Precarious Professionals: Gender, Identities and Social Change in Modern Britain


Edited By Heidi Egginton, Zoë Thomas


Precarious Professionals uncovers the inequalities and insecurities which lay at the heart of professional life in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. The book challenges conventional categories in the history of work, exploring instead the everyday labour of maintaining a professional identity on the margins of the traditional professions. Situating new historical perspectives on gender at the forefront of their research, the contributors explore how professional cultures could not only define themselves against, but often flourished outside of, the confines of patriarchal codes and structures.

Putting the lives of precarious professionals in dialogue with master narratives in modern British history, the chapters in this volume re-evaluate the relationship between professional identity and social change. The collection offers twelve fascinating studies of women and men who held positions in art and science, high culture and popular journalism, private enterprise and public service between the 1840s and the 1960s. From pioneering women lawyers and scientists to ballet dancers, secretaries, historians, humanitarian relief workers, social researchers, and Cold War diplomats, the book reveals that precarity was a thread woven throughout the very fabric of modern professional life, with far-reaching implications for the study of power, privilege, and expertise. Together, these essays enrich our understanding of the histories and mysteries of professional identity and help us to reimagine the future of work in precarious times.

Dr Heidi Egginton is Curator of Political Collections at the National Library of Scotland.

Dr Zoë Thomas is Associate Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham

Precarious Professionals appears in New Historical Perspectives, an Open Access monograph series for Early Career Scholars from the Royal Historical Society and Institute of Historical Research.

Table of Contents

  • Notes on contributors
  • Introduction
    Heidi Egginton and Zoë Thomas
  • 1. Anna Jameson and the claims of art criticism in nineteenth-century England
    Benjamin Dabby
  • 2. Women, science and professional identity, c.1860–1914
    Claire G. Jones
  • 3. Brother barristers: masculinity and the culture of the Victorian bar
    Ren Pepitone
  • 4. Legal paper work and public policy: Eliza Orme’s professional expertise in late-Victorian Britain
    Leslie Howsam
  • 5. Marriage and metalwork: gender and professional status in Edith and Nelson Dawson’s Arts and Crafts partnership
    Zoë Thomas
  • 6. ‘Giggling adolescents’ to refugees, bullets and wolves: Francesca Wilson finds a profession
    Ellen Ross
  • 7. Women at work in the League of Nations Secretariat
    Susan Pedersen
  • 8. Ninette de Valois and the transformation of early-twentieth-century British ballet
    Laura Quinton
  • 9. Archives, autobiography and the professional woman: the personal papers of Mary Agnes Hamilton
    Heidi Eggington
  • 10. Women historians in the twentieth century
    Laura Carter
  • 11. Feminism, selfhood and social research: professional women’s organizations in 1960s Britain
    Helen McCarthy
  • 12. The ‘spotting a homosexual checklist’: masculinity, homosexuality and the British Foreign Office, 1965–70
    James Southern
  • Afterword
    Christina de Bellaigue


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October 15, 2021

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