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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Emeritus  /  Richard Dennis

Professor Richard Dennis

Richard-Dennis.jpg26 Bedford Way

Phone: 020 7679 7563
Fax: 020 7679 7565






Richard Dennis read Geography as an undergraduate and postgraduate at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. His PhD thesis, 'Community and social interaction in a Victorian city: Huddersfield, 1850-1880', prepared the way for a book on English Industrial Cities of the Nineteenth Century: A Social Geography (Cambridge University Press, 1984). After a year as Junior Research Fellow in Geography at the University of Sheffield, he was appointed Lecturer at UCL in 1974, and promoted to Reader in 1991 and Professor in 2009. He has also spent periods as a Leverhulme Research Fellow and Research Associate at the University of Toronto (1986-87), as Visiting Lecturer in Geography at UCLA (1982), and as Visiting Professor at Macalaster College and the University of Minnesota (1991).

He was Associate Editor of Journal of Urban History from 1997 to 2007 and is on the Editorial Board of Urban History Review/Revue d'histoire urbaine. Until 2004 he was also a Series Editor of Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography (published by Cambridge University Press). From 1993 until 2010 he was convener of the London Conference for Canadian Studies. From 2008 to 2011 he was Secretary of the British Association for Canadian Studies. He is also an Associate Fellow of UCL’s Institute of the Americas. He co-convenes the Metropolitan History Seminar at the University of London Institute of Historical Research. He is currently both a member of the Editorial Committee and a trustee of the London Journal.

Click here for Publications.

My research focuses on the 'modernity' of cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am interested in the modernization of the built environment, in ‘new spaces’ in cities, and also in new ways of seeing the city. I am also keen to promote a degree of methodological eclecticism, combining a variety of quantitative and qualitative, archival and literary approaches. Thematically, my archival research has been principally concerned with the development, ownership, management, occupancy and experience of new residential forms, including middle-class apartment buildings and working-class model dwellings in London and Toronto in the period 1880-1939.

Research on Canada is directed towards the production of a book on American Apartments in Canadian Cities, which will combine analysis of quantifiable records – building permits, directories, assessment records, property deeds, probate returns – which reveal who owned and who lived in apartments, and how the market in apartment property operated, with case studies of planning controversies reported in newspaper articles, council minutes and correspondence, and also with study of the representation of apartment life in contemporary novels, guide books and advertising.

Research on London uses similar methods, but focuses as much on the construction and representation of ‘model dwellings’ as on luxury apartments. My chapters in Black and Butlin (eds) Place, Culture and Identity (2001) and Spiers (ed) Gissing and the City (2006) illustrate my methodological approach in the context of blocks of mansion flats and model dwellings which featured prominently both in architectural discourse about living in flats and in George Gissing’s novels of London life such as The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891) and The Whirlpool (1897).

Most recently, my historical housing interests have concentrated on each extreme in the social hierarchy of nineteenth-century London – in London’s first high-rise luxury flats that foreshadow more recent enthusiasm for penthouses and loft-living, and in the common lodging-houses associated with Jack the Ripper’s victims in 1880s Whitechapel.

As well as continuing to work on Gissing’s representations of London, I have also explored the moral geography of the city in the writing of ‘Canada's first urban novelist’, Morley Callaghan, and the representation of Toronto in film..

My book on Cities in Modernity: Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space, 1840-1930 (Cambridge University Press, June 2008) examines new ways of seeing Anglo-American cities – in literature, art, mapping and social survey – and new forms of public and private, residential, financial, commercial and leisure spaces, drawing extensively on different strands of my own research (e.g. on bridges, forms of housing, streets, railways) as well as making a critical interpretation of research on other – commercial and leisure – spaces, primarily in London, New York and Toronto.

Other ongoing research focuses on the historical geography of the London Underground in the decades prior to World War I: on its environmental and planning history, and on the experience of underground travel.

    • My book, Cities in Modernity (CUP, 2008) was extensively and positively reviewed in a wide range of leading academic journals, including American Historical Review, Journal of Historical Geography, Canadian Geographer, Canadian Historical Review, Victorian Studies, Technology and Culture, Planning Perspectives, Urban History, The London Journal, Enterprise and Society and in major online review essays: Reviews in History (IHR), H-HISTGEOG and H-URBAN.
    • Feature article on my research on Canadian apartment living in Toronto Star, 9 June 2009
    • Among my publications directed at readerships outside the academy are essays  in Alex Werner (ed) Jack the Ripper and the East End (Chatto & Windus/Museum of London, 2008); in Ross Bradshaw (ed) Maps (Five Leaves, 2011) (reviewed in Time Out and The Guardian); in Carlos Galviz and Sam Merrill (eds) Going Underground: New Perspectives (London Transport Museum, 2013); in Camden History Review (Nov 2013).
    • Organizer of academic conferences and conference sessions, including five sessions (20 papers) on ‘Cultural and Historical Geographies of Intra-Urban Mass Transit’ at the New York meeting of the Association of American Geographers in February 2012; a major session on ‘Historicising the Politics of Transport and Cities’ at the European Association of Urban History meeting in Prague in August 2012; and a 2-day conference on ‘Canadian Cities: Past into Present’ at the Institute of the Americas, UCL, in March 2014.
    • Among major academic and public lectures, I have given recently:
      1. Annual Lecture’, Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester, on ‘The Architecture of Hurry’ (May 2011) (video available online at
      2. ‘Cityscapes in History: Creating the Urban Experience’, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, invited keynote address (July 2010)
      3. ‘Central Spaces: Perspectives on core areas of the modern city after 1850’, Odense, Denmark: invited keynote paper (September 2011)
      4. ‘Mobile Urbanisms’, Annual Conference of Urban Geography Research Group: plenary paper on ‘More Haste, Less Speed: On the Nature of Mobility in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century London (November 2012)
      5. Urban History Group Annual Conference, York:  plenary paper on ‘Under London By Rail’ (April 2013)
      6. Going Underground: Travel Beneath the Metropolis, 1863-2013, IHR, London: keynote paper on ‘Letting off steam: the perils and possibilities of underground travel in Victorian and Edwardian London’ (January 2013) (audio podcast available online at )
    • I have given public lectures at the Museum of London, Museum of London Docklands, Tate Britain, London Transport Museum (forthcoming, October 2014), City of Westminster Archives, and Camden Local Studies
    • I have exhibited at ‘Cities Methodologies’ Exhibitions, Slade Research Centre, UCL, 2010, 2013, where I also chaired a round-table discussion on ‘Memory, Archive and Heritage Underground’ (video podcast online at )
    • ‘Gower Street to Euston Square: A Local History of the Underground’ (UCL Lunch-Hour Lecture, January  2013) (video online at )
      • London: A Geographical Introduction I am the convener of this major first-year course, and teach sections of the module on ‘The Historical Geography of London’ and ‘London’s Housing Problems’.

        Methods in Human Geography I teach a module on historical methods.

        • GEOG 3025:

        Cities and Modernity A specialist third-year course closely related to my research interests in British and North American cities, 1850-1939.

        • MSc courses in Human Geography and in Urban Studies:

        I contribute seminars to ‘Thinking Space’ and ‘Urban Imaginations’, and I run a specialist module on ‘Modern Cities: Representing Modernity’

          Richard Dennis supervises doctoral students in the social and cultural geography of 19th- and 20th-century cities. He has extensive experience as external examiner for more than two-dozen doctoral theses in Britain, North America, Australia and South Africa. Since 2000, his own research students have included:

          • Larry Cort (privately funded): ‘“This is the place for toil”: Neighbourhoods at Work in the Later Victorian Black Country’ (PhD awarded, 2001)
          • Caroline Bressey (ESRC funded): ‘Forgotten Geographies: Spaces of Black Women’s Identity in Late 19th-Century London’ (supervised jointly with Claire Dwyer) (PhD awarded, 2003)
          • Sarah Glynn (ESRC funded): ‘The Home and the World: Bengali Political Mobilisation in London’s East End, and a Comparison with the Jewish Past’ (supervised jointly with Claire Dwyer) (PhD awarded, 2003)
          • Clifford German (privately funded): ‘Property and Population Change in Northampton in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’ (ongoing)
          • Charlotte Jones (ESRC funded): ‘A Social History of Turkish Baths in Victorian London’ (supervised jointly with James Kneale) (2008-)
          • Samuel Merrill (UCL Scholarship): ‘Buried Memories: Mnemonic Production in the London Underground and Berlin U-Bahn’ (2010-)
          • Kallum Dhillon (ESRC funded): ‘Locating Crime and Criminality in Edwardian London: a GIS-based approach’ (2011-)
          • 2001 'The management of rented housing in Toronto, with special reference to Ancroft Place Limited, 1926-1973' ; $4000 Canada Research Award
          • 1997-98 'Modernity and multi-storey living: apartment tenants in Canadian cities, 1900-1939' (Research Officer: Ms Ceinwen Giles); £39000 from the Economic & Social Research Council
          • 1997 Foundation for Canadian Studies, small grant for further research in the Land Registry, Toronto
          • 1995 'The ownership and occupancy of apartment housing in Winnipeg and Toronto, 1920-39' ; $3550 Canada Research Award

          Some useful links to the British Library, and other key sites:

          Three more specialist archives:

          Two museums; the New York site has links to other New York museums and archives:

          And some literary excursions:

          And other academic institutions focused on urban history: