My main research interests lie with women's history, and with the interplay between gender and class, space and place, in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain.
I was among the many inspired by reading The Making of the English Working Class (1963, Pelican 1968) and later Sheila Rowbotham's Hidden from History (1973). So I was subsequently drawn into the History Workshop movement then bubbling up. History Workshop is the journal I have contributed to most regularly, originally in 1977 and most recently in 2013.
I began initially as a suffrage historian, and have written on Votes for Women since the mid-1970s when I first visited the Fawcett Library (now Women’s Library). One Hand Tied Behind Us (Virago 1978, 1984 and 2000) told the story of the radical suffragists who sprang from the Lancashire cotton towns.
Moving to Halifax in 1980, I discovered that the diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall were sitting - as it were - on my very doorstep. The four-million-word journals kept by Anne (1791-1840) provide riveting evidence of underlying tensions entwined in gender, class and sexuality at the dawn of Victorian England.
With the turn of the new century, I returned once more to the how the Votes for Women campaigns varied so widely from region to region. Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote (Virago 2006) explored the lives of a cadre of Edwardian girls aged 16-25 from the West Riding textile towns who took their suffrage message out to the Yorkshire dales.
My research methods are primarily source-based: identifying and critically reading primary evidence - archival, printed and oral testimony - little known to historians.
So when the 1911 census schedules were released by the National Archives in 2009, I knew that here was a wealth of hand-written evidence that would prove invaluable to suffrage researchers and social historians alike. Working with Elizabeth Crawford (The Women's Suffrage Movement: a reference guide), I set off down to Kew to visit the National Archives; the article discussing our research findings was published in 2011, as part of the commemorations of the census boycott centenary. (Oxford Journals - most read. Jill Liddington and Elizabeth Crawford, ‘”Women do not count, neither shall they be counted”: suffrage, citizenship and the battle for the 1911 census’, History Workshop Journal, 2011.)
My other research interests lies with how historians communicate - in particular, how their scholarly research may reach wider audiences and readerships. Public History, well established in the United States, reached Britain only in the 1990s. Its concern with historians and their publics often involves collaborative projects; and over the last fifteen years I have enjoyed working in partnership with museum curators, librarians and radio documentarists, with website designers and community centres.
From 1982 I taught in the School of Continuing Education at the University of Leeds where I became Reader in Gender History. Since 2006, I have been based in the university's Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS) where I am an Honorary Research Fellow.
History, Feminism and Gender Studies