When I was younger and first falling in love with history, I remember watching history programmes on TV. I remember the likes of David Starkey and Simon Schama, but I distinctly remember that female historians were not so visible. There was no young female historian I could relate to or aspire to be.
Luckily all that has changed. A new generation of female historians are on our TVs, on our bookshelves and on our social media channels, making history more accessible than ever before.
So this post is dedicated to all the female historians who are currently killing it in their respective fields and inspiring children of today (and me!) to pursue their love of all things historical.
- Professor Kate Williams
Kate is a Professor of Public Engagement With History at The University of Reading, but you will probably recognise her from her numerous TV appearances (including The Quizeum. Remember it? I loved that show).
I have been lucky enough to meet Kate twice. Once randomly in Hereford when she was filming at the cathedral, and another time at BBC History Weekend in York. Both times she was as nice as pie and very chatty. They say you should never meet your heroes as you will always be disappointed, but Kate Williams proved the old saying wrong.
My fave book by Kate – It has to be her latest work, entitled Rival Queens: Mary Queen of Scots. I’m currently working through it but straight away I could tell it was an incredibly comprehensive and well-researched piece of work. Definitely one to have on your bookshelves.
2. Hallie Rubenhold
American-born Hallie is an author, social historian, broadcaster and historical consultant for TV and film, but has also worked in the commercial art world for Philip Mould and as an assistant curator for the National Portrait Gallery. That’s a history lovers dream CV right there!
Since writing this post Hallie has been thrust into the public eye with her ground-breaking and history re-writing work The Five. She is also known for Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies – an 18th century annual directory of prostitutes working in Georgian London, complete with the prostitute’s ‘sexual specialities’. The book in turn inspired the TV series Harlots.
My fave book by Hallie – The word ground-breaking is used too liberally, but is totally applicable in this case. Hallie has produced the first ever in-depth account of the lives of the victims of Jack The Ripper. The book is called The Five: The Untold Lives of The Women Killed By Jack The Ripper and totally refocuses the narrative on the females, destroying the myths surrounding them in the process.
3. Dr Fern Riddell
Dr Fern Riddell is a cultural historian specialising in entertainment, sex, and the suffragettes in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. You may remember her from last year’s Immodest Women movement. Fern actually had to justify using her title on Twitter, and faced down an extraordinary backlash. In solidarity women with doctorates all over the world added ‘Dr’ to their usernames and used the hashtag #immodestwomen.
I love following Fern on social media as she is so relatable! She has a personality and a voice, and the insights into her personal life let me know its okay to be a millennial with an ardent love of history.
My fave book by Fern – Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life Of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion. Because who doesn’t love a book about a kick-arse suffragette?!
4. Dr Estelle Paranque
Estelle is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities. I only really become aware of Estelle last year after listening to her interview with Natalie Grueinger on the Talking Tudors podcast. Estelle’s passion and knowledge of her chosen subject came across so clearly.
A quick glance at her academic bio reveals she has several projects on early modern queenship coming up – I can’t wait to see what she does next!
My fave book by Estelle – Estelle has recently published the first ever full length study of Elizabeth and the French monarchs, entitled Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes. So much has been written about Elizabeth so its refreshing to see a new perspective on her diplomatic relations.
5. Dr Janina Ramirez
Goth queen Janina is a cultural historian, broadcaster and author, mainly specializing in Anglo-Saxon and Early Medieval England. She’s also a bit of a personal hero of mine tbh. She is unashamedly her own person and obviously passionate about her chosen time period – its not the most popular time period, but Janina weaves her magic and makes it entrancing.
Its been a bit quiet from her recently so I’m crossing my fingers for a new book or TV series sometime soon.
My fave book by Janina – Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History – an introduction to the author of the first great work of English prose
6. Dr Nicola Tallis
Newly-made doctor Nicola is fast becoming one of my favourite historians. I briefly met her at the BBC History Weekend in York and she was so nice and encouraging of my dream to one day write my own history book.
Nicola mainly writes about early modern British history, although her recent doctoral thesis was all about the jewellery collections of the Queens of England. If you’ve been following me for a while you will be well aware of my love of all things royal and sparkly. I think we’d make great friends!
My fave book by Nicola – I read Nicola’s second book Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester and I honestly couldn’t get enough. Nicola’s writing style is informative and clear and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone.
7. Dr Suzannah Lipscomb
Another face you may recognise from TV (or it could be those trademark blonde corkscrew curls) Suzannah is a bit of an authority on early modern British history. One of her specialist subject areas is also the history of witchcraft, which really interests me too. I love exploring the differences in how the witch trial craze played out across different countries.
Suzannah has also recently curated a new exhibition all about total girl boss Bess of Hardwick at Hardwick Hall (search for the #wearebess hasthtag on social media). I was lucky enough to see it when I visited Hardwick last year – check out my thoughts here.
My fave book by Suzannah – A bit of a light read compared to my usual fodder but I love her A Visitor’s Companion To Tudor England. Great for historical adventures.
8. Tessa Dunlop
Another inspirational female historian I have had the pleasure of meeting is Tessa (yes I know I have met quite a few of the people on this list – and yes I am totally aware of how much of a stalker it makes me sound). She gave a talk at my mother-in-law’s WI lunch last year and I simply HAD to tag along. You know how some people just have that knack for public speaking? Tess has it by the bucket loads. Honestly one of the best speakers I have had the pleasure of listening to.
Tessa’s publications mainly focus on 20th century women’s history, but her first love is Romanian history. When I met her I asked her what would she write about if she had complete creative freedom. Her answer was a biography of Queen Marie of Romania. I really hope she writes that book one day.
My fave book by Tessa – The Century Girls: The Final Word From The Women Who’ve Lived The Past Hundred Years of British History is a brilliant book. It looks at the social history of Britain through the lives of six centenarian women from diverse walks of life, and is full of inspirational stories.
9. Dr Lucy Worsley
It wouldn’t be a list of top female historians without Lucy Worsley, would it?! By day Lucy is Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. By night she writes history books, and sometimes appears on BBC Four (I’m currently watching her programme American History’s Biggest Fibs – I totally recommend you catch up with it).
I like Lucy because she is cheeky and has tons of personality – and it comes across both on TV and in the books she writes. She also crams as much dressing up as possible into her TV programmes. Bascially she’s fun and I want her to be my bestie.
My fave book by Lucy – My pick from Lucy’s reportaire had to be Courtiers. It’s a really well-written back that ties all the different threads of the Georgian court together in a really engaging way.
10. Dr Emma Wells
Last but by no means least is Dr Emma Wells. Emma is an expert in pilgrimage studies, ecclesiastical history and architecture, as well as historic buildings in general. She currently lectures in Parish Church Studies and English Building History at The University of York.
If you’ve been following me for a while you will know I love a bit of church crawling so Emma’s work is right up my street. There’s also a bit of a stereotype that female historians only write about early modern or royal history, so I love the fact Emma’s specialty is something totally different.
My fave book by Emma – It has to be Pilgrim Routes Of The British Isles. Perhaps it’s because I live in Wales where you can’t move for some sort of reminder of Celtic Christian saints, but this book is a reminder of the significance of churches and holy sites and the wider landscape they sit in.
It was REALLY hard to choose a top ten out of a field of simply fabulous female historians – my list could have gone on forever! The historians that made my list tend to be people who I’ve met who are genuinely nice, whose work I really enjoy and who – through social media – are totally relatable while sharing their love of history.
Who would make your top ten? Who inspires you to always keep reading and learning more? Let me know in the comments below.