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Dr Alastair Owens

Reader in Geography; Deputy Dean for Taught Programmes (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences)

email: a.j.owens@qmul.ac.uk
Tel: 020 7882 2750
Location: Geography building, Room 110

Profile

Alastair Owens

I am an historical geographer and social and economic historian working on nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain. I have a particular interest in Victorian London, which is also a core focus of my teaching interests and expertise. Key research themes:

  • families and wealth: inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of resources, gender and investment practices, household economic strategies and colonial wealth
  • historical geographies of home, family and material culture
  • philanthropy and institutional welfare provision in Victorian London

Much of my work is interdisciplinary and collaborative and has been supported by a range of grants, including from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, the Philomathia Foundation and Isaac Newton Trust. I have undertaken research projects with Historians, Economists, Finance experts and Archaeologists (as well as with Geographers) and have collaborated on several projects with colleagues in London-based museums. I am Honorary Editor of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers’ Historical Geography Research Group Monograph Series and an editorial board member of the Journal of Victorian Culture. I also sit on the steering groups of the Centre for Metropolitan History, The Raphael Samuel History Centre, the Centre for Studies of Home, and the Historical Geography Research Group.

 

Key recent publications

  • Green, D. R. and Owens, A. (2013) 'Geographies of wealth: real estate and personal property ownership in England and Wales, 1870–1902' Economic History Review, 66 (3)
  • Rutterford, J., Green D. R., Maltby, J. and Owens A. (2011) ‘Who comprised the nation of shareholders? Gender and investment in Great Britain, c.1870–1935’ Economic History Review 64 (1), pp. 157–87.
  • Green D. R., Owens, A., Maltby, J. and Rutterford, J. (2011, eds) Men, Women and Money: Perspectives on Gender, Wealth and Investment, 1850–1930, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 308 pp.
  • Owens, A. Jeffries, N., Wehner, K. and Featherby, R. (2010) ‘Fragments of the modern city: material culture and the rhythms of everyday life in Victorian London’, Journal of Victorian Culture 15 (2), pp. 212–225.
  • Green, D. R., Owens, A., Rutterford, J. and Maltby, J. (2009) ‘Lives in the balance: age, gender and assets in late nineteenth-century England and Wales’. Continuity and Change, 24 (2), pp. 307–335.

Teaching

I have always found teaching  to be one of the most rewarding aspects of being an academic and I enjoy the challenges of finding different ways of engaging students with my own research and scholarship, as well as that of others. My belief is that people learn best in a supportive environment which offers a variety of opportunities to develop skills and understanding. Consequently my teaching frequently extends well-beyond the classroom and the traditional format of the lecture. Teaching modules on London provides the opportunity to explore the city on foot or to visit and work with my friends and colleagues in various London museums. Fieldwork is central to my teaching and for many years I have enjoyed taking first year undergraduate students to the North East of England to explore local landscapes and engage with a range of people to better understand how that region has experienced profound economic and social change. A new initiative is an undergraduate module, developed in conjunction with colleagues, examining the historical geography of the fascinating North American city of Boston, which culminates in a week-long visit to that city. I am also an enthusiast of new learning technologies, developing a range of on-line resources to help support students’ learning and incorporating social media into my teaching.

I have been nominated for teaching prizes on several occasions and won the College’s Drapers’ Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003. I have also led three small teaching and learning projects on developing students’ quantitative research skills, enhancing their employability through building relationships with alumni, and designing a new overseas field work module.

Undergraduate Teaching

Postgraduate Teaching

External Teaching

For over a decade, I have also taught a course on nineteenth and twentieth Century London for the University of California London Fall Programme. I also lead occasional walks or give lectures on London’s history and geography for a range of other North American universities.

External Examining

I am Intercollegiate Examiner for the MA in Historical Research at the Institute of Historical Research and a Chief Examiner for the University of London International Programmes.

Some student feedback

  • ‘The most valuable aspect of the course was Alastair’s wonderful attitude and teaching style. The well-organised lectures, the field walks and the way that Alastair makes everything so interesting and exciting’
  • ‘His lectures were fun, lively and coherent. I’m naming my first son after Alastair’
  • ‘Not only is he passionate about what he teaches, he just ‘gets’ students – pure and simple’
  • ‘This is probably the best module I took this year – always looked forward to Fridays!’

Research

Research interests:

Current and recent research Projects



Inheritance, families and the market in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain
Funded by the Philomathia Foundation and the Isaac Newton Trust, £109,284, August 2012-August 2014. With Martin Daunton (University of Cambridge) and David Green (King’s College London) and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Sam Shave (University of Cambridge).

This project explores the social, economic and political significance of inheritance for middle-class families in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. It builds earlier work on this theme (also, in part, with David Green). Through a series of detailed empirical studies, our research has explored themes such as the intergenerational transmission of resources and the role of women in generating and passing on wealth. At a conceptual level, we have characterised such transfers as a form of middle-class ‘wealth-fare’ provision thereby seeking to widen the historiography of welfare beyond narrow concerns with emergent social policy and the origins of the welfare state – largely directed at support for the poor – to the wider regimes of assistance and provision that sustained people’s everyday lives. The current project will develop some of these arguments and will eventually lead to a book exploring the importance of inheritance and family property transmission for understanding social inequality and intergenerational well-being and justice. Click here for more information.

 


Making imperial citizens: Thomas Barnardo and the preparation of children for migration in London’s East End, c. 1870–1920

Funded by Queen Mary’s Centre for the Study of Migration, £2975, April 2013-October 2013. With Tim Brown and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Lesley Hoskins (both at Queen Mary, University of London).This is a collaborative project with colleagues at the Ragged School Museum in Stepney. For the last three centuries the East End of London has been regarded as a place of settlement for people who are newly arrived to Britain. This project reverses this usual perspective by considering the East End as a place where individuals and institutions contemplated and prepared for leaving Britain for a life overseas. Specifically, it focuses on the work of Thomas Barnardo’s Ragged Schools and Children’s Homes in Stepney, where in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century children departed Britain for the colonies, particularly Canada. The project will explore the charity’s migration policies within its own institutional goals and Barnardo’s evangelical and ideological visions and will examine how children were prepared both emotionally and physically for this social upheaval and made aware of their imperial lives ahead.

 

Living with the past at home: domestic pre-habitation and inheritance

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, AH/I022090/1, December 2011–December 2013, £291,336. With Catherine Nash (PI), Alison Blunt and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Caron Lipman (all at Queen Mary, University of London)

This project focuses on the meanings, knowledges, practices and material dimensions of living with the past at home. It considers the significance of people's awareness of previous inhabitants of their home, or that which is deemed to be inherited from them, in framing domestic belonging, ownership, and aesthetic expression in the home, and the forms of historical knowledge and historical practice that are prompted, informed by and result from this awareness. The project involves collaboration with the Geffrye Museum and it outputs will include an exhibition in the Museum. Click here for more information.

 

Mapping philanthrocapitalism and corporate community engagement in East London

Funded by Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement, October 2012– June 2013, £9820. With Cathy McIlwaine (PI), Alison Blunt, Jane Wills and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Johanna Wadsley (all at Queen Mary, University of London).

Inspired by the long history of strong communities and innovative civic engagement in London’s East End, the aim of this pilot research project is to examine the ways that companies are engaging with communities in the contemporary East End.  The study focuses on companies based at Canary Wharf, examining the nature of contemporary corporate philanthropy, community engagement and CSR activities. As well as mapping the range of activities taking place, the project seeks to understand how company strategies are shaped by understandings of East London as a place of need and as a site for benevolence , as well as how they  seeking to respond to current political-economic imperatives.

 

Common wealth? Wealth-holding and investment in Britain and its settler colonies, 1850–1930 Funded by the British Academy and Association of Commonwealth Universities, July 2011, £5000. With Martin Shanahan (University of South Australia).

The project examines the ownership and transmission of wealth in Britain and several of its settler colonies between c.1850 and 1914. Working with colleagues in Australia (Martin Shanahan, University of South Australia), New Zealand (Jim McAloon, Victoria University of Wellington) Canada (Livio di Matteo, Lakehead University) and Britain (David Green, King’s College London), the research explores the significance of the financial opportunities, political structures and institutional mechanisms provided by the British empire in shaping the accumulation of wealth in different territories.

 

Women investors in England and Wales, 1870–1930

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Res-000-23-1435, December 2005–April 2008, £250,219. With David Green (PI, King’s College London), Josephine Maltby (University of York), Janette Rutterford (Open University) and Research Assistants Steven Ainscough, Carry, van Lieshout, Carien van Mourik and Claire Swan.

This major project explored how individuals responded to the expansion of financial markets and new opportunities for investment in Britain and its empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There were two main strands to the study: the first involved the use of death duty records to analyse the composition of personal wealth portfolios; the second entailed a large scale study of shareholdings to examine the range and nature of personal investment practices. As the title of the project suggests, a key concern was with gender and the research adds important new evidence of women’s growing economic agency in an era of wider social and political change.

 


Living in Victorian London: material culture and every day domestic life in the nineteenth-century metropolis

Funded by by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, AH/E002285/1, July 2007– March 2008, £61,036. With Collaborating Partners Nigel Jeffries, Rupert Featherby (both at Museum of London Archaeology) and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Dr Karen Wehner (formerly Queen Mary, University of London)

This project sought to develop new approaches to studying everyday domestic life in nineteenth-century London by examining three similarly dated archaeological sites from the metropolis, located in the East End (Limehouse Causeway) the West End (New Palace Yard, Westminster), and in south London (Sydenham Brewery). Our agenda, inspired by the field of historical archaeology, was to pilot, evaluate and develop the ‘ethnographies of place’ methodology – formulated by historians and historical archaeologists working on nineteenth-century, urban working-class households in Australia and North America. Much recent academic work on nineteenth-century cities – and especially on Victorian London – has focused on the way that urban life was represented, such as in art, literature and social investigation. Paralleling wider intellectual developments, this project shifted attention away from the study of discourse to re-examine some of the material dimensions to urban life. Placing archaeological artefacts at the centre of our analyses opens up fresh questions about the nature of life in one of the most dramatic and powerful cities in the world. Click here for more information.

 

Other research funding
I am also involved in several other collaborative research programmes which have been successful in  securing research council funding to underpin PhD project research.

Digital technologies and the city
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Multidisciplinary Studentship Pilot Scheme, October 2013–October 2017, 3x4 year studentships. David Pinder (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London), Yasmin Ibrahim (Business Management, Queen Mary, University of London), Pat Healey, (Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of London).

Home-work: connections and transitions in London from the seventeenth century to the present
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Extended Collaborative Doctoral Award Programme, October 2012–October 2015, £250,464. Alison Blunt (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London), Colin Jones (History, Queen Mary, University of London), Al James (Queen Mary, University of London) Parvati Nair (Hispanic Studies, Queen Mary, University of London) Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London), Amanda Vickery (History, Queen Mary, University of London) and the Geffrye Museum.

Health, environment and the institutional care of children in late Victorian London
Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council, Collaborative Doctoral Award, October 2012–October 2015, £62,616. Tim Brown (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London) and Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London) and the Ragged School Museum.

The Child and the world, empire, diaspora and global citizenship
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council , Extended Collaborative Doctoral Award Programme, October 2010–October 2015, £181,000. Alison Blunt (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London), Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London), Kiera Vaclavik (French, Queen Mary, University of London) and the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Homemaking and Material culture in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales 
Funded by Economic and Social Research Council , 1+3 CASE Studentship, September 2005–September 2009, £50,000. Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London) and Geffrye Museum.

Examples of research funding:

Recent Research Funding

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, £250,464
    Home-Work: Connections and Transitions in London from the Seventeenth Century to the Present. Extended Collaborative Doctoral Award Programme. Alison Blunt (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London), Colin Jones (History Queen Mary, University of London, Al James (Queen Mary, University of London) Parvati Nair (Hispanic Studies, Queen Mary, University of London) Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London), Amanda Vickery (History, Queen Mary, University of London) with the Geffrye Museum.
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, £62,616
    Health, environment and the institutional care of children in late Victorian London. Collaborative Doctoral Award. Tim Brown (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London) and Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London) with the Ragged School Museum.
  • Queen Mary Centre for Public Engagement, £9820
    Mapping philanthrocapitalism and corporate community engagement in East London. Cathy McIlwaine (Principal Investigator, Queen Mary, University of London), Alison Blunt (Co-investigator), Alastair Owens (Co-investigator) and Jane Wills (Co-investigator).
  • Philomathia Foundation and the Isaac Newton Trust, £109,284
    Inheritance, families and the market in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain. Martin Daunton (Investigator, University of Cambridge), David Green (Investigator, King’s College London) Alastair Owens (Investigator), Alison Blunt (Co-investigator). 1 July 2012–1 July 2014
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) £291,336
    Living with the past at home: domestic prehabitation and inheritance. Catherine Nash (Principal Investigator, Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Co-investigator), Alison Blunt (Co-investigator) and Caron Lipman (PDRA). Award AH/I022090/1 December 2011–December 2013
  • British Academy and Association of Commonwealth Universities, £5000
    Common Wealth? Wealth-Holding and Investment in Britain and its Settler Colonies, 1850–1914. Alastair Owens (Principal Investigator, Queen Mary, University of London) and Martin Shanahan, (Co-Investigator, University of South Australia). Summer 2011.
  • Queen Mary Innovation Limited, Prospects Fund £9880
    Establishing a formal partnership between Queen Mary, University of London and the Geffrye Museum: a feasibility and scoping study Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London) and Alison Blunt (Queen Mary, University of London) with the Gefrrye Museum, March–July 2010.
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) c.£180,000
    The Child and The World, Empire, Diaspora and Global Citizenship. Extended Collaborative Doctoral Award Programme. Alison Blunt (Lead, Queen Mary, University of London), Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary, University of London), Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London), Kiera Vaclavik (French, Queen Mary, University of London) with the V&A Museum of Childhood. October 2010–October 2015
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) £61,036
    Living in Victorian London: Material Histories of Everyday Life in the Nineteenth-Century Metropoli.s Alastair Owens (Principal Investigator, Queen Mary, University of London) with Museum of London Archaeology Service. Award no: AH/E002285/1, July 2007–March 2008.
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) £250,519
    Women Investors in England and Wales 1870–1930. David Green (Principal Investigator, King’s College London) Janette Rutterford (Co-Investigator, Open University), Alastair Owens (Co-investigator, Queen Mary, University of London) and Jospehine Maltby (University of York). Award no: Res-000-23-1435, December 2005–April 2008. Rated ‘Outstanding’ by all end of grant project rapporteurs.
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) c. £50,000
    Homemaking and Material culture in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales Alastair Owens (Queen Mary, University of London) with David Dewing and Eleanor John (Geffrye Museum Trust), 1+3 CASE studentship (2005–2009).
  • BIG Lottery Fund (BLF) £149,926
    An Evaluation of the Big Lottery Fund Palliative Care Initiative
    Yvonne Carter (Principal Investigator, University of Warwick), Roland Petchey (Principal Investigator, City University), Jacky Williams (Senior Research Fellow, University of Warwick) Alastair Owens (Co-Investigator, Queen Mary, University of London) and others. Award no: FCSP/TEN/02/41 (March 2003–June 2007)

Publications

 Selected Publications  (Click here for a full list)


  • Green, D. R. and Owens, A. (2013) 'Geographies of wealth: real estate and personal property ownership in England and Wales, 1870–1902' Economic History Review, 66(3)
  • Owens, A. and Green D. R. (2012) 'The final reckoning: using death duty records to research wealth holding in nineteenth-century England and Wales' Archives, 38(126), pp. 1–21
  • Rutterford, J., Green D. R., Maltby, J. and Owens A. (2011) ‘Who comprised the nation of shareholders? Gender and investment in Great Britain, c.1870–1935’ Economic History Review 64(1), pp. 157–87.

  • Green D. R., Owens, A., Maltby, J. and Rutterford, J. (2011, eds) Men, Women and Money: Perspectives on Gender, Wealth and Investment, 1850–1930, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 308 pp.
  •  Owens, A. Jeffries, N., Wehner, K. and Featherby, R. (2010) ‘Fragments of the modern city: material culture and the rhythms of everyday life in Victorian London’, Journal of Victorian Culture 15 (2), pp. 212–225.
  • Addabbo, T., Arrizabalaga, M.-P., Borderías, C. and Owens, A. (2010, eds) Gender Inequalities, Households and the Production of Well-Being in Modern Europe, Ashgate, Farnham.

  • Owens, A. Jeffries, N., Featherby R. and Wehner, K. (2010) From the Unusual to the Banal: The Archaeology of Everyday Life in Victorian London, Museum of London Archaeology Research Matters, No. 4., Museum of London: London.
  • Green, D. R., Owens, A., Rutterford, J. and Maltby, J. (2009) ‘Lives in the balance: age, gender and assets in late nineteenth-century England and Wales’. Continuity and Change, 24(2), pp. 307–335.
  • Jeffries, N., Owens, A., Hicks, D., Featherby, R. and Wehner, K. (2009) ‘Rematerialising metropolitan histories? People, places and things in modern London’ in M. Palmer and A. Horning (eds) Crossing Paths or Sharing Tracks: Future Directions in the Archaeological Study of post-1550 Britain and Ireland, Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, pp. 323–50.

  • Rutterford, J., Maltby, J., Green, D. R. and Owens, A. (2009) ‘Researching shareholding and investment in England and Wales: approaches, sources and methods’, Accounting History 14(3), pp. 269–292.
  • Owens, A. (2008) ‘Una inverió oculta? Dones i empresa a Anglaterra, 1750–1900’, Recerques: Historia, economía y cultura, 56, pp. 61–89. English language version: ‘A hidden investment? Women and business in England, c.1750–1900’.
  • Owens, A., Green, D. R., Bailey, C. and Kay, A. (2006) ‘A measure of worth: probate valuations, personal wealth and in indebtedness in England, 1810–40,’ Historical Research 79 (305), pp. 383–403
  • Beachy, R., Craig, B. and Owens, A. (2006, eds) Women, Business and Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Rethinking Separate Spheres, Berg, Oxford ISBN 1845201841 (Hardback) and ISBN 184520185X (Paperback).

  • G reen, D. and Owens, A. (2003) ‘Gentlewomanly capitalism? Spinsters, widows and wealth holding in England and Wales, c. 1800–1860’, Economic History Review, LVI (3), pp. 510–536.
  • Owens, A. (2002) ‘Inheritance and the life-cycle of firms in the early industrial revolution’, Business History, 44 (1), pp. 21–46.
  • Owens, A. (2001) ‘Property, gender and the life course: inheritance and family welfare provision in early nineteenth-century England’, Social History, 26 (3), pp. 297–315.
  • Stobart, J. and Owens, A. (2000, eds) Urban Fortunes: Property and Inheritance in the Town, 1700–1900, Historical Urban Studies Series: Ashgate, Aldershot, 284pp. ISBN: 0754600815 (Hardback).

PhD Supervision

PhD Students
I supervise students working on a variety of topics linked to my wider research interests. I welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in working with me on a broad range of themes including: the historical geographies of wealth and investment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; historical geographies of home, material culture and everyday life; and aspects of the social, economic and environmental history of nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain, especially Victorian London.

I have a good track record of obtaining funds for, and working with, museums and other external organisations to supervise postgraduate research projects and am always interested in exploring new opportunities for collaboration.

Current and recent students

  • Laura Humphreys Domestic labour, metropolitan households and the wider world, 1850–1914 (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, part of extended programme ‘Home-Work: Connections and Transitions in London from the Seventeenth Century to the Present’ with the Geffrye Museum)
  • Oliver Gibson Health, Environment and the Institutional Care of Children in Late-Victorian London (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Ragged School Museum)
  • Rob Stephenson Men Juggling Work, Home and Family in Contemporary London (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, part of extended programme ‘Home-Work: Connections and Transitions in London from the Seventeenth Century to the Present’ with the Geffrye Museum).
  • Mary Guyatt Children, Home and Empire, 1870–1950 (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, part of extended programme ‘The Child and the World: Empire, Diaspora and Global Citizenship’ with V&A Museum of Childhood)
  • Dr Lesley Hoskins Reading the Inventory: Household Goods, Domestic Cultures and Difference in England and Wales, 1841–1881 (PhD awarded 2011, ESRC 1+3 CASE Studentship with Geffrye Museum)

Public engagement

Reaching beyond the academic world to engage with a wide range of other organisations and individuals who share similar interests and passions has been a key feature of my work.

Collaboration with museums
Through a range of funded research projects and collaborative PhD programmes I have been working with several London-based museums. I currently supervise PhD students funded via the Art and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme with colleagues at the Geffrye Museum, the V&A Museum of Childhood and the Ragged School Museum. Their work is contributing to a variety of activities, including the creation of new learning programmes for school children, exhibitions and new gallery displays, events and conferences for the wider public.

With Alison Blunt and colleagues at the Geffrye Museum, I co-founded the Centre for Studies of Home – a jointly run research centre between Queen Mary and the Geffrye (underpinned by a grant of £9800 from Queen Mary’s Prospect fund to undertake out scoping and feasibility study). I currently sit on the steering group and am involved with several research initiatives connected with the work of the Centre.

I also continue to work closely with colleagues at Museum of London Archaeology, taking forward publication and new research activities based upon a previous Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Living in Victorian London.

Creativeworks London
I was part of the original team that bid for the funds to establish the Queen Mary-led, Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Exchange Hub, Creativeworks London.  I am part of Creativeworks’ ‘Engaging London’s Audiences’ research cluster, drawing upon my insights and experiences of working with various of the city’s museums.

Media work
I have worked with various production companies to make contributions for Radio (e.g. BBC Radio 4 Making History) and Television programmes (e.g. BBC1 Inside Out, Who Do You Think You Are?), especially on themes relating to the history Victorian London.  I welcome enquiries on topics relating to my research and teaching interests.

I have made Podcasts for the National Archives and two of the walks that I use as part of my teaching have been adapted to become historical walking tours for the general public. Queen Mary’s East End History walk features material from my Victorian London module and the Royal Geographical Society’s ‘Walk the World’ website features a Heart of Empire walk that is based on my teaching for the University of California.

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