Photo of Professor Sarah Toulalan

Professor Sarah Toulalan

Associate Professor


01392 724455

My main area of research is in the history of the body, with particular interests in gender, sex, sexuality, ageing, body size, shape and management, health and medicine in early modern England. I am currently working on a project on 'Children and sex in early modern England: knowledge, consent, abuse c.1550-1750' generously funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship. Earlier work on this project was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant.

I have recently published articles on both fat and thin bodies and reproduction and on constructions of the child rapist in early modern England and am working on editing a collection of essays on early modern bodies.

I am currently supervising doctoral theses on a number of topics including: obese bodies in early modern England and the Netherlands; human ingredients in early modern medicine; the body in early modern India; and the material culture of female health and exercise, c.1870-1914.


Research interests

My main research interests are to do with issues relating to the body, sex and sexuality, gender, health and medicine. I am currently researching body size, shape and body management (fat/thin bodies) and health; ageing, sex and health; and sexual practice and health.  My primary area of research at the moment is to do with children and sex in early modern England.

Current Projects I am currently working on a project/monograph funded by the Leverhulme Trust on Children and sex in early modern England: knowledge, consent, abuse c.1550-1750.  This builds on an earlier research project on Bodies, sex and health in early modern England which was supported by a British Academy Small Research Grant.

Selected seminar and conference papers

'Fat bodies and reproduction', Reading Early Modern Studies Conference, July 2013

‘women that be leane & slender do not conceaue’: thin bodies and infertility in early modern England', Infertility in Science and History Conference, Edinburgh, July 2013

'Puberty in early modern England' at European Association for the History of Medicine and Health, Utrecht September 2011

'Children and venereal disease in early modern England' at the Anglo-American conference, London July 2011

'Diagnosing child sexual abuse in early modern England', Cambridge 2010

Organised the conference ‘Gender, Health and Medicine in Historical Perspective’, Exeter 2008.

'Children and sexuality in early modern England', Sexual histories: bodies and desires uncovered, University of Exeter 2007

‘Women, sex and power: the representation of flagellation in seventeenth-century pornography’, Women’s History Network Annual Conference 2004, University of Hull, Women Wealth and Power,

‘The representation of pain and pleasure in seventeenth-century pornography’, Balliol College, Oxford

‘‘As pleasure borders on pain, so pain borders on pleasure’: the representation of flagellation in seventeenth-century pornography’, University of Hull, History Department Research Seminar ‘Fertility and the Representation of Sexual Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Pornography’, Dorset Family History Society, Dorchester

Research supervision

I am happy to discuss research proposals on any subject relating to my research expertise and interests. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in the following areas of early modern history:

  • the body, sex and sexuality, including pornography/erotica and prostitution;
  • health and medicine including mental health/sickness and venereal disease;
  • body size and shape
  • gender;
  • popular culture;
  • clothing or dress (including cross-dressing);
  • issues relating to age and ageing as well as children and childhood.

I have also supervised - and continue to do so - theses to do with the above topics for the nineteenth century.

Research students

Current supervisions

Marsha Wubbels, 'A Healthy Interest: Diet, Exercise and Ideal Bodies in England and Holland, 1650-1800'.

Hannah Slajus, ‘The Body as Medicine:  Human Ingredients in Seventeenth Century Britain’.

Diane Mulkeirins, ‘Medical care for women: A study in maternity and mental healthcare development in the Sussex workhouse environment 1867-1910’.

Sonia Wigh, 'The Body of Words: A Social History of Sex and the Body in Early Modern India'.

Jasmine Losasso, 'Betraying Bodies and Dissembling Demeanours in Early Modern England, 1600-1740'.

Betsy Lewis-Holmes, ‘The material culture of female physical health culture in England, 1870-1914’.


Abbie Johns, 'Children, Accidents and Death in England and Wales, c.1600-1800' (2018)

Angela Muir, ‘Deviant maternity: illegitimacy in early modern and eighteenth-century Wales’ (2017)

Michelle Webb, ‘‘As fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her’: facial disfigurement in sixteenth and seventeenth century England’ (2017)

Alanna Skuse, ‘Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England’ (2013)

Victoria Bates, ‘Physiology and Morality: Medical Perspectives on Sexual Consent, 1850 -1914’ (2012).

Pei-Ching Chen, ‘The Plebeian Cross-Dressing Woman in C18th and C19th Britain’ (2011)

Jennifer Evans, ‘Aphrodisiacs, Impotence and Fertility in Early Modern England’ (2011)

Victoria Sparey, ‘Inherited Humours: The Formation of Identity in Early Modern Medical Discourse’ (2010)

Hannah Newton, ‘The Sick Child in England, 1580-1720’ (2010)



Other information

I am currently on research leave holding a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship.

I am a member of the Social History Society and of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. I am also a trustee of the Reid Trust.

Contribution to discipline

I am a trustee of the Reid Trust, which awards grants to women for higher education.

I am on the editorial board of Social History of Medicine.

I am one of the convenors for the Sexualities seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London.


Academic consultant for ‘The Real History of Sex’ screened by BBC3.

Interviewed by Lucy Worsley for a series on Restoration women, ‘Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A C17th History for Girls’ (screened on BBC2, 2012).

Interviewed by Lucy Worsley for 2 episodes of ‘Fit to Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History’ (screened on BBC2, 2013).



My teaching relates to my research on bodies, sex, health and medicine but also incorporates subjects that relate to it more broadly, such as crime, the family, and social deviance.


Modules taught


I was appointed to the post of Lecturer in Medical History at the end of May 2005, having previously worked at Exeter as a temporary lecturer since 2002.  I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2010.

I gained my Ph.D in 2002 from the University of London (Royal Holloway) with a thesis entitled Writing the erotic: pornography in seventeenth century England published as Imagining Sex: pornography and bodies in seventeenth-century England by Oxford University Press in 2007. I also completed my M.A. at Royal Holloway, University of London, in 1995, having returned to academic study after spending ten years working as a civil servant at H.M. Treasury in London. My undergraduate study was at the University of Southampton.