G.E. Lessing Distinguished Professor of History and Poetics
Ph.D. in History, Harvard University
A.M. in History, Harvard University
Graduate Student in Viola Performance,
Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY
B.A. with High Honors in History and Political Science,
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
At Rutgers Since 2006
103 Van Dyck Hall
My teaching and research interests include gender, social, economic, and cultural history of Europe, 1750 to the present, with particular focus on Great Britain; Modern European women's history; the history of sexuality; and comparative urban and cultural history. I have published on a variety of topics including the history of disability and the body; childhood; museums for the poor; gender, maternalism, and comparative welfare states (Mothers of a New World, 1993).
Slumming: Social and Sexual Politics in Victorian London (Princeton University Press, 2004) analyzes the relationship between eros and altruism in shaping social welfare in modern Britain. It was awarded the Sonya Rudikoff Prize for the best first book in Victorian Studies.
The Match Girl and the Heiress (Princeton University Press, 2014,2016) was awarded 2015 “Best Book of the Year” by the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) and the 2015 Stansky Prize for the Best Book in Modern British Studies by the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS). It explores the love, friendship, and global lives of a half-orphaned Cockney match factory worker, Nellie Dowell, and the daughter of a well-to-do shipbuilder and pacifist feminist humanitarian, Muriel Lester. These unlikely soul mates sought to remake the world according to their own utopian vision of Christ’s teachings. The Match Girl and the Heiress reconstructs their late-nineteenth-century girlhoods of wealth and want, and their daring twentieth-century experiments in ethical living in a world torn apart by the violence of war, imperialism, and industrial capitalism.
My current work centers on two ongoing studies. The first is a collaborative project with Thomas Laqueur (UC Berkeley) on the history of humanitarianism and anti-humanitarianism from the 18th to 20th centuries. The second project explores the history of “conscience” in early 20th century Britain. This project asks: what is conscience? Who gets to have one and who does not? It analyzes those moments when “conscience” itself became the subject of intense ethical and political debate. It begins in Edinburgh in the 1820s and 30s and the campaign by zealous men of faith in Scotland, Ireland and England to save religion from the state by disestablishing all state churches. It ends in the opening decades of the 20th century with the empire-wide movement of passive resistance against the British state; the queering of conscience during WWI and the rehabilitation of conscience as a usable ethical category in British interwar internationalism.
In 2015-17, Seth Koven co-directed a two year research project with colleague Judith Surkis on "Ethical Subjects: Moralities, Laws, Histories" at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. This project received generous funding from the Mellon Foundation as a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures.
I am a founding member and co-director of the Rutgers British Studies Center (RBSC), a major interdisciplinary scholarly project funded by a Mellon Foundation Grant. RBSC supports visiting scholars, workshops, and seminars and provides generous funding for graduate student initiatives.
I happily supervise PhD students whose projects span the 18th to 20th centuries.
- G.E. Lessing Distinguished Professor of History and Poetics, 12/2017-present
- Professor of History, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 7/2015-2017
- Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 7/2006-2015
- Visiting Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 2011
- Associate Professor of History, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 9/94-6/2006
- Visiting Scholar, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, 1997-98
- Visiting Associate Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, 1996-1997
- Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania, 9/88 to 8/94
- Lecturer on History and on History and Literature, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 9/87 to 8/88
- Mothers of a New World, Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States, co-edited with Sonya Michel, (Routledge, 1993).
- Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (Princeton University Press, 2004; pb, 2006)
- The Match Girl and the Heiress (Princeton University Press, 2014; pb 2016)
- “The Marriage of Social Science and Literary Criticism in The Other Victorians,” Victorian Studies (Fall 2017).
- “The ‘Sticky Sediment’ of Daily Life: Radical Domesticity, Revolutionary Christianity, and the Problem of Wealth in early 20th Century Britain,” Representations (Fall, 2012).
- “The Jewish Question and the Social Question in Late Victorian London: The Fictions and Investigative Journalism of Margaret Harkness,” in I.M. van den Broek, C.A.L. Smit and D.J. Wolffram (eds), Imagination and commitment. Representations of the social question. (Groningen Studies in Cultural Change Leuven: Peeters 2010).
- "The Queer Politics of Slumming,” History Workshop Journal, (Fall, 2009).
- “Gustav Doré und Dr. Barnardo: Zur Darstellung der Armut im viktorianischen London,” in Ganz Unten Die Entdeckung Des Elends: Wien, Berlin, London, Paris, New York (Christian Brandstatter Verlag, 2007).
- "How the Victorians Read Sesame and Lilies," in Deborah Nord, ed., John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies, Rethinking the Western Tradition (Yale University Press, 2002)
- "Cultural Histories Old and New: Rereading the Work of Janet Oppenheim," Victorian Studies (Fall, 1997) with Mandler, Owen, and Pedersen.
- "Dr. Barnardo's 'Artistic Fictions': Photograaphy, Sexuality, and the Ragged Child in Victorian London," Radical History Review (Fall, 1997).
- "Remembering and Dismemberment: Crippled Children, Wounded Soldiers and The Great War in Great Britain," American Historical Review (Oct. 1994), reprt. Journal of Peace and Justice Studies (1994).
- "Womanly Duties: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, 1880-1920," American Historical Review, (Oct. 1990) co-authored with Sonya Michel. Reprt. in Vincent and Shoemaker, eds., Gender and History in Western Europe (1998); in Fiona Montgomery and Christine Collette, eds, European Women's History Reader (2002); and in State Economy and Nation in 19th Century Europe, reader published for the Open University.
- "From Rough Lads to Hooligans: Boy Life, National Culture and Social Reform," in Andrew Parker, et. al., eds., Nationalisms and Sexualities (Routledge, 1992).
- "The Whitechapel Picture Exhibitions and the Politics of Seeing," in D. Sherman and I. Rogoff, eds., Museum Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1994).
- "Henrietta Barnett: The (Auto)biography of a Late-Victorian Marriage," in S. Pedersen and P. Mandler, eds., After the Victorians (Routledge, 1993).
- "Borderlands: Women, Voluntary Action and Child Welfare in Great Britain 1840-1914," in Mothers of a New World.
- "Revisioning Reconstructions" in N. Finzsch and J. Martschakat, eds., Different Restorations: Reconstruction and 'Wiederaufbau' in Germany and United States (Berghan, 1996).
- "The Dangers of Castle Building: Surveying the Social Survey" in Bales, Bulmer and Sklar, editors, The Social Survey in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
Selected Review Essays
- “Uncommon History,” History Workshop Journal (Spring 2017)
"Prisoners of Their Beds: Invalids, Injured Soldiers, and Cultures of Convalescence in Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Britain," Radical History Review (Fall 2005).
- "Transatlantic Exchanges," HNET, HURBAN, October, 1999; reprinted in Historical Social Research 91 (2000) 112-117; and American Studies Journal (Winter 1999/Spring 2000) no.44.
- "The Ambivalence of Agency: Women, Families and Social Policy in France, Britain and the United States," Journal of Women's History (Spring, 1997)
- "Mother Love Among the London Poor," History Workshop Journal (Spring, 1996).
HONORS AND GRANTS
- Best Book of the Year (2014) prize for The Match Girl and the Heiress, North American Victorian Studies Association
- 2015 Stansky Prize for the Best Book in Modern British Studies by the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS).
- “Book of the Week” Times Higher Education Supplement; “Book of the Month,” Christian Science Monitor, January 2015.
- Scholar-Teacher Award (2015), Rutgers University, New Brunswick
- Sonya Rudikoff Prize for Slumming as best first book in Victorian Studies published in 2004, Northeast Victorian Studies Association (NVSA)
- Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, awarded for 2006-7
- Veritas Award for Research, Office of Mission Effectiveness, Villanova University
- Research Grant, Summer 2004, National Endowment for the Humanities
- Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1997-1998.
- Walter Love Article Prize, Honorable Mention, 1995, awarded by North American Conference on British Studies
- Travel Grant, American Philosophical Society, Summer 1995
- Spencer Fellow, National Academy of Education, Stanford University, 1991-92
- Research and Travel Grant, Summer 1990 National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Grant on Gender and the Welfare State, Social Science Research Council, Fall 1989.
- Project Grant, Committee on States and Social Structures, Social Science Research Council. Co-investigator, 9/87-5/88
- Whiting Fellow in the Humanities, 8/85 - 7/86
- Krupp Foundation, Traveling Fellow, 9/83 - 9/84
- House Arms for Service, Adams House, Harvard College 6/88
- Phi Beta Kappa, Swarthmore College 6/78
- Barnard Music Scholarship, 9/76 - 6/78