Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

History, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Joshua Goode

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Janet Farrell Brodie

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Daniel Lewis

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Rights Information

© 2024 Katrina Denman


English History, Historiography, Nationalism, Nineteenth Century History, Victorian History, Women's History

Subject Categories

European History | History | Literature in English, British Isles


Existing historiography on nationalist pedagogy in nineteenth century England has not focused on women as major contributors to this process through their authorship of historical texts. This dissertation argues that school history texts authored by women in Romantic and Victorian England imbued an intentional brand of English national identity based on Protestant moralism in their readers. It specifically focuses on conversational histories, or texts structured around historical description followed by prescribed “conversations” between teacher and listener, which both anticipated potential questions from young readers and provided a scripted narrative for answering them in a way that fit the larger didactic purpose of the text. The moral imperative of the texts was further enhanced by their authors’ representation of themselves as “mothers,” even if they were not. Since history education was not formalized or standardized in nineteenth century England, many children and autodidactic adults learned history from popularly available school history texts. Given their widespread use and appeal, these texts had a significant impact on how several generations of English citizens conceptualized their past and, consequently, how they saw their own identity within a rapidly colonizing and globalizing world. This dissertation analyzes historical pedagogy, historical texts, and historical publishing practices between the 1820s and 1870s. It begins with a thorough account of historical pedagogy and the evolution of school history texts throughout the nineteenth century. It then assesses conversational history texts authored by women such as Elizabeth Penrose, Maria Graham, and Jane Marcet to identify textural themes based on moralization, Protestant religious identity, patriotism and economics, and the abolition of the slave trade. It also contextualizes such texts by using the correspondence of Maria Graham, John Penrose, and publisher John Murray to establish symbiotic relationships between authors, publishers, and public opinion, arguing that the content of school history texts was ultimately more influenced by the desire for profitability and popularity than by any specifically defined political agenda. Finally, this dissertation demonstrates the enduring impact a specific set of narrative expectations had on future historians, using the example of Agnes Strickland and James Anthony Froude’s respective biographies of Mary Stuart to argue that debates over religion and nationalism impacted the reception and criticism of Victorian women’s histories more than their gender. By understanding the sociocultural impact and legacy of school history texts authored by women, we can come to better appreciate the impact they had on shaping history as an academic discipline and shaping young Victorians into English citizens.