Photo of Dr Tawny Paul

Dr Tawny Paul

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


01392 726388

Office hours: Please book an appointment HERE

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 have three ongoing research projects:

The first is a study of insecurity and downward mobility in eighteenth century Britain, focusing on the debtors' prisons. The project re-shapes how we think about the economic culture of eighteenth century Britain, a period normally defined by commercial success and industrial development. The story of insecurity is told through the eyes of the middling sort, a social group normally thought of 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. While offering a new portrait of incarceration in the eighteenth century, the project tells the stories of the people, 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 has been 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 provide 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 addresses the commodification of bodies in the Atlantic world. I am interested in forms of commodification that were partial, temporary, and voluntary, and in which individuals could use their bodies' concrete value as a form of agency. The project investigates the experiences of sailors, indentured servants and debt refugees. 

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).