Professor Edward Higgs

Emeritus Professor
Department of History
Professor Edward Higgs



I studied modern history at the University of Oxford, completing my doctoral research there in 1978. This was on the history of nineteenth-century domestic service. I was an archivist at the Public Record Office, the national archives in London, from 1978 to 1993. Here I was latterly responsible for policy relating to the archiving of electronic records. I was a senior research fellow at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine of the University of Oxford, 1993-1996, and a lecturer at the University of Exeter from 1996 to 2000. My early published work was on Victorian domestic service, although I have written widely on the history of censuses and surveys, civil registration, womens work, the impact of the digital revolution on archives, the information state, and the history of identification. I am mainly interested in British History but with international comparisons, and try to cover broad themes in early modern, modern and contemporary history. Particular interests include statistical representations of society; social construction of knowledge; state surveillance of the citizen; the impact of communications on state and society; the history of information; and the history of identification. One of my current research interests is the history of identification in Britain over the last 500 years. This is a contribution to the work of an international network of historians active in this field which I have established in conjunction with Professor Jane Caplan of the University of Oxford. Known as IdentiNet, this network is being funded by the Leverhulme Trust. I am also the Co-researcher for theIntegrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Project, which will create an integrated dataset of the censuses of Great Britain for the period 1851 to 1911. For this work Professors Kevin Schürer and I have received one of the largest personal grants ever awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The I-CeM Project will create one of the most important historical datasets in the world, and put British social scientific research, and the University of Essex, at the forefront of international efforts in the field. Previous supervision topics include: The determinants of the infant mortality decline in England during the late 19th and 20th century. Charitable associations in Colchester 1800-1870. Historical conceptions of occupations through use of classification schemes, 1662-1921. Building an imperial discourse: the press, imperialists and power in Britain, France and Russia from 1857 to 1914.


  • BA (Hons) Oxford

  • DPhil Oxford

Research and professional activities

Research interests

mainly British history but with international comparisons

quantitative aspects of medical and demographic history

the history of information/communications

the history of surveillance and identification

the development of the modern British state

Current research

The history of state, commercial and private forms of identification in Britain over the last 500 years.

Faces and artificial intelligence

How computers are being used to identify individuals, their characters and emotions via image capture of their faces.

Teaching and supervision

Previous supervision

Alice Louisa Claire Violett
Alice Louisa Claire Violett
Thesis title: The Public Perceptions and Personal Experiences of Only Children Growing Up in Britain, C.1850-1950
Degree subject: History
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 18/9/2018
Amanda Wilkinson
Amanda Wilkinson
Thesis title: Women and Occupations in the Censuses of England and Wales: 1851-1901
Degree subject: History
Degree type: Doctor of Philosophy
Awarded date: 23/11/2012


Journal articles (44)

Higgs, EJ., (2018). UK birth registration and its present discontents. Reproductive Biomedicine and Society Online. 5, 35-37

Higgs, E. and Wilkinson, A., (2016). Women, Occupations and Work in the Victorian Censuses Revisited. History Workshop Journal. 81 (1), 17-38

Higgs, E., (2015). Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times. By Lucy Lethbridge. (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2013. Pp. xi, 385. $27.95.). The Historian. 77 (3), 614-615

Higgs, E., (2014). Britain's digital reformation. History Today. 64 (4)

Higgs, E., (2012). E. A. Wrigley, The early English censuses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 322. 5 figs. 46 tabs. ISBN 9780197264799 Hbk. £55/$99). The Economic History Review. 65 (4), 1581-1582

HIGGS, E., (2011). States and statistics in the nineteenth century: Europe by numbers - By Nico Randeraad, translated from the Dutch by Debra Molnar. The Economic History Review. 64 (4), 1410-1411

Higgs, E., (2011). Identifying criminals: Justice seen to be done. History Today. 61 (10)

Higgs, E., (2010). Fingerprints and Citizenship: the British State and the Identification of Pensioners in the Interwar Period. History Workshop Journal. 69 (1), 52-67

HIGGS, E., (2010). William Petty and the ambitions of political arithmetic - By Ted McCormick. The Economic History Review. 63 (4), 1169-1170

Higgs, EJ., (2010). Change and continuity in the techniques and technologies of identification over the second Christian millennium. Identity in the Information Society. 62 (4), 345-354

HIGGS, E., (2009). Possessing the World: Taking the Measurements of Colonialisation from the 18th to the 20th Century- By Bouda Etemad. History. 94 (313), 111-112

Higgs, E., (2009). Amy L Fairchild, Ronald Bayer and James Colgrove, Searching eyes: privacy, the state, and disease surveillance in America, Berkeley, California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public, no. 18, Los Angeles, University of California Press; New York, Milbank Memorial Fund, 2007, pp. xxiv, 342, £11.95 (paperback 978-0-520-25325-4).. Medical History. 53 (2), 301-302

higgs, E., (2008). The early information society: information management in Britain before the computer – By Alistair Black, Dave Muddiman, and Helen Plant. The Economic History Review. 61 (2), 513-514

Higgs, E., (2007). Disciplining statistics. Demography and vital statistics in France and England, 1830-1885. POPULATION STUDIES-A JOURNAL OF DEMOGRAPHY. 61 (3), 342-343

Higgs, E., (2006). Poverty, progress and population.. HISTORY. 91 (301), 103-104

Higgs, E., (2005). Information technology policy: an international history. ECONOMIC HISTORY REVIEW. 58 (3), 635-636

Higgs, E., (2004). Social investigation and rural England, 1870-1914. HISTORY. 89 (293), 146-146

Higgs, E., (2004). Vital accounts: Quantifying health and populations in eighteenth-century England and France. HISTORY. 89 (293), 128-128

Higgs, E., (2004). Identity crisis. History Today. 54 (12), 16-

Higgs, E., (2003). Changing family size in England and Wales: Place, class and demography, 1891-1911.. JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC HISTORY. 63 (2), 596-597

Higgs, E., (2003). Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India. The English Historical Review. 118 (479), 1409-1410

Higgs, E., (2002). Victorian Spies. History Workshop Journal. 53 (1), 232-235

Higgs, E., (2002). The demography of Victorian England and Wales. HISTORY. 87 (285), 159-159

Higgs, E., (2002). The Annual Report of the Registrar General, 1839–1920: A Textual History. Clio medica (Amsterdam, Netherlands). 67, 55-76

Higgs, E., (2001). The Rise of the Information State: the Development of Central State Surveillance of the Citizen in England, 1500-2000. Journal of Historical Sociology. 14 (2), 175-197

Higgs, E., (2000). Medical statistics, patronage and the state: The development of the MRC Statistical Unit, 1911–1948. Medical History. 44 (3), 323-340

HIGGS, E. and MELLING, J., (1997). Chasing the Ambulance. The Emerging Crisis in the Preservation of Modern Health Records. Social History of Medicine. 10 (1), 127-136

HIGGS, E., (1996). The Statistical Big Bang of 1911: Ideology, Technological Innovation and theProduction of Medical Statistics. Social History of Medicine. 9 (3), 409-426

Higgs, E., (1996). A cuckoo in the nest? The origins of civil registration and state medical statistics in England and Wales. Continuity and Change. 11 (1), 115-134

Higgs, E., (1996). A clearer sense of the census: Victorian censuses and historical research. A clearer sense of the census: Victorian censuses and historical research

Higgs, E., (1996). A clearer sense of the census: Victorian censuses and historical research. A clearer sense of the census: Victorian censuses and historical research

HIGGS, E., (1995). Occupational censuses and the agricultural workforce in Victorian England and Wales. The Economic History Review. 48 (4), 700-716

Higgs, EJ., (1995). Occupational censuses and the agricultural workforce in Victorian England and Wales. Economic History Review. XLVIII (4)

HIGGS, E., (1991). Disease, Febrile Poisons, and Statistics: The Census as a Medical Survey, 1841–1911. Social History of Medicine. 4 (3), 465-478

Higgs, E., (1990). Household and work in the nineteenth‐century censuses of England and Wales. Journal of the Society of Archivists. 11 (3), 73-77

Gutzke, DW., (1990). Edward Higgs. Making Sense of the Census: The Manuscript Returns for England and Wales, 1801-1901. (Public Record Office Handbooks, No. 23.) London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office; distributed by Unipub, Lanham, Md. 1989. Pp. x, 146. $35.00.. Albion. 22 (4), 698-699

Higgs, E., (1987). Women, Occupations and Work in the Nineteenth Century Censuses. History Workshop Journal. 23 (1), 59-80

Higgs, EJ., (1986). Women, occupations and work in the nineteenth-century censuses. History Workshop Journal. 23 (Spring)

Higgs, E., (1985). ‘Particular instance papers’: The historical and archival dimensions. Social History. 10 (1), 89-94

Higgs, EJ., (1985). Counting heads and jobs: science as an occupation in the Victorian census. History of Science. 23 (4), 335-349

Higgs, EJ., (1984). Research into the History of Alcohol Use and Control in England and Wales: The Available Sources in the Public Record Office. Addiction. 79 (1), 41-47

Higgs, E., (1983). Domestic servants and households in Victorian England. Social History. 8 (2), 201-210

Higgs, E., (1983). Leisure and the State: The History of Popular Culture as Reflected in the Public Records. History Workshop Journal. 15 (1), 141-150

Higgs, EJ., (1979). Per la storia dei servi domestici: un' analisi quantitativa. Quaderni Storici. 40

Books (6)

Higgs, EJ., (2016). Domestic Servants and Households in Rochdale 1851-1871. Routledge. 1-138-63884-6. 978-1-138-63884-6

Higgs, EJ., (2011). Identifying the English A History of Personal Identification 1500 to the Present. Continuum. 9781441182036

Higgs, E., (2005). Making Sense of the Census Revisited Census Records for England and Wales 1801-1901 : a Handbook for Historical Researchers. 1905165005. 9781905165001

Higgs, E., (2004). Life, Death and Statistics Civil Registration, Censuses and the Work of the General Register Office, 1836-1952. University of Hertfordshire Press. 0954162102. 9780954162108

Higgs, E., (2003). The Information State in England The Central Collection of Information on Citizens Since 1500. Palgrave Macmillan. 1137098511. 9781137098511

Higgs, E., (1998). History and Electronic Artefacts. Oxford University Press. 0198236336. 9780198236337

Book chapters (12)

Higgs, EJ., (2017). Archives in a peaceable land: another case of English exceptionalism?. In: Identity and Loss of Historical Memory: the Destruction of Archives. Editors: Filippov, I. and Sabate, F., . Peter Lang. 339- 351. 978-3-0343-2506-6

(2014). Histories of State Surveillance in Europe and Beyond. In: Histories of State Surveillance in Europe and Beyond. Routledge. 17- 31. 9780415829465

Higgs, EJ., (2014). British Censuses 1801-2011: Traditional and Digital Preservation and Access. In: Archive Und Statistik: Zur Archivierung von Unterlagen der Volksz�hlung 1950 und Elektronischer Statistiken. Editors: Niederhut, J. and Zuber, U., . Klartext Verlag. 31- 42. 978-3-8375-1030-0

Higgs, EJ., (2013). Consuming Identity and Consuming the State. In: Identification and Registration Practices in Transnational Perspective: People, Papers and Practices. Editors: About, I., Brown, J. and Lonergan, G., . Palgrave Macmillan. 164- 184. 9780230354388

Higgs, EJ. and Caplan, J., (2013). The Future of Identification's Past: Reflections on the Development of Historical Identification Studies. In: Identification and Registration Practices in Transnational Perspective: People, Papers and Practices. Editors: About, I., Brown, J. and Lonergan, G., . Palgrave Macmillan. 302- 308. 9780230354388

(2012). Statistics and the Public Sphere. In: Statistics and the Public Sphere: Numbers and the People in Modern Britain, c. 1800-2000. Routledge. 67- 83. 9780203818671

Higgs, EJ., (2011). Consumers, citizens, and deviants: differing forms of personal identification in England since the Victorian period. In: The voice of the citizen consumer: a history of market research, consumer movements and the political public sphere. Editors: Br�ckweh, K., . Oxford University Press. 179- 198. 0-19-960402-9. 978-0-19-960402-9

Higgs, EJ., (2011). Personal dentification as information flows in England, 1500-2000. In: Information History in the Modern World. Editors: Weller, T., . Palgrave. 13- 30

Higgs, E., (2009). The Rise of the Information State: The Development of Central State Surveillance of the Citizen in England, 1500–2000. In: Twenty Years of theJournal of Historical Sociology. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.. 248- 271. 9781405179331

Higgs, E., (2007). From frankpledge to chip and pin. In: The History of Information Security. Elsevier. 243- 262. 9780444516084

Higgs, E., (2007). From Frankpledge to Chip and Pin. Identification and Identity in England, 1475-2005.. In: The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook. 243- 262. 9780444516084

Higgs, E., (2004). The Linguistic Construction of Social and Medical Categories in the Work of the English General Register Office, 1837–1950. In: Categories and Contexts. Oxford University PressOxford. 86- 106. 9780199270576

Conferences (4)

Higgs, E., (2008). Are state-mediated forms of identification a reaction to physical mobility? The case of England, 1500-2007

Edward Higgs, (2008). Keynote Paper: Are State-Mediated Forms of Identification a Reaction to Physical Mobility? The case of England, 1500-2007

Gattrell, V., Hindle, S. and Higgs, E., (2005). The information state in England:The central collection of information on citizens, 1500-2000, (London, Palgrave, 2004), by Edward Higgs Department of History, University of Essex, 13.10.2004

Higgs, E., (2003). The General Register Office and the tabulation of data, 1837-1939

Reports and Papers (2)

Higgs, EJ., (2017). British Academy and Royal Society, Data management and use: governance in the 21st century. A joint report by the British Academy and the Royal Society (June 2017)

Higgs, EJ., Jones, C., Schürer, K. and Wilkinson, A., (2013). The Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Guide

Dataset (1)

Higgs, EJ. and Schurer, K., (2014).Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM), UK Data Archive (SN7481).

Grants and funding


Gender and Professional Culture in Britain, 1890-1950

British Academy


An Atlas of Victorian Fertility Decline

Economic & Social Research Council


Integrated Census Microdata

Economic & Social Research Council



Colchester Campus

Academic support hours:

By appointment

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