German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom

Phone: Tel. +44-(0)20-7309 2050



History of Social Structures, Practices, and Experiences

Research Cluster


Projects in this cluster explore the perception and negotiation of social change – especially the emergence of and responses to social inequalities, the establishment and questioning of hierarchies, and corresponding value changes. These processes of negotiation were embedded in changeable settings influenced by political and religious institutions, economic relations, media cultures, and family structures. Research draws on a variety of methods combining approaches from political, cultural, economic, and social history, along with theories from other disciplines. These include digital humanities methods, the analysis of mass-produced and research-generated social data, and theories of intersectionality and kinship. Chronologically, the projects cover the period from the Early Middle Ages to modern times and range geographically from European case studies to global perspectives, with a special emphasis on Anglo-German comparisons and transnational links.

Christina von Hodenberg

Ageing and 'Doing Gender' in the Era of Value Change

A black and white image of an older lady with her spaniel, in front of a rank of shops on Hamburger Strasse in Hamburg, 1965, featuring cutlery and men's hats

To what extent did old people, especially ageing women, play an active part in the processes of value change that transformed West Germany and Britain from the 1960s to the 1980s? Contemporary historians have often pointed to student protests and generational conflict between fathers and sons to explain cultural change. In contrast, this project explores the gendered subtext of value conflicts and the agency of women and the elderly.

Christina von Hodenberg

Writing Contemporary History with Social Data: Plans for a Digital Infrastructure

Image of a tape recorder of the type used by the BOLSA project for voice recordings

Historians working on the second half of the 20th century are confronted with new types of sources: so-called social data. These are the remains of state-sponsored data collection or social science research projects, and include tax data, polls, psychological interviews, and participant observations. Such data can appear in obsolete formats such as punchcards or magnetic tapes, and may be found in retired researchers’ attics rather than in archives. The GHIL has teamed up with external partners to tackle the challenges tied to the re-use of social data by historians.

Jenny Pleinen

The Political Economy of Government Redistribution in Britain

By applying an approach of fiscal sociology to redistributive policies, the project provides new perspectives on the relationship between the state, capitalism, and society in Britain since 1850. It examines how tax policies, tariffs, government expenditure, and regulations were decided upon, what knowledge influenced the debates, and what effects these state interventions had on social inequality.

Stephan Bruhn

Heavenly Hierarchies and Profane Prestige: Imagining and Shaping Social Order in Post-Roman England and the Frankish World

An illuminated image from the Sacramentarium of Charles the Bald, showing a group of three men, one of whom is being crowned by a hand that is descending from Heaven

The project explores the perception and (re)negotiation of status and social order in post-Roman western Europe by comparatively analysing the definition and implementation of hierarchies in the Frankish World and Anglo-Saxon England. It focuses on the records of church councils and synods, regarding these assemblies as crucial for the development of new societal models in an age of transition.

Marcus Meer

Censoring, Defacing, and Erasing Visual Matters in the European City

Fifteenth-century Kings‘ Screen in York Minster, made up of numerous statues of English kings, from William the Conqueror to Henry VI. By Peter K. Burian [CC BY-SA 4.0]

In the cities of late medieval Europe, practices of censoring, defacing, and erasing visual matters served both townspeople and their noble antagonists as powerful means of communication. In the socio-political conflicts that affected and divided urban societies, these practices supported and challenged powerful individuals, political institutions, social hierarchies, and urban spaces alike.

Pascale Siegrist

A Secret Artifice
Language Invention in the Age of Global English

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525/1530–1569): The Tower of Babel, c. 1563, oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (image from Google Art Project via Wikimedia)

The project understands the inventing of a language – whether for political, epistemic, or artistic purposes – as an act of world-making. Focusing on the proliferation of artificial languages in the English-speaking world in the period from the 1920s to the 1980s, the project situates these initiatives in the context of wider debates concerning the universality or cultural relativity of language.

History of Social Structures, Practices, and Experiences

Emily Steinhauer

Intellectual Lives and Gender in Exile

Dr. Margaret Kelly explaining "Chemical Carcinogenesis in Newborn Animals" to an interested group at the 3rd Meeting of the Science Demonstration Conference

What constitutes an intellectual? How do we define intellectual labour? Does the intellectual have a gender? These are some of the questions central to the project on the ‘female intellectual emigration’, ca.1930–1960. Focusing on sociologists, psychoanalysts, and psychologists, it asks about their place in intellectual history, feminism, and the social history of ‘the intellectual’.

History of Social Structures, Practices, and Experiences

Jane Freeland and Christina von Hodenberg

Medialization and Empowerment
International Standing Working Group

Participants at the ISWG Medialization and Empowerment workshop seated at tables in the Seminar Room at the GHIL in 2019

The International Standing Working Group on Medialization and Empowerment explores the connections between the mass media and the proliferation of women’s rights and feminist movements in the long 20th century. Drawing on histories of the media, feminism, and gender, the group examines how the media has shaped women’s rights.

Collaborative Project

Education and the Urban in India
Research Group in cooperation with India Branch Office, Delhi

A major thoroughfare in Mumbai, with roads on two levels, the building on the other side of the road are reflected from the glass facade of a modern building

The group aims to examine the relation between education and the urban in a society that has undergone rapid and complex processes of urbanization in the seven decades since independence from colonial rule in 1947. A special focus of the group is on marginalization and its relationship with education and the urban.

Collaborative Project

Pauper Letters and Petitions for Poor Relief in Germany and Great Britain, 1770–1914
Andreas Gestrich (University of Trier) and Steven King (University of Leicester)

Pauper letters and applications for relief contain sometimes rudimentary but often extensive information on the applicants’ material situation, their family circumstances, and their relationships with their home parish, or specific officials or friends from whom they expect support. This project proposes to collect and edit a substantial online corpus of these narratives.

Past and completed Projects

  • The Dominicans and the University of Oxford, 1221–1538 (Cornelia Linde)
  • Transnational Research Group: Poverty and Education in India
  • The Semantics of Social Justice: Britain and West Germany since 1945 (Felix Römer)
  • History of Child Adoption in Europe (Benedikt Stuchtey, now at Philipps Universität Marburg)