Nature and Scope


Defining Gender explores the study and analysis of gender. The term “gender”, in this case, is used to refer to socially constructed characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. Whilst the term is not contemporary to the majority of the scope of the resource, it does most accurately describe the perspectives and content of the primary source material brought together. This resource includes sources that perpetuate conservative and traditional models of gender, as well as sources which discuss the idea of gender in their own terms. The examples in the collection of conduct manuals, pamphlets, diaries and commonplace books offer insight into both prescribed models of gender and lived experiences. These are vital to the study and research of gender across many fields, such as history, literature, sociology, education and cultural studies.

Much of the primary source material reflects the perspective of a White British majority. Examples of individuals from minority groups can be found within the resource but this is often in the form of narratives and accounts rather than their own voices. Every effort has been made to make these narratives as discoverable as possible through the addition of Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) to all handwritten material, please see our Searching Guide for more information on how to discover these.

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 key issues from masculine and feminine perspectives, power-structures attached to gender and the study of sex and gender. They are indexed to provide ready accessibility for students across all five themes.


 Thematic Areas

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



  • College records and exam papers
  • Commonplace books
  • Conduct and advice literature
  • Diaries
  • Educational practice and pedagogy
  • Ephemera
  • Government papers from the Home Office and Metropolitan police
  • Illustrated writings on anatomy, midwifery, art and fashion
  • Letters
  • Ledgers and account books
  • Literature, including poetry, novels, ballads and drama
  • Manuscript journals
  • Pamphlets
  • Periodicals
  • Receipt books
  • Travel writing

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. Every care and attention has been paid to preserve the historic authenticity of these documents, which range in date from the fifteenth century to the early twentieth century. Any terminology that may be deemed discriminatory or offensive by present-day principles may have been preserved for the historic accuracy and relevance to that particular document. For more information please read our Language Statement.



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 Searches 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. Authors included in this resource demonstrate, discuss and interrogate ideas of gender and their power structures. Browse key names in the Popular Searches section and read more about some of the key figures in Biographies.



Documents in the collection have been selected by a panel of 18 academic consultant editors. Thematic essays by these leading scholars 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 themselves were written between 2001 and 2014 and each include their respective date of publication. We acknowledge that continuous innovation within their fields may lead to some views becoming outdated, but the insight they provide into the material and to the resource’s themes remains an excellent introduction to the inter-disciplinary study of gender, which can lead to further research.