Professor Simon Szreter

Professor of History and Public Policy
Fellow of St John's College

Since 2010 I have been the History Faculty’s Professor of History and Public Policy and I am a Fellow of St John's College, an Honorary Research Associate of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure and a member of the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP).

After completing my PhD with The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure in the 1980s and then working for a year as Research Assistant to Michael Young (Lord Young of Dartington), I was appointed to a then-new History Faculty post in modern demographic history. In 2002 I co-founded History&Policy, based at the History Faculty until January 2021 when it relocated to the Institute of Historical Research, where I continue to be its principal Editor.

In 2009 I was the first non-American to be awarded the American Public Health Association's Viseltear Prize for a distinguished contribution to the history of public health. From 2009-15 I was one of the Principal Investigators on the multi-disciplinary Wellcome Trust-funded Strategic Award,  "Generation to Reproduction", in collaboration with colleagues in History and Philosophy of Science, Classics and Physiology research groups and since 2018 I am a member of the University's Reproduction Strategic Research Initiative.

My research and supervision of research teams and doctoral students is centred on the social, economic, cultural and political history of population, public health and reproduction - including the history of empirical social science and the relationship between history and contemporary public policy issues. I have employed both qualitative and quantitative sources to investigate the history of fertility and reproduction, mortality, public health and STIs, and their relationships with changing ideologies, politics, institutions and policy in British history c.1500-2020 and internationally.

My historical research and public policy interests focus on the interdisciplinary nature and implications of historical studies on the sources of population and economic change and how they can help to provide insights which can impact the lives of the world's poorest 3 billion people today. The approach draws on the essential nature of taking an historicist perspective and of contributing to and engaging with critical historical research for a fully-informed understanding of today's urgent problems of population, inequality and environmental sustainability and for the correct framing of the questions and of the policies required. This was exemplified in the co-authored essay, Incentivising an ethical economics: A radical plan to force a step change in the quality and quantity of the UK's economic growth, which jointly won the 2019 IPPR Economics Prize, and in the new book published by C.U.P. in September 2021, After the Virus, Lessons from the Past for a Better Future, co-authored with the economist, Hilary Cooper.

Modern Social, Family, Gender and Demographic History and Policy. Completed PhD students have worked on: Male Legislators and Women's Rights in Britain 1866-86; the Family and Health Policy in Bulgaria, 1918-44; The role of Residents’ and Housing Associations in the Portuguese Revolution 1974-5; The reception of Yoga and Ayurveda in Twentieth-century Britain; A comparative local study of parent-child relations in England c.1850-1910; British government dietary policy and the influence of pressure groups c.1970-90; Disinfection in Victorian cities c.1850-1914; Borders and identity registration systems in South Africa and the Indian Ocean c.1890-1920; ‘The Development and dissemination of venereological knowledge in England, 1886-1913'; and ‘Popular attitudes to taxation in Britain, c1945-1992'.

Undergraduate Teaching

Faculty Lecturer and College supervisor for Part I courses in modern British economic and social history 1700-1880 and 1880-2015.

Graduate Teaching

M.Phil in Economic and Social History: ‘Core Concepts in Economic and Social Theory and History’; and Course Tutor on advanced paper, ‘Economic growth, health and politics since 1750’.

Supervising of PhDs in modern social, demogrpahic and economic history 


Tags & Themes

St John's College
Cambridge CB2 1TP

Principal Publications (authored, co-authored and edited books):

Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain, 1860-1940 (1996).

Changing Family Size in England and Wales: Place, Class and Demography, 1891–1911 (2001).

The Problems and Methods of Economic History (by Witold Kula) (2001)

Categories and Contexts. Anthropological and Historical Studies in Critical Demography (2004).

Health and Wealth: Studies in History and Policy (2005).

Sex Before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963 (2010).

History, Historians and Development Policy. A Necessary Dialogue (2011).

Registration and Recognition. Documenting the Person in World History (2012).

The Big Society Debate. A New Agenda for Social Welfare? (2012).

The Hidden Affliction: Sexually transmitted Infections and Infertility in History (2019).

After the Virus, Lessons from the Past for a Better Future (2021).