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Professor David Stack


Areas of interest

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Thesis Eleven of Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach (1845) is both a call to action and a demand that we situate philosophical thinking about the world within history. This sums up my interests as an intellectual historian.

My research and teaching explore the ideas, concepts, and ways of thinking about the world that dominated nineteenth and early twentieth century thought, and situates these ideas, concepts, and ways of thinking within their historical context.

My work ranges across both the history of the left, especially early nineteenth century radicalism, Chartism, and the life and writings of John Stuart Mill, and the history of science, especially phrenology, Darwinism, and eugenics. In each of these areas I seek to understand how ideas and concepts developed within the context of their own time - radicalism in dialogue with contemporary conservatism, Darwinism in interaction with capitalism and imperialism - in order to understand them historically.

This is a relevant and urgent activity because ideas and concepts formed in very different historical circumstances continue to frame our thinking today. History is the present interrogating the past in order to shape the future. The first step is to understand the past.

Postgraduate supervision

Current supervision

  • Transgender identities in Britain, 1870-1940s
  •  Eugenics at the Royal Society, 1860-1950 (CDA project, supervised with Prof. Angelique Richardson, Exeter)
  • The psychosocial space in which facially disfigured First World veterans lived (Supervised with Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt, Dept. of Languages and Cultures)

Postgraduate research teaching/skills

I welcome PhD proposals in the following areas: nineteenth century radical thought and thinkers; Chartism; John Stuart Mill; Darwin and Darwinism, including the life and thought of Alfred Russel Wallace; and eugenics.

I also welcome proposals that seek to bridge the disciplinary divide between humanities and the natural sciences.



Year 1: Birth Control in modern Britain: an intellectual history

Year 2: Representations of the People: Democracy and Society in Britain, 1838-1928 (team taught with Dr Jacqui Turner)

Year 3: From Darwin to death camps? Evolution and Eugenics in European Society, 1859-1945

Year 3: Special Subject: Eugenics, 1865-the present day

Year 3: Dissertation supervision

Postgraduate MA (postgraduate taught)

Option: Nature and Nurture in Nineteenth Century Thought

Independent Study supervision

Dissertation supervision

Research centres and groups

  • Founding co-director of the Centre for Health Humanities:
  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
  • Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy
  • Steering Committee member, History UK
  • Closing the Awarding Gap Steering Committee, University of Reading

Awards and honours

British Academy Post Doctoral Fellowship (1995-1998)

Wellcome Trust, History of Medicine Award (2004)

AHRC Research Leave Award (2006)

Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning Development, School of Humanities (2008)

ESRC Mid-Career Fellowship (2010-2012)

Countway Fellowship in the History of Medicine, Harvard Medical School (2010)

AHRC Science in Culture, Exploratory Award (2012)

University of Reading Collaborative Teaching Award (2015)

Finding Innovative Solutions Award, School of Humanities (2019)

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (2020)


I am a regular contributor to the Reading History blog: History at University of Reading

Impact and Public engagement

I have worked on historical projects with a number of organisations, including: the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Royal Society.

I have also engaged in a range of media work to promote historical understanding, including: In Our Time (BBC Radio 4); the BBC History Website; Total Politics magazine; and ‘Living Political Ideas’ for the Open University. On television, I have appeared alongside Tony Robinson (The Worst Jobs in History); Lucy Worsley (Fit to Rule); and Rod Liddle (The Trouble with Atheism).

I am strongly committed to opening up higher education to those from working class and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and I am the History lead on the Reading Scholars programme, which aims to give Year 12 students a taste of life as an undergraduate, and provides practical support for participants as they begin the higher education application process.


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