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Dr Oliver Dunn

Dr Oliver Dunn

Research Associate with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (CAMPOP) and the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).

Cambridge Digital Humanities Research Fellow.

Oliver Dunn is available for consultancy.

Faculty of History
West Road
Cambridge UK

Cambridge CB3 9EF
Office Phone: 01223335314


After finishing my BA at Bristol University in 2006 I worked as a Research Assistant for Leigh Shaw-Taylor (CAMPOP) on the Occupational Structure of Britain project directed by Prof. Tony Wrigley. We collected occupation observations from local parish records across England and Wales. This work led onto my M.Phil studies at Cambridge in 2009. This led onto full grant funding to study at the European University Institute, Florence where I obtained my doctorate in January 2015. My project investigated 16th-century English customs taxation and the new Tudor culture of political corruption. During this time, I was incredibly lucky to be supervised by Regina Graffe (EUI), Luca Mola (EUI), Jorge Flores (EUI), and Michael Braddick (Sheffield). 

Then in 2016, I returned to CAMPOP as Research Associate to work again under Leigh on the Occupational Structure project, this time within its transport history component. I now use more data-led approaches to further the aims of the group, and particular shipping speeds, routes, ports, and lighthouses along the Britain's coasts 1680-1911. 

Since 2018, my interests have been drawn into the digital humanities. I am Methods Fellow with Cambridge Digital Humanities and a Research Associate at CRASSH. I teach digital methods and conduct research into automated extraction of "big data" from historical manuscript tables going back to the middle ages.  

I am also co-founder of exPLOT, the interdisciplinary network for any Cambridge-based researcher who works on historical topics using geo-spatial data.

I live in Cambridge with my wife and two young daughters.

Research Interests

British ports, routes, shipping, and trade, 1500-1914.

Development of advanced methods for the digitization and transcription of historical sources of data.

Medieval and sixteenth century trade and regulation in England and Europe.

Customs and the British 'fiscal military state'.

Practices and concepts of historical corruption. 

Research Supervision

I can supervise on maritime history topics and the digital humanities.


  • I am Methods Fellow with the Cambridge Digital Humanities Learning Program. For this I run the following workshops:
    1. Introduction to Archival Photography
    2. Sources to Data
    3. Introduction to OCR
    4. Digital Mapping for Historians
    • I have given general history 'outline lectures' on British Economic and Social History and special series of four lectures: Agricultural and Agrarian change.

    Other Professional Activities

    Current research I am involved with here at Cambridge:

    • Consultancy for the UK National Infrastructure Commission (collection and analysis of historical transport data).
    • Transport, policy, and the British industrial revolution, 1680-1911. Funding from Keynes Fund Cambridge (£90,000).
    • ‘THOTH’ (Transcribing historical objects of tabulated handwriting): I have trialed new methods of digitizing sources of historical data using advanced computing for handwritten text recognition, automated table layout recognition, and high-definition photography. 
    • Consultant for Aviva plc working on the digitization of their insurance archive.
    • Early population estimates for England (c. 1650). Digitization of hearth tax and religious censuses using OCR to estimate town-level population size in Leicestershire and Hampshire. This was a pilot funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant (£50,000). This pilot has now become the basis for an ESRC application.
    • Fuel prices in Cambridgeshire 1560-1800. (£4000 from Isaac Newton trust.)
    • British industrial production and energy consumption by industry in 1954 and 1963. Funded by the grant ‘Who did the dirty work? Energy embodied in European and global trade, 1800-1970’, from the Swedish Research Council.
    • Transport, Urbanization and Economic Development in England’, funded by a Leverhulme grant and the US National Science Foundation. I led research into British coasting trades and transport. I was a beneficiary of an Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000).
    • Statistical analysis for The History of Energy and the Environment. Joint Center for History and Economics.

    Research Networks

    • ExPLOT (; I am the co-convenor of the ExPLOT network, which is an interdisciplinary group of scholars who are exploring past landscapes using a range of digital and computational tools to research the geographies and histories of times past. In Cambridge, innovative geospatial work is being carried out in geography, history, archeology, anthropology, architecture and urban studies. ExPLOT is a forum to exchange and present results and methodologies across all these disciplines. If you are interested in these topics you can attend our events by joining our mailing list.


    • I am one of the founders of THOTH, and I work as a consultant for data extraction/transformation on several research projects ( THOTH allows researchers and institutions holding large collections of handwritten records to transform these into large structured data sets.


    • Economic, Social History
    • European History
    • Early Modern History
    • Digital Humanities
    • British social history c.1600-1850

    Collaborators outside this directory

    Key Publications

    Publications (including those under review)

    • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J., O. Dunn, Database of historic ports and coastal sailing routes in England and Wales, 2019 (Data in Brief).
    • Dunn, Oliver. (2020). A Sea of Troubles? Journey Times and Coastal Shipping Routes in Seventeenth-Century England and Wales. The Journal of Transport History. 
    • Bogart, D., O. Dunn, E. Alvarez and L.M.S. Shaw-Taylor‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail’, 2019 (forthcoming: Economic History Review).
    • Dunn, O., ‘Corrupting Practices and the New Customs of England (c.1558-70)’, online working papers Datini-Ester advanced seminar, 1/2015.

    Other Publications

    Published data-sets

    • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J and Dunn, Oliver and Bogart, Dan and Satchell, Max and Shaw-Taylor, Leigh (2019). Historical ports and sailing shipping routes in England and Wales 1540-1914. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853711

    Unpublished data-sets

    • Newcastle Host Accounts, full years 1590-1600. 20,000 obs. Variable given are ship names, destination ports, cargo, tolls paid, hosts and merchant names. Handwritten text recognition software was used to collect this data. (*Created with THOTH).
    • Coastal shipping using port books spanning the period 1649-1689. 4500 obs. Variables given are ship names, ports, and voyage dates. (*THOTH).
    • UK export data 1860-1914.  Approx. 10,000+ observations. Destination country. Product type. Quantity.
    • UK census of production 1954/1964. Total UK manufactures production with energy input and value of goods.
    • Hearth tax data set for Hampshire and Leicestershire. Complete population counts based on parochial Hearth Tax Assessments circa 1670.

    Working Papers (available at the following address):

    • Romola Davenport, Max Satchell, Oliver Dunn, Gill Newton and Leigh Shaw-Taylor, ‘New methodologies for the estimation of urbanisation for England c.1670 and c.1761’.
    • Alvarez, E., Bogart, D., Shaw-Taylor, L., Dunn, O., and Satchell, A.E.M., ‘Growth before steam: A GIS approach to estimating multi-modal transport costs and productivity growth in England, 1680-1830.’
    • Bogart, D., Dunn, O., Alvarez, E., and Shaw-Taylor, L., ‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail.’
    • Bogart, D., Alvarez, E., Dunn, O., Satchell, A.E.M., Shaw Taylor, L. ‘Market access and urban growth in England and Wales during the pre-steam era.’