Mark Freeman: social and educational history of modern Britain

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Rural history

My early research was in modern English rural history, and I made a number of contributions in this area earlier in my career. I completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow in June 1999, under the supervision of Professor Anne Crowther. This was subsequently published as a monograph by Boydell and Brewer in the Royal Historical Society Studies in History new series.

This book explores the theory and practice of social investigation in rural England in the period 1870-1914. It shows the extent to which a developing 'passion for inquiry' drew to the English countryside a wide range of social investigators concerned with such issues as agricultural trade unionism, rural depopulation, rural poverty, the condition of rural housing and the land question. Adopting a broad definition of social investigation, incorporating reports of royal commissions and special correspondent journalists as well as the popular literary accounts of Richard Jefferies and George Sturt, the study also enhances the literature of social inquiry by examining the rural investigations of men like Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree, best known for their urban social surveys. At the same time Social Investigation and Rural England makes a significant contribution to the rural history of the period, by illustrating how social and political conflicts in the English countryside influenced the processes of information-gathering by social investigators, and how the rural population responded to their activities.

The book was reissued in paperback in 2011.


'A delight to read' - Agricultural History

'An accessible, intelligent and useful work.... A competent and comprehensive analysis' - American Historical Review

'Marvelous. [.] The origins of sociology and the social survey lie as much in the English countryside as in the English town. Freeman has written an important and fascinating book' - Journal of Modern History


The English Rural Poor 1850-1914

This five-volume edition brings together a large selection of rare documents, together with extensive new editorial matter.

Click on the image - from George Mitchell, The Skeleton at the Plough (1874), one of the texts featured in the collection - or here to read more about The English Rural Poor.


'These volumes deserve to reach as wide an audience as possible' - Agricultural History Review

'This set ... will be a most valuable library acquisition for many academic libraries ... the editor and publisher are to be highly congratulated' - Rural History

'a "must read" for any historian of social structure, poverty, welfare or rural England', and adds that 'Freeman is to be commended for … provid[ing] us with a vibrant portrayal of the Victorian and Edwardian crisis of rural England' - Economic History Review

ISBN 1 85196 822 9.
2144pp. December 2005.

'The range of material, as selected temporally and geographically, is impressive... that Freeman manages to combine several "classics" of the genre with some hitherto not widely known texts is further testament to his growing reputation as the foremost scholar of rural social investigation in the period...[a] splendid resource' - Journal of Historical Geography

I have also published articles in Social History, the Agricultural History Review and Folklore on aspects of rural history and social investigation. Click here to see a full list of my publications.

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