For most of my career I have been a historian of eighteenth-century British urban and cultural history but recently I have begun to move into the nineteenth century. After studying History at Oxford where I was awarded my D Phil and held a junior research fellowship I joined the Department of Economic and Social History at Leicester in 1998 and I have been here ever since, based in the Centre for Urban History where I am currently Director. From 2018-19 I was seconded to the AHRC as Director of Partnerships and Engagement. I am on the organizing committee of the Pre Modern Towns Group and the Urban History Group and am a member of the International Commission for the History of Towns and a trustee of the Historic Towns Trust. Since 2002 I have been co-editor of the Urban History journal published by Cambridge University Press. Aside from urban history I am also the academic director of the Bibliography of British and Irish History and am currently chair of the Faculty of Archaeology, Humanities and Letters for the British School at Rome and a member of Council for the Society of Antiquaries.
I’m particularly interested in how 18th-century society understood interpreted and made use of the past - a question that I’ve explored in the context of urban culture and identity cultures of antiquarianism and in the context of the Grand Tour and travel in Italy. I am now extending this interest in two directions: first to think about the ‘invention’ of the historic town in Britain and the development of domestic tourism in the 19th century. This builds on my interests in antiquarianism early archaeology and the uses of the past to explore how towns such as Chester or York came to be branded ‘historic’ and as attractive destinations for visitors with implications for the preservation of the urban built environment. Second, I am continuing my research on British travellers in the Mediterranean, spanning the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which are often assumed to have put an end to continental travel and looking beyond the itinerary of the Italian Grand Tour. My project 'War travel and cultural exchange: William Gell and the British in Iberia 1750-1830' in collaboration with the British School at Rome and funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2020-194) explores Britain’s relationship with Spain and Portugal in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the records of travellers, writers and readers with a particular focus upon the reception of Spain’s Islamic heritage before the romantic era.
Sweet RH (2021) 'The recovery of the Anglo-Saxon past, c. 1770-1850', English Historical Review, 136, 304-31.
Sweet RH (2019) 'Antiquarian transformations in historical scholarship: the history of domesticity from Joseph Strutt to Thomas Wright', in Perry Gauci and Elaine Chalus (eds.), Revisiting the Polite and Commercial People: Essays in Georgian Politics, Society and Culture in Honour of Professor Paul Langford, 153-170.
Sweet RH (2017) 'The preservation of Crosby Hall, 1830-50', Historical Journal, 60:3, 687-719.
Sweet RH (2017) with Sarah Goldsmith and Gerrit Verhoeven (eds.), Beyond the Grand Tour: Metropolises of the North and Early Modern Travel Behaviour.
2017 ‘Antiquarianism and ruins’ and ‘Croyland Abbey’, in Dale Townshend, Michael Carter and Peter Lindfield (eds.), Writing Britain’s Ruins 1700-1850, 43-75.
Sweet RH (2015) 'William Gell and Pompeiana (1817-19 and 1832)', Papers of the British School at Rome, 83, 245-282.
Sweet RH (2012) Cities and the Grand Tour. The British in Italy, c. 1690-1820. ISBN13: 9781107020504
Sweet RH (2004) Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth Century Britain. ISBN10: 1852853093
Sweet RH and Lane P (2003) (eds.) Women and Urban Life in Eighteenth-century England: On the Town.
Sweet RH (1999), The English Town: Culture, Society and Government, 1680-1840.
Sweet RH (1997), The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-Century England.
I am happy to supervise topics in any aspect of urban social and cultural history from the 17th-19th centuries. I am currently supervising students the following students:
R. Bates ‘British politics diplomacy and espionage at Spa during the American War of Independence’.
A. Drynan ‘Associational culture in a developing residential and leisure town: Brighton and Hove in the nineteenth century’.
P. Emerick ‘Royal visits within Britain and the formation of national identity 1760-1849’.
E. Jones ‘The growth and development of Usk in the nineteenth century’.
T. Logan ‘Out West: Brentford Chiswick and the Growth of Greater London 1895-1927’.
R. Ngamine ‘Urban governance and elite networks in Chester c. 1750-1840’.
K. Pullen ‘The old poor law enclosure and social change in Leicestershire and Rutland 1700-1834’.
R. Frost (Nottingham) ‘Sir John Gardner Wilkinson: cultures of antiquarianism in Egypt Europe and England’ (2nd supervisor).
D. Rignall ‘Popular engagement with biblical texts in eighteenth-century Britain’ (2nd supervisor).
L. Sims ‘Antiquarianism science and networks of knowledge: the archives of the Spalding Gentlemen's Society 1710-1760’ (2nd supervisor).
Recent and current teaching at BA and MA includes
• HS1000 Making History (first year skills module)
• HS1013 ‘The State We’re In: Britain 1688-1980’ (first year survey module)
• HS2400 Perceiving the Past (second year historiography module)
• HS2237 All Bourgeois Now? Class in History (second year module in comparative history)
• HS 3717 and 3718 From Gin Lane to Westminster: Culture Politics and Society in Walpole’s Britain (third year special subject linked module)
• HS3638 Political Satire in the Long Eighteenth Century
• HS7251 The City in History (core module for MA Urban History)
• HS7202 Urban Topography Image and Reality (optional module for MA Urban History)
• HS7005 Historical Methods (MA History core module)
• Supervision of BA and MA dissertations
Press and media
Eighteenth-century social cultural and gender history; history of towns and cities; history of travel; attitudes towards/reception of the past from the 17th to the 19th centuries;
2022-23 Chair of Faculty of Archaeology Humanities and Letters British School at Rome
2021-23 Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London
2021-23 FWO Peer Review College
2019-22 Centre for People Place and Community Institute of Historical Research Advisory Board
2019- Vetusta Monumenta Advisory Board (University of Missouri)
2018- Academic Director of Bibliography of British and Irish History
2018- Editorial board member of English Historical Review
2018- Royal Historical Society Publications Committee
2016- Marc Fitch Fund Board of Trustees
2016- English Heritage Research Committee
2016- AHRC International and Strategic Peer Review College
2013- Historic Towns Trust Board of Trustees
2011- International Commission for History of Towns
2008- Editorial board member of the British Academy’s Records in Social and Economic History
2002- Joint editor of Urban History
I am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society the Society of Antiquaries of London and an Honorary Fellow of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia.
2021‘De-centring the grand tour in eighteenth-century travel’ keynote lecture at ‘Leisure travel and tourism’ University of the Azores.
2021 ‘Sociability and social observation on the eighteenth-century grand tour’ at ‘Voyage to Italy’ workshop Sant’Anna Institute Sorrento.
2021 ‘British travellers and the discovery of the Alhambra 1750-1830’ at 19th-Century Studies conference.
2020 ‘Cultural Exchange during the Peninsular War: Sir William Gell in Spain and Portugal’ at ‘Beloved Enemy: United Kingdom and Spain in the Eighteenth Century’ UCL.
2018 ‘Urban modernity and the historic town’ keynote lecture at Irish Historic Towns Atlas symposium Royal Irish Academy Dublin.
2017 ‘Norwich the “historic city” and the antiquarian imagination’ keynote lecture at ‘Norwich and the Medieval Parish Church’ University of East Anglia.
2017 Domesticating the Anglo-Saxons’ keynote lecture at ‘Recovering the Past’ University of York.
2017 ‘Thomas Rickman: a modern antiquary’ keynote lecture at ‘Thomas Rickman’s Liverpool’ University of Liverpool.
2016 The Rhind Lectures: ‘Antiquaries architects and the invention of the historic town’ for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy