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Dr Helen Metcalfe



‘A Healthy Approach to Grief: The Emotional, Material, and Sensory History of Grief and Loss in Late-Georgian Britain, c. 1760-1830’

BA (York); MA (York); PhD (Manchester)

Helen is a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of History. She works on the social, cultural, and emotional history of late-Georgian Britain within the context of family dynamics, friendship groups and gender. Helen’s new research project will explore the many facets of how grief was experienced in late-Georgian society. It will assess the relationship between physical and emotional responses to grief, loss and resilience, and investigate this emotion through emotional and material constructions of comfort and nostalgia, for example, in epistolary and associational networks. It aims to re-evaluate current perceptions of grief as unhealthy, and will redress the imbalance in historical and literary studies that have focused overwhelmingly on assessments of bereavement, mourning and mortuary rituals. It will recover the full range of Georgian experiences of grief to show how understandings of grief extended far beyond the immediate emotional upheaval associated with death, encompassing much wider definitions than those we attribute to grief today. The project asks three central questions: what did it mean to grieve in late-Georgian Britain? What was the relationship between grief, loss, comfort and wellbeing, and to what extent were experiences of grief regulated by conventions and mediated through socio-cultural codes?

The project will forge important new links between histories of gender and the emotions, self and subjectivity, the medical humanities, material culture studies, sensory history, and histories of religion, death and bereavement. At its core, this project has a multidisciplinary approach and will engage with not only historical and literary studies, but also sociology, psychology, anthropology, archaeology and philosophy.



Helen’s AHRC-funded doctoral research examined bachelorhood in late-Georgian Britain and was awarded by the University of Manchester in 2017. This research has resulted in publications on subjects including bachelors’ notions of domestic and emotional comfort, military bachelors’ feelings of nostalgia, as well as single men’s experiences of domesticity. Helen’s research engaged with histories of masculinity and gender, the history of the home and the family, domestic material culture, identity and the self, as well as the history of the emotions, military history, and urban interactions, experiences and cultures in the metropolis and in the provincial town.

Helen has taught widely at York, Manchester and Northumbria.


Selected publications

Helen Metcalfe, ‘Bachelor Sociability and Social Networking’, Social History (under revision)

Helen Metcalfe, ‘To Let or for Lease: ‘Small, but Genteel’ Lodgings for Bachelors in and about the Late-Georgian Town’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 44:1 (2021), 3-19.

Helen Metcalfe, ‘Moving House: Comfort Disrupted in the Domestic and Emotional Life of an Eighteenth-Century Bachelor’, in Jon Stobart (ed.), The Comforts of Home in Western Europe, c. 1700-1900 (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), pp. 181-186.

Helen Metcalfe, ‘Family and Household’, in Clive Edwards (ed.) The Cultural History of the Home in the Age of Enlightenment, 1650-1800 (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), pp. 37-61.

Helen Metcalfe, ‘Recalling the Comforts of Home: Bachelor Soldiers’ Narratives of Nostalgia and the Re-Creation of the Domestic Interior’, in Michael Brown et al (eds.), Martial Masculinities: Experiencing and Imagining the Military in the Long Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), pp. 58-81.

Contact details

Dr Helen Metcalfe