Professor Keith Snell

Keith David Malcolm Snell, FRAI, is Emeritus Professor of Rural and Cultural History

Email: David Malcolm Snell, FRAI, is Emeritus Professor of Rural and Cultural History.
Office: Room 815, Attenborough Building


Keith Snell was brought up in many African countries (notably Tanzania, Mozambique, the Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria) as well as Wales and England. He is Anglo-Welsh and spoke four African languages. He studied history at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, graduating with a (BA) first-class degree. With Social Science Research Council funding, he did his PhD (1979) at Trinity Hall, supervised by Professor Sir Tony Wrigley at The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.

He was appointed Research Fellow in the Humanities at King's College, Cambridge, 1979-1983, where he also directed studies in history. He taught 13 Tripos papers across five different Cambridge faculties, before taking up a lectureship in the Department of Economics and Related Studies at the University of York. Snell then moved to the University of Leicester as Lecturer in Regional Popular Cultures in the University's Department of English Local History. He has taught 28 undergraduate and postgraduate modules here. He was promoted to Reader and from 2002 to a personal chair as Professor of Rural and Cultural History. He was Director of the Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester, 2009-2018, when he took early retirement and became Emeritus Professor. He is also working with academics and medics in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester on loneliness among the elderly. He has supervised 92 PhD students. In 1991, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.


K.D.M. Snell's research is on the social and economic history of modern Britain, from 1660 to 2021: in particular the poor law system and the history of welfare; rural history; the history of community; the history of the family; the regional novel in Britain and Ireland; the Irish famine; Victorian religion; churchyards and cemeteries; the history of loneliness; and industrialisation and folk art. His main research at present is on memorialisation and the natural world, and he has recently completed an autobiographical book on Africa.

His work is especially associated with arguments for wider historical meanings and criteria affecting the quality of life; for the historical and geographical diversity of regional cultures in Britain and Ireland, notably focusing upon religion and regional fiction; for the enduring administrative and cultural features of localism well into British industrialization; and concerning the changing nature of ‘community’, migration, memorialisation, personal isolation and lone-living over the past three centuries (i.e. the situation of the individual in modern society). It is characterised methodologically by high levels of quantification coupled with extensive cultural and qualitative evidence.

He is co-founder and co-editor (from 1990: 62 issues) of the Cambridge University Press journal Rural History: Economy, Society and Culture.



Spirits of Community: English Senses of Belonging and Loss, 1750–2000 (Bloomsbury, 2016), 341 pp.

Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700–1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 541 pp.

(Co-editor) Women, Work and Wages in England, 1600–1850 (Boydell & Brewer, 2004), 239 pp.

The Bibliography of Regional Fiction in Britain and Ireland, 1800–2000 (Ashgate, 2002), 213 pp.

Rival Jerusalems: the Geography of Victorian Religion (with Paul S. Ell), (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 499 pp.

(Editor), The Regional Novel in Britain and Ireland, 1800–1990 (Cambridge University Press, 1998), 300 pp.

Edition of Alexander SomervilleLetters from Ireland During the Famine of 1847 (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1994). 219 pp.  Translated into German as Irlands Grosser Hunger: Briefe und Reportagen aus Irland Während der Hungersnot 1847 (Unvast-Verlag, Munster, 1996).

Church and Chapel in the North Midlands: Religious Observance in the Nineteenth Century (Leicester University Press, 1991), 77 pp.

Fame and Feminism in Twentieth-century Britain (Geirin-Shobo, Tokyo, 1989), 82 pp. (Japanese-English text, with H. Tomida and E. Parker).

Edition of Alexander Somerville, The Whistler at the Plough: Containing Travels, Statistics and Descriptions of Scenery and Agricultural Customs in Most Parts of England (London, 1989), 438 pp.

Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660–1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1985), 464 pp. (Winner of the Royal Historical Society's Whitfield Prize; a New Society book of the year).

Main articles and book chapters:

‘Ronald Blythe: ‘Just a voice for his time’’, forthcoming Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture (2021).

‘Developing a programme theory for loneliness interventions’, forthcoming Age and Ageing (with S. Conroy).

‘Angels in English and Welsh churchyard and cemetery memorials, 1660-2020’, forthcoming (with R. Jones).

‘Churchyard Memorials, ‘Dispensing with God Gradually’: Rustication, Decline of the Gothic and the Emergence of Art Deco in the British Isles’, Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 29:1 (2018), pp. 45-80 (with R. Jones).

‘The role of magistrates and the 1834 transition from the old to the new poor law’, Taflen Newyddion Ynadon Sir Drefaldwyn (Autumn, 2018).

‘The rise of living alone and loneliness in history’, Social History, 42:1 (2017).

‘Modern loneliness in historical perspective’, in Ami Rokach (ed.), The Correlates of Loneliness (Bentham Science, 2016), pp. 3-33.

‘Agendas for the historical study of loneliness and lone living’, The Open Psychology Journal, 2015, 8, (Suppl. 2-M2) pp. 61-70.

‘Re-politicising local history’, The International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, 9 (2013), (with R. Jones).

‘In or out of their place: the migrant poor in English art, 1740-1900’, Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 24:1 (2013), pp. 73-100.

‘Churchyard closures, rural cemeteries and the village community in Leicestershire and Rutland, 1800-2010’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 63: 4 (2012), pp. 721-757.

‘Belonging and community: understandings of `home' and `friends' among the English poor, 1750-1850’, Economic History Review, 65: 1 (2012), pp. 1-25.

‘Tolpuddle, Dorset’, in D. Musgrove (ed.), 100 Places that made Britain (London, 2011), pp. 300-3.

‘‘Go with the stream’: H.E. Bates and social change in Northamptonshire and Kent’, ALSo: Yearbook of the Alliance of Literary Societies, 3 (2010).

‘A drop of water from a stagnant pool? Inter-war detective fiction and the rural community’, Social History, 35:1 (2010), pp. 21-50.

‘Parish pond to Lake Nyasa: parish magazines and senses of community’, Family and Community History, 13:1 May 2010), pp. 46-71.

`Will the real farm labourer please stand up?’, The Land, 7 (Summer, 2009), pp. 2-5.

`Bell, Adrian Hanbury (1901-1980)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

`Acland, John (1699-1796)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

`Tate, William Edward (1902-68)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

`The culture of local xenophobia’, Social History, 28 (2003), pp. 1-30.

`Gravestones, belonging and local attachment in England, 1700-2000', Past and Present, 179 (2003), 97-134.

`English rural societies and geographical marital endogamy, 1700-1837’, Economic History Review, LV, 2 (2002), pp. 261-297.

`Talking to Friends: Keith Snell', interview in Friends of the Department of English Local History Newsletter, no. 14 (October, 2001), pp. 27-33.

`An appreciation of Adrian Bell's Corduroy, 70 years on', The Adrian Bell Society Journal, 6, (Oct. 2000), pp. 16-20.

`The Sunday-School Movement in England and Wales: child labour, denominational control and working-class culture', Past and Present, 164 (1999), pp. 122-168.

`Agricultural seasonal unemployment, the standard of living, and women's work, 1690‑1860', in Pamela Sharpe (ed.), Women's Work: the English Experience, 1650-1914 (London, 1998), pp. 73-121.

`Famine letters and eye-witness accounts', in G.R. Barterian and D. Evans (eds), Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism (Detroit, 1998), pp. 245-254.

`The regional novel: themes for interdisciplinary research', in my (ed.), The Regional Novel in Britain and Ireland, 1800‑1990 (Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1-53.

`Japanese oral history and women's historiography', Oral History: the Journal of the Oral History Society, 24 (1996), (with H. Tomida), pp. 88-95.

`The apprenticeship system in British history: the fragmentation of a cultural institution', History of Education, 25 (1996), pp. 303-321.

`From the Compton Census of 1676 to the 1851 Census of Religious Worship: religious continuity or discontinuity?', Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 8 (1996), pp. 55-89 (with A. Crockett).

`Alexander Somerville, Famine letters’, in Old Limerick Journal, 32 (1995), pp. 112-135.

‘Japanese women and oral history: European comparison and Japanese development', in G. Daniels and H. Todd (eds), Japanese Information Resources (Sheffield, 1994), 31 pp. (with H. Tomida).

`Women and rural history', in Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 5 (1994), pp. 123-127 (with L. Bellamy and T. Williamson).

`Rural history and popular culture', in Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 4:1 (1993), pp. 1‑4, with L. Bellamy and T. Williamson. (Introduction to a special issue on `Rural History and Popular Culture').

`Deferential bitterness: the social outlook of the rural proletariat in eighteenth‑ and nineteenth‑century England and Wales', in Michael Bush (ed.), Social Orders and Social Classes in Europe since 1500: Studies in Social Stratification (London, 1992), pp. 158‑184.

`Settlement, poor law and the rural historian: new approaches and opportunities', Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 3 (1992), pp. 145‑172.

`Pauper settlement and the right to poor relief in England and Wales', Continuity and Change, 6:3 (1991), pp. 375‑415.

`Leicester in the 1840s', in B. Abbott, Follow the Man from Cooks (Leicester, 1991).

`Agrarian histories and our rural past', Journal of Historical Geography (1991), 195‑203.

`Folklore and rural history', Folklore Society News (January, 1990).

`Defining the rural', Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 2 (1990), (with T. Williamson and L. Bellamy).

`Rural history: towards a new disciplinary incorporation', Scottish Economic and Social History, 10 (1990), pp. 127‑8.

`Rural History: the prospect before us', in Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 1 (1990). (With L. Bellamy and T. Williamson).

`Rural history and folklore studies: towards new forms of association', Folklore, 100 (1989), pp. 218‑220.

`English historical continuity and the culture of capitalism', History Workshop Journal, 27 (1989), pp. 154‑164.

`Oral history and the academic historian', Common Voice, 1 (1988).

`Lone‑parent families and the Welfare State: past and present', Continuity and Change, 2 (1987), pp. 387‑422 (with Jane Millar). (This article was the subject of a feature in the Guardian).

`The standard of living and agrarian social change in northern England, c. 1660‑1870', ESRC Published Grant Report (1986). This research is also reported on in ESRC, Industry, the Economy and the Environment Research Development Group Inheritance Paper (August, 1988), pp. 20‑22; and in Research Supported by the ESRC (1986).

`Parish registration and the study of labour mobility', Local Population Studies, 33 (1984), pp. 29‑43.

`Proto‑industrialisation? Cottage industry, social change and the Industrial Revolution', Historical Journal, 27 (1984), pp. 473‑492 (with R. Houston).

`Agricultural seasonal unemployment, the standard of living and women's work in the south and east, 1690‑1860', Economic History Review, 34:3 (1981), pp. 407‑437.

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