Deborah Madden

Deborah Madden

Dr, Elected Fellow, Royal Historical Society, Fellow of Higher Education Academy, Co-Director, Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories, Member of UK Council for Psychotherapists


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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

Deborah Madden is a cultural and intellectual historian with research interests and publications that explore the cultural interface between religion, medicine, education, politics and culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She has published widely on the cultural significance of Protestant dissent and millenarianism across Britain's Empire and extra-imperial sites. Research specialisms include feminist perspectives on nineteenth-century life-writings and the archival turn, as well as critical approaches to narrative and healthcare settings. Her current work is engaged with the cultural politics of grief and grief narratives.

She has taught a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the Universities of Sussex and Oxford, as well as the Open University. She is based in the School of Humanities and Social Science where she teaches on the MA for Cultural Memory and is degree leader for the BA in Globalisation, History, Politics and Culture. She is Co-Director for the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories (CMNH), where she has been member since 2012. She is a Research Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and member of the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Her extensive experience within historical scholarship means that Madden was invited to contribute to the QAA new Subject Benchmark for History in 2021. In addition to her work within the humanities subject area, Madden has also undertaken postgraduate qualifications in computer sciences and information systems.

Research interests

Dr Deborah Madden is a principal lecturer, based in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her research background is in intellectual and cultural history. Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Higher Education Academy, she has published academic monographs, chapters and articles on the relationship between dissenting religion, medicine, education, politics and culture in the eighteenth century. In addition to this, she has written extensively on Protestant prophetic narratives between 1780 and 1950, showing the ways in which radical millenarian groups have reinterpreted the bible's narrative structure, archetypes and language to envision and literally rebuild 'sacred spaces', 'moral geographies' and 'elect' communities across Britain's Empire and extra-imperial sites. 

Her forthcoming book, Victorian lives between Empires: Perspectives on Colonial Knowledge, Imperialism and British Cultural Memory, is due to be published in the Palgrave Studies in Life Writing series. This examines a range of colonial archival sources and different genres of Victorian life-writings, evidencing them as being especially powerful sites of memory. It offers a reflexive discussion, grounded in feminist historiographies, on the methodological shift in the use of personal, life-writing sources to engage in broader contemporary cultural politics of the ‘colonial present’ within British cultural memory, primarily in the debates focused on the ‘archival turn’ and ‘decolonising’ the imperial archive. The book also provides a broader historiographical and critical reflection on issues surrounding the so-called 'affective turn' and various methodological uses of personal sources, life writings, autobiographies and biographies as historical evidence.

Madden also has articles and forthcoming publications based on the ‘Exploring Everyday Cultures of Grief’ project that she leads in the Centre for Memory, Narratives and Histories. These include, 'Covid-19 and anticipatory grief: critical perspectives on the “narrative turn” in end-of-life care during pandemic times' and ‘Pandemic times, apocalyptic temporalities and re-setting the future: using public pedagogy to explore historical and anticipatory grief’.

Other current projects:

Phase 1: Exploring Everyday Cultures of Grief and Anticipatory Grief is a collaborative piece of practitioner-led research in partnership with the Brighton-based theatre company, Inroads Productions. The project draws on a Heritage Lottery funded project that uses medical archival sources about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, as well as oral history interviews with descendants of families affected by that pandemic. Interviews with NHS key workers explore contemporary resonances and different emotional responses to the Covid-19 crisis. Capturing diverse histories, experiences, stories and reflections on the Spanish Flu, the collaboration was able to facilitate an agile and timely response to current pandemic illness and its unequal impacts. Using medical histories and histories of emotion, the project evidenced how traces of the past, invested with feeling, could be reinterpreted to gain fresh perspectives on archival sources that might speak to a shared collective experience, both in 1918 and now. The project used several interdisciplinary methods to gain insights into the processes of inter-generational memory, as well as different forms of history-making – for example, one of the oral history interviews was used by Inroads Productions as a learning tool for creative writing and the basis of a script, which was performed and screened as part of an online theatre production called Breaking the Silence hosted by Damn Cheek in Brighton in November 2020.

Phase 2: Everyday Cultures of Grief and Anticipatory Grief. Working with clinicians and practitioners within palliative care, this project has expanded to include a more capacious analysis of historical, cultural, narrative and ecologies of grief. Madden has several forthcoming articles on cultures of grief, as well as grief memoirs, and a piece on ecologies of grief with the online medical humanities journal, Polyphony.

Approach to teaching

As a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy who also holds a PGCE, Madden's teaching is informed and updated by evidenced-based research and critical pedagogy in higher education. In 2014 her approach to learning through practice was recognised in an award for teaching and learning excellence at the University of Brighton.

In practice, she adopts a range of teaching methods in lectures and seminars for differentiated learning. This draws on various pedagogic models of collaborative working, using a variety of archival, text and digital sources appropriate to the methodology within the practice of History. Her approach in teaching and research is inherently interdisciplinary. 

An important facet of Madden's teaching entails evidencing the applied aspects of humanities in terms of public history. She has led many public and community engagement projects. Currently this is focused on community and public engagement with the historical census.

Supervisory Interests

Areas for PhD supervision include:

  • Nineteenth-century life writings, particularly within colonial contexts
  • Critical and anticolonial perspectives on missionaries, education and Empire
  • Colonial and imperial sites of memory
  • Eighteenth and nineteenth-century medical practices and colonial medicine
  • Cultural, intellectual and religious histories of British eighteenth and nineteenth-century history
  • Historiographies of British Empire
  • Millenarian prophecy and prophetic groups
  • Public histories and pedagogical practices
  • Cultural politics of grief and anticipatory grief
  • Narrative and critical perspectives on narrative in healthcare

Knowledge exchange

Madden has engaged in numerous 'community-facing' and social engagement projects where research has been adapted for wider application. She has been involved in a number of heritage and local history consultancy projects. She established a series of local history and heritage forums at the University of Brighton in Hastings, where key stakeholders working within these areas were invited to share knowledge and expertise. This led to the establishment of the Hastings and St Leonards Heritage Society in 2016, which acts as an umbrella organisation for local history groups and professionals working within the cultural heritage sector in the town. 

Census 21 Project:

Phase 1: Madden led a collaborative AHRC projct, Census 2021 Project: Using historical census data to highlight changing patterns in health, disability, housing, employment and identity. The project was co-produced by Strike a Light - Arts & Heritage CIC, historians and students based in the University of Brighton’s School of Humanities and Social Science, as well as Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and the University’s Widening Participation Team. Details can be seen here:

The project sought to use historical census data in creative and imaginative ways to reveal changing patterns in health, disability, housing, employment and identity. Historical census data has been used to frame a critical consideration of these interrelated issues as a type of ‘history of the present’ and community-history activism addressing issues relating to inclusion, equality and social justice. A key aspect for our students to engage pupils from schools in Sussex. This encouraged our students to think about how they can disseminate their historical learning more broadly. Staff and students produced a learning resources blog with Widening Participation as part of it outreach on the project. Our project therefore helps undergraduates and school pupils to facilitate different types of creative history-making. The project worked in collaboration with other organisations, including the British Polio Fellowship and Diversity and Ability, producing community online workshops, seminars and lectures during lockdown. Madden was invited to discuss the project as part of BBC Radio 3's podcast series, 'Free Thinking'.

Phase 2: The project is currently investigating the recently released census data for 1921. This phase of the project is examining census data to evaluate the impact of World War I on families, communities and the wider population, with a focus on disabilities, widows and orphans, plus the effect of the Spanish Flu of 1918. The project is partnering with several community groups, charities and local schools via workshops, webinars, public lectures and forums.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Oxford

Sep 2000Sep 2003

Award Date: 1 Sep 2000

Master, University of Sussex

Oct 1996Sep 1998

Award Date: 1 Sep 1998

Bachelor, University of Sussex

Oct 1993Jun 1996

Award Date: 5 Jul 1996

External positions

Peer Reviewer, AHRC Peer Review College

5 Apr 2022 → …

Member UK Council for Psychotherapists

1 Jan 2022 → …

QAA History Subject Benchmark Committee

2 Apr 2021 → …

Techne Subject Specialist Panel

5 Oct 2017 → …

Fellow, Higher Education Academy, UK

Oct 2014 → …

Research Fellow, Royal Historical Society

Oct 2010 → …