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Elly Robson

Research Interests

I am a PhD candidate and Wolfson Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Cambridge. My thesis is titled ‘Improvement, custom, and conflict in seventeenth-century fenland drainage’ and is supervised by Dr Clare Jackson.

My thesis examines one of the first state-led projects of ‘improvement’ and enclosure: the drainage of the Hatfield Level, encompassing 60,000 acres of fen common lands in Lincolnshire, Nottingham, and Yorkshire, from 1626 onward. This provoked sustained intergenerational resistance - both litigious and riotous - from fen commoners defending their immemorial customary land rights, which spanned and became entangled with the tumultuous central political events of the seventeenth-century.

My research explores contested political ideas of land rights, value, commonwealth, legitimacy, and justice engendered by seventeenth-century English enclosure disputes. It brings printed ideals into dialogue with practices of ‘improvement’ and customary resistance within the early modern landscape, discoverable in legal and state archives. It thereby bridges disciplinary boundaries to examine the intellectual, spatial, and epistemological processes by which social relations mapped across the landscape were transformed during the making of private property. 


I supervise Part II, Paper 1: Historical Argument and Practice, including topics on Social History and Intellectual History. 


  • Early Modern History

Key Publications

Elly Robson, 'Editorial: riot, exclusion, "counter-revolutionary subordination" and academic dissent', Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 10 (October 2011), 371-373.

Elly Robson, 'Improvement and epistemologies of landscape in seventeenth-century English forest enclosure', The Historical Journal (October 2016), 1-36.