and anti-slavery in Britain and America, 1790-1865. (pp. 66-87). Oxford: Oxford University Press

Twells, A. (2007). Missionary fathers and wayward sons in the South Pacific, 1797-1825. In Broughton, T.L., & Rogers, H. (Eds.) Gender and fatherhood in the nineteenth century. (pp. 153-164). Basingstoke: Pagrave Macmillan


Midgley, C., Twells, A., & Carlier, J. (2016). Women in Transnational History : Connecting the local and the global. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Women-in-Transnational-History-Connecting-the-Local-and-the-Global/Midgley-Twells-Carlier/p/book/9781138905788

Twells, A. (2009). The Civilising Mission and the English Middle Class : the 'heathen' at home and overseas 1792-1850. Palgrave Macmillan.

Twells, A. (2007). British women's history: A documentary history from the enlightenment to world war I. London: I B Taurus. https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/british-womens-history-9781350173866/


Batty, E., Eadson, W., Pattison, B., Stevens, M., Twells, A., & Verdon, N. (2018). Evaluation of Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War Centenary Activity: Year 4 report. Sheffield Hallam University, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/sites/default/files/media/publications/fww_centenary_evaluation_year_4_accessibility_check_10_08_19.pdf

Eadson, W., Pattison, B., Stevens, M., Twells, A., & Verdon, N. (2017). Evaluation of Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War centenary activity: year 3 report. Sheffield Hallam University, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/sites/default/files/media/corporate/first_world_war_centenary_activity_year_3_report_full_report.pdf

Theses / Dissertations

Richardson, R. (2018). Business Enterprise, Consumer Culture and Civic Engagement, 1890s-1930s: Sheffield Entrepreneur, John Graves. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Twells, A. http://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00163

Gould, C.R. (2017). The Sheffield Film Co-operative and the Women’s Liberation Movement. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Twells, A., & Midgley, C. http://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00019

Postgraduate supervision

Rachael Richardson, 'Business enterprise, consumer culture and civic engagement, 1890s-1930s: Sheffield entrepreneur, John Graves'.

Gordon Haigh, 'Dissenting Missionaries and the Campaign against British Colonial Slavery, 1823-38'.

Anne Mallery, Crossing the Line: Women and the Railway Mission, 1881-1918 (2018).

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