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Dr Jennifer Aston

Associate Professor

Department: Humanities

I am an Associate Professor in History and an Associate Member of the Centre for Workforce Futures at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. 

I joined Northumbria University in 2017, having previously held the EHS Eileen Power Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research and research positions at the universities of Oxford and Hull. My research interests include gender and small business ownership, bankruptcy, and the law. I am the author of Female Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century England: Engagement in the Urban Economy (2016), co-editor of Women and the Land 1500-1900 (2019) and have several articles on women's interaction with legal and financial institutions. Together with Dr Catherine Bishop (Macquarie University, Sydney), I co-edited Female Entrepreneurs in the Long Nineteenth Century: A Global Perspective (2020) and co-founded ReWOMEN (Researching Women of Management and Enterprise Network).

I am currently working on three research projects:

  • A book, co-authored with the late Prof. Olive Anderson, ‘For Wives Alone’: Deserted Wives and Economic Divorce in Nineteenth Century England and Wales, which is the first examination of the understudied and largely misunderstood Section 21 of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and reveals the existence tens of thousands of married women, who used magistrates courts to reclaim their rights of testation, inheritance, property ownership, and (dependent on local franchise qualifications) the ability to vote. It will be published by Hart Publishing in December 2024.
  • An ESRC New Investigator Award funded project 'A New Methodological Approach to the History of Divorce, 1857-1923'. This project employs a new, multidisciplinary methodology that combines mixed-method historical approaches with feminist legal theory and digital humanities to address 4 key research strands (a) History of divorce and domestic abuse; (b) Economic cost of divorce; (c) Child custody and mediation; and (d) Development of the family law profession. As part of this project I (together with Dr. Frances Hamilton, Reading Law School), hosted a one-day conference funded by the Journal of Legal History in May 2021, where we explored the changing legal and cultural definitions of marriage in any geographical location or jurisdiction across the period c.1450 – present day, utilizing a range of historical, literary, artistic, and cultural perspectives. A special issue of the Journal of Legal History featuring papers from this conference was published in June 2022 and my article, ‘Petitions to the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes: A New Methodological Approach to the History of Divorce, 1857–1923’ was Highly Commended by the judges of the British Records Association’s Harley Prize 2022.
  • Bankruptcy in Edwardian Britain, 1901-1914. This project [funded by an Economic History Society Carnevali Small Research Grant] uses previously unexamined Board of Trade Official Receiver’s Reports to examine business and personal failure in an era often seen as period of economic prosperity, social decadence, and entrepreneurial opportunity. I will use this new material as a starting point to write the first economic, social, legal, and cultural history of bankruptcy in Edwardian Britain.

In 2023/24, I am convening modules including the Foundation Year ‘Humanities Skills Portfolio’ and ‘The British Women’s Suffrage Movement in History and Memory’ (final year BA). Together with Dr Helen Rutherford (Northumbria Law School), I am also leading the ‘Law Pathway’ in the Your Graduate Future module (second year BA), with external partners The National Archives and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. I was nominated for a Student Led Teaching Award in 2022, and in 2023 received the Student Led Teaching Award for 'Outstanding Staff Member for Arts, Design and Social Science'. 

Current PhD supervision includes:

Abby Hammond, The Women in the Ledger Stones: New Histories at Newcastle Cathedral (funded by an AHRC NBCDTP CDA award)

Kerri Armstrong, Crime, Conviction and Rehabilitation: Women and the Criminal Justice System in the Late Nineteenth Century England, (funded by a Northumbria Research Development Fund award)

I welcome enquiries about postgraduate study in economic, social, gender and legal history in nineteenth century Britain and the wider world.


Jennifer Aston

Campus Address

Northumbria University
City Campus
Newcastle upon Tyne

  • Please visit the Pure Research Information Portal for further information
  • Petitions to the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes: A New Methodological Approach to the History of Divorce, 1857-1923, Aston, J. 2022, In: Journal of Legal History
  • On the Development of Marital Law, Aston, J., Hamilton, F. 2022, In: Journal of Legal History
  • Bringing Businesswomen to a Count: A Transnational Methodological Experiment Researching Nineteenth-Century Businesswomen, Bishop, C., Aston, J., van Lieshout, C. 3 Apr 2021, In: Australian Historical Studies
  • Female Entrepreneurs in the Long Nineteenth Century: A Global Perspective, Aston, J., Bishop, C. 2020
  • Risk, success, and failure: female entrepreneurship in late Victorian and Edwardian England, Aston, J., Di Martino, P. 1 Aug 2017, In: Economic History Review

  • June Watson Female Agency, Influence, and Informal Science Networks, within the Global World of Sir Joseph Banks 1780-1820 Start Date: 02/11/2023
  • Oliver Gunning Migration, Mobility and Glass-Making in Northern Britain, 1680-1800 Start Date: 08/11/2023
  • Abby Hammond 'Women in the Ledger Stones: New Histories at Newcastle Cathedral' Start Date: 01/10/2023
  • Kerri Armstrong Crime, Conviction and Rehabilitation: Women and the Criminal Justice System in the Late Nineteenth Century England Start Date: 01/10/2023

  • History PhD October 12 2012
  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy 2019

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