Photo of Dr Tawny Paul

Dr Tawny Paul

Senior Lecturer in British Economic and Social History, 1700-1900


01392 726388

Term 2 office hours:

Monday 2-3pm, Wednesday 11.30am-12.30pm. Please make an appointment online:   

I am interested broadly in the economic and social history of eighteenth-century Britain. My research focuses on gender and the social history of debt. I am currently completing a project on Britain's debtors' prisons which investigates themes of downward social mobility, failure and identity amongst the lower middling sort.

I am an advocate for public history and I enjoy collaborating with colleagues in museums and radio. I have consulted for museum exhibitions throughout the UK and I publish in the field of heritage studies.


Research interests

I am currently engaged in three research projects:

The first, entitled 'Precarious Lives', is an account of the economic culture and identity of Britain's lower middling sort in the eighteenth century. We tend to think of the middle class as aspirational and upwardly mobile. Yet in the eighteenth century, as many as one in four middling men would spend time in a debtors' prison. The project focuses on those lower middling men, perched between success and failure, who struggled to navigate and shape a new social and economic world. It considers how the insecurities faced by the lower middling shaped economic practices and social/gender identities. The project is supported by fellowships from the Huntington Library, the Clark Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

My second project, in collaboration with Prof. Jeremy Boulton at Newcastle University, is a pilot project which investigates the research potential of  British Debtors' Schedules. These documents quantititative data about the wealth and networks of those who were imprisoned for debt. Using a sample of schedules from London, research focuses on themes of wealth, work and credit in eighteenth-century Britain. The project is supported by the Economic History Society.

My third project is in the field of public history. Focusing on portraiture as a case study, it investigates the potential of visual arts to communicate historical concepts to the public. Project outputs include a collection of essays, co-edited with Rebecca Bush. Beginning with the concept of 'artist intervention', the volume. explores multiple avenues for artist/historical collaboration, from museum spaces, to public programming, to education. A link to the publication can be found here.

Previous heritage research focused on representations of migration in Scotland. Funded by the Scottish Government, this work contributed to the development of Diaspora Engagement Policy.

Research supervision

I am happy to discuss research proposals from students in all areas of eighteenth-century economic and social history.  I am particularly interested in supervising research on themes related to economic culture and economic life, gender, material culture, poverty, social identity, work, and business history.

Research students

Robert Nantes working on bankrupts and bankruptcy in England from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.

Steve Ross working on the intellectual history of notions of responsibility.

External impact and engagement

Selected Visitor Centre and Museum Exhibition Interpretation Projects (with Campbell and Co Design Consultants)



  • BBC Radio 4 Making History. The history of the 'gig economy'. Aired 25 July, 2017.
  • BBC Radio Scotland 'The Secret Tax Life of Robert Burns', aired 20 January, 2016.
  • BBC Radio Scotland 'Disposable Brides'. Aired 2 January, 2012.


  • 'The gig economy is nothing new- it was standard practice in the 18th century'. The Conversation, 18 July, 2017.


I studied history as an undergraduate student at Vassar College in the United States. From 2005-6 I held a St Andrews Society of the State of New York Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh, where I completed my MSc in History. I was awarded my PhD in Economic and Social History at the University of Edinburgh in 2011. Before joining the department at Exeter, I held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Public History with the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies (2012), a Lectureship in Economic History at the University of Edinburgh (2013) and Lectureship in Early Modern History at the Northumbria University Newcastle (2014-16).