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Dr Donna Loftus

Profile summary

Professional biography

Senior Lecturer in History.

Head of School, Arts and Humanities. 

Associate Dean for Curriculum, Qualifications and Partnerships 2017 to 2021.

I joined the OU in 2000 after research and teaching posts at the University of Portsmouth and the University of Chichester including a British Academy funded project, ‘Autobiography and the Victorian middle-class’. I have continued to develop research and teaching on nineteenth-century British socio-economic and cultural history. Working at the OU has enabled me to pursue interests in inter-disciplinarity, opening up traditional topics to new methods, questions and approaches, and helping make British history relevant to a broader range of students.


Research interests

My research interests are centred on responses to, and perceptions of, industrial and urban life in nineteenth-century Britain; in particular, the relationship between political economy, social investigation and the everyday experience of business and work.

‘Life writing and Victorian culture’

  • Considers how middle-class men emerged as a historical force in the nineteenth century. 
  • Focuses on the way economic and social transition were understood through life writing and how different types of temporality are used to explain continuity and change.

‘Capital and labour: Manufacturing consensus’

  • Examines the use of capital and labour as mechanisms for describing capitalism and organising industry in nineteenth-century England. 
  • Explores the co-existence of mobilities such as the free market, self-help and social mobility alongside fixed and located ideas of community and class.

‘Work in Nineteenth Century London’

  • Initially funded through the Open University’s Research Development Fund and the Economic History Society.
  • Explores the nature of work in London, the links between production and consumption and the status of the small master who is neither capitalist nor artisan.
  • Contrasts contemporary social and economic theory with the everyday logic of the late nineteenth century metropolitan manufacturing economy.

Teaching interests

I teach the social and cultural history of Britain in relation to the wider world. Contributions to teaching include:

  • The 'age of equipoise' for 'The British Isles and the Modern World, 1789 to 1914'
  • ‘Men, women and Empire’ for Empire: 1492 to 1975
  • ‘The ‘new imperialism’ - Africa and the Victorians’, for Exploring History: Medieval to Modern 1400-1900.

Always keen to use interdiscplinary approaches to open new questions, I worked with Art Historians on ‘Art of Benin: changing relations between Europe and Africa’ for the undergraduate foundation course The Arts Past and Present and with English Literature on Victorian Manchester, exploring different responses to industrialisation through a range of voices and texts.

I am committed to life-long learning and as Associate Dean for Curriculum, Qualifications and Partnerships, took part in the Curriculum Plan and Review which developed strategies for a broad-based curriculum portfolio, one that can meet the diverse interests of a wide range of students. 

Currently supervising  PhD students on aspects of nineteenth century social and cultural history and would be interested in hearing from students considering a thesis on culture and society (including class and class relations), the market and social reform in nineteenth century Britain.

Impact and engagement

I am a member of the Social History Society and one of the convenors of the strand on 'Economies, culture and consumption'.


The “Futility of Thrift” and the Moral Economy of Nineteenth-Century Britain (2024-06-13)
Loftus, Donna
Global Perspectives, 5, Article 117591(1)

[Book Review] Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London by Oskar Jensen (2023)
Loftus, Donna
The London Journal ((Early access))

Time, history and the making of the industrial middle class: the story of Samuel Smith (2017-02)
Loftus, Donna
Social History, 42(1) (pp. 29-51)

Work, poverty and modernity in Mayhew's London (2014-12-01)
Loftus, Donna
Journal of Victorian Culture, 19(4) (pp. 507-519)

Investigating work in late nineteenth-century London (2011-04)
Loftus, Donna
History Workshop Journal, 71(1) (pp. 173-193)

Capital and community: limited liability and attempts to democratize the market in mid-Nineteenth Century England (2002)
Loftus, Donna
Victorian Studies, 45(1 Special) (pp. 93-120)

The self-made man: businessmen and their autobiographies in nineteenth century Britain (2000)
Loftus, D.
Business Archives, 80 (pp. 12-30)

Industrial regulation, urban space and the boundaries of the workplace: mid-Victorian Nottingham (1999)
Gray, Robert and Loftus, Donna
Urban History, 26(2) (pp. 211-229)

Markets and culture (2018-02-02)
Loftus, Donna
In: Handley, Sasha; McWilliam, Rohan and Noakes, Lucy eds. New Directions in Social and Cultural History (pp. 109-128)
ISBN : 978-1-4725-8080-1 | Publisher : Bloomsbury | Published : London

Entrepreneurialism or gentlemanly capitalism (2012-03-27)
Loftus, Donna
In: Hewitt, Martin ed. The Victorian World. Routledge Worlds
ISBN : 9780415491877 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon, UK

Self-made men and the civic: time, space and narrative in late nineteenth-century autobiography (2011)
Loftus, Donna
In: Baggerman, Arianne; Dekker, Rudolph and Mascuch, Michael eds. Controlling Time and Shaping the Self. Developments in Autobiographical Writing since the Sixteenth Century. Egodocuments and History (3)
ISBN : 9789004195004 | Publisher : Brill | Published : Leiden

Limited liability, market democracy, and the social organization of production in mid-nineteenth century Britain (2009)
Loftus, Donna
In: Henry, Nancy and Schmitt, Cannon eds. Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (pp. 79-97)
ISBN : 9780253220271 | Publisher : Indiana University Press | Published : Bloomington

The self in society: middle-class men and autobiography (2006-03)
Loftus, Donna
In: Amigoni, David ed. Life Writing and Victorian Culture. The Nineteenth Century (pp. 67-86)
ISBN : 754635317 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot, UK

Industrial conciliation, class co-operation and the urban landscape in mid-Victorian England (2000-04)
Loftus, Donna
In: Morris, Robert J. and Trainor, Richard H. eds. Urban Governance: Britain and Beyond Since 1750. Historical Urban Studies Series (pp. 182-198)
ISBN : 9780754600152 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot