Nature and Scope

Court Beauties of the Reign of Charles II from the Originals in the Royal Gallery at Windsor

Defining Gender explores the study and analysis of gender, leisure and consumer culture; one of the most vibrant areas of social, cultural and intellectual research, transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries. This exciting collection of original primary source material from British archives will enrich the teaching and research experience of those studying history, literature, sociology, education and cultural studies from a gendered perspective.

The broad range of thematically organised documents from selected libraries provides an excellent opportunity for comparative study and research. Manuscripts, printed works and illustrations combine to address the key issues from both masculine and feminine perspectives. They are indexed to provide ready accessibility for students across all five sections.



Ephemera, pamphlets, college records and exam papers, commonplace books, diaries, periodicals, letters, ledgers, account books, educational practice and pedagogy, government papers from the Home Office and Metropolitan police, illustrated writings on anatomy, midwifery, art and fashion, manuscript journals, poetry, novels, ballads, drama, receipt books, literary manuscripts, travel writing, and conduct and advice literature.

Wherever possible we have included an entire document, complete manuscript or volume of a rare publication. We have not sought to use the sources in a prescriptive fashion. Sources are multivalent and can be approached in many ways.


Thematic Areas

  • Conduct and Politeness
  • Domesticity and the Family
  • Consumption and Leisure
  • Education and Sensibility
  • The Body 



Key topics that are addressed within the thematic areas include advice, appearance, anatomy, beauty, balls, birth, children, diet, dress, education, etiquette, entertaining, domestic service, fashion, games, health, marriage, medicine, midwifery, parents, recipes, religion, sexuality, sport, speech and theatre. Browse key topics in the Popular Search section.



Included are documents by Jane Barker, Aphra Behn, Andrew Bell, Edward Carpenter, Susanna Centlivre, Nicholas Culpepper, Daniel Defoe, Maria Edgeworth, Eliza Haywood, Elizabeth Jocelyn, Margery Kempe, Joseph Lancaster, John Locke, Delarivier Manley, Gervase Markham, Harriet Martineau, Hannah More, Christine de Pisan, Richard Steele, Joseph Swetnam, Hannah Wolley, Mary Wollstonecraft and many other lesser known writers and illustrators who have contributed to the gender debate. Browse key names in the Popular Search section.



Documents in the collection have been selected by a panel of 18 academic consultant editors. Each section features thematic essays by these leading scholars that relate directly to the source material with links to documentary evidence. They introduce students to the material, suggest possible approaches, and place the documents within a broad historical, literary and cultural context. The essays in each Section provide an excellent introduction to the resource.


In addition to contextual essays the resource also includes the following secondary teaching aids:


Defining Gender is designed to provide quick and easy access to documents for both new and experienced users. If you require a full introduction or reminder on how to access documents, manipulate the images, navigate around the site, details of additional information, a thorough overview is provided via the Help tab.