Histories of privacy

The history of privacy generally falls into two approaches:

1. the intrusion of the state into controlling personal information about the individual

2. changing family/domestic arrangements in the home.

Definitions of privacy generally revolve around ‘the right to be left alone’, and therefore also feed into histories of loneliness and social relations, as well as legal histories of information security.

Number 1 tends to be influenced by a Benthamite/Foucauldian emphasis on communications and bureaucracies of the state transmitting power through inspections, and the emergence of a surveillance state.

Number 2 is the history of the family & women’s roles, more recently, emotions.

There is some engagement with Habermas’s model of the public sphere, and therefore some reference to public space in the context of state spies or the separate spheres in gender debate. But otherwise references to the built environment of open spaces is limited.

The chronology of the historiography is generally of the rise of the desire for privacy in the 19th century, which was enabled by rising affluence and technology in the early 20th century, then eroded by new state policies and technologies in the later 20th century.

Both James Vernon and Miles Ogborn define privacy as a key characteristic of ‘modernity’.

Interestingly, the main overviews of the history of privacy don’t go into depth into the history of privacy in gay or queer spaces, which has its own extensive historiography (detailed below) – which nevertheless can be categorised under histories of surveillance and intrusion by the state, and a growing body of work on gay domesticity and the home.

Bibliography (mainly from David Vincent, Privacy: a short history)

  • David Vincent, Privacy: a Short History
  • David Vincent, I Hope I don’t Intrude: Privacy and Its Dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain (OUP 2015)
  • David Vincent, ‘Secrecy and the City, 1870-1939’, Urban History, 22: 3 (1995)
  • Brian Harrison, ‘The Public and the Private in Modern Britain’, in Peter Burke, Ed., Civil Histories (OUP 2006)
  • Natalia da Silva Perez, ‘Privacy and Social Spaces’, TSEG-The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 18 (3) (2021), 5-16
  • See also the Centre for Privacy Studies: https://privacy.hypotheses.org/
  • Claire Langhamer, ‘The Meanings of Home in Postwar Britain’, Jnl of Contemporary History, 40: 2 (2005)
  • James Michael, Privacy and Human Rights: an International and Comparative Study (UNESCO, 1994)
  • Dianna Webb, Privacy and Solitude in the Middle Ages (Continuum, 2007)
  • Lena Cowen Orlin, Locating Privacy in Tudor London (OUP 2007)
  • Patricia Meyer Spacks, Privacy: Concealing the 18th Century Self (Chicago, 2003)
  • Miles Ogborn, Spaces of Modernity: London’s Geographies, 1680-1780 (New York,m 1998)
  • Robert Shoemaker, ‘The Decline of Public Insult in London, 1660-1800’, Past & Present, 169 (2000)
  • Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man
  • Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
  • John Brewer, ‘This that and the other: public, social and private in the 17th and 18th centuries’, in Shifting the Boundaries: Transformation of the Languages of Public and Private in the 18th century, eds, Dario Castiglione and Lesley Sharpe (Univ of Exeter Press, 1995)
  • Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (2013)
  • Michael McKean, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private and the Division of Knowledge (2005)
  • Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: an Oral History of Working-Class Women, 1890-1940 (Oxford, 1984)
  • Amanda Vickery, ‘An Englishman’s House is His Castle? Privacies, Boundaries and Thresholds in the Eighteenth-Century London House’, Past and Present, 199 (2008), pp. 147-7311
  • Lucy Faire and Denise McHugh, ‘The Everyday Usage of City-Centre Streets: Urban Behaviour in Provincial Britain c. 1930-1970’Urban History Review, 42:2 (2014), 18-28.
  • Lucy Faire, ‘The Transformation of Home?’ in Richard Rodger and Rebecca Madgin eds, Leicester: A Modern History (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2016).
  • James Vernon, Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern (2014)
  • Edward Higgs, the Information State in England: the Central Collection of Information Since 1500 (2004)
  • James B Rule, Private Lives and Public Surveillance (1973)
  • John Barrell, the Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s (Oxford, 2006)
  • Lawrence Klein, ‘Gender and the Public/Private Distinction in the 18th century: some questions about evidence and analytical procedure’ , 18th Century Studies, 29: 1 (1995)

Privacy and sexuality histories:

  • Stephen Robertson , Shane White , Stephen Garton , Graham White, ‘Disorderly Houses: Residences, Privacy, and the Surveillance of Sexuality in 1920s Harlem’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21: 3 (2012), 443-;
  • Peter Baldwin, ‘Public Privacy: Restrooms in American Cities, 1869–1932’, Journal of Social History, 48: 2 (2014), 264–288;
  • Matt Houlbrook, ‘The Private World of Public Urinals: London, 1918–57’, The London Journal, 25:1 (2000), 52-70.
  • Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: perils and pleasures in the sexual metropolis, 1918-1957 (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
  • George Chancey, ‘Privacy Could Only Be Had in Public’: Gay Uses of the Streets’, in Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, ed., Joel Sanders (Routledge, 1997);
  • Paul Bleakley, ‘Fish in a Barrel: Police Targeting of Brisbane’s Ephemeral Gay Spaces in the Pre-Decriminalization Era’, Journal of Homosexuality, 68: 6 (2021), 1037-58
  •  Bryant Simon, ‘NEW YORK AVENUE The Life and Death of Gay Spaces in Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1920-1990’, Journal of Urban History, 28: 3 (2002), 300-327.
  • Chris Ashford, ‘Sexuality, Public Space and the Criminal Law: The Cottaging Phenomenon’, Journal of Criminal Law, 71: 6 (2007), 507.

Pavements bibliography

george scharf digging pavements for gas main

Primary sources:

George Scharf, sketches of laying gas mains in London streets, 1834: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1862-0614-304-

Scharf, sketch of children clearing snow, 1843: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1862-0614-79

The Architect magazine, e.g. https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Architect/z92t3Fl8pGkC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=pavements%20streets%20pedestrians&pg=PA194&printsec=frontcover

TNA: MEPO – Met Police records – obstruction and nuisance

Key texts:

  • David Rooney, ‘Keeping pedestrians in their place. Technologies of segregation in East London’, in Phillip Mackintosh, Richard Dennis and Deryck Holdsworth (eds.), Architectures of Hurry: Mobilities, Cities and Modernity (Routledge, 2020), pp. 120–36
  • David Rooney, Spaces of Congestion and Traffic: Politics and Technologies in Twentieth-Century London (Routledge, 2019)
  • Colin Pooley, ‘On the street in nineteenth-century London’, Urban History, 48:2 (2021), 211 – 226
  • special issue of Urban History , Volume 48 , Issue 2 , May 2021 , ‘Pedestrians and the City’

Articles/web sources:

Don Clow, ‘From Macadam to Asphalt: The Paving of the Streets of London in the Victorian Era. Part 1 — From Macadam To Stone Sett’, GLIAS, vol 8: http://www.glias.org.uk/journals/8-a.html

Will Jennings, ‘Beneath the City’, Landscape, 2020: https://willjennings.info/LANDSCAPE-JOURNAL-Essay-Beneath-the-city


  • Erika Garilli and Felice Giuliani, ‘Stone pavement materials and construction methods in Europe and North America between the 19th and 20th century’, International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 13: 5 (2019), 742-768
  • Maxwell Lay, John Metcalf, Kieran Sharp, Paving Our Ways: A History of the World’s Roads and Pavements (London, CRC Press, 2020)
  • Tiina Männistӧ-Funk, ‘What Kerbstones Do: A Century of Street Space From the Perspective of One Material Actor’, Cultural History, 10: 1 (2021),

Urban improvement/greening/squares:

  • Henry W Lawrence, ‘The Greening of the Squares of London: Transformation of Urban Landscapes and Ideals’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 83: 1 (1993), 90-118
  • H. L. Malchow, ‘Public gardens and social action in late Victorian London’, Victorian Studies, 29 (1985), 97-124
  • F. H. Aalen, ‘Lord Meath, city improvement and social imperialism’, Planning Perspectives, 4 (1989), 127-152
  • Peter Clark, Jean-Luc Pinot and Richard Rodger, eds, The European City and Green Space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg, 1850-2000 (Routledge, 2006)
  • Matti Hannikainen, The Greening of London, 1920-2000 (Routledge, 2016)

Public health/sanitation:

  • N. Goddard, ‘Sanitate Crescamus: Water Supply, Sewage Disposal and Environmental Values in a Victorian Suburb’, in Bill Luckin et all, Resources of the City: Contributions to an Environmental History of Modern Europe (Routledge, 2005)
  • Tom Crook, Governing Systems: Modernity and the Making of Public Health in England, 1830-1910 (Oakland CA, University of California Press, 2016);
  • Christopher Hamlin, ‘Middling in blumbledon: on the enormity of large sanitary improvements in four British towns, 1855-1885’, Victorian Studies, 32 (1988), 55-83;
  • Tom Crook, ‘Sanitary inspection and the public sphere in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’, Social History, 32: 4 (2007), 369-93;
  • Michelle Allen, Cleansing the City: sanitary geographies in Victorian London (Athens OH, 2008);
  • Tina Young Choi, Christopher Hamlin and Mihelle Allen-Emerson, eds., Sanitary Reform in Victorian Britain, 6 vols (Pickering and Chatto, 2012)
  • James Hanley, Healthy Boundaries: Property, Law and Public Health in England and Wales, 1815-72 (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, 2016).
  • Tom Crook, Governing Risks in Modern Britain: Danger, Safety and Accidents, c. 1800–2000 (Springer, 2016)

Street life and the pedestrian:

  • Schmucki, B., ‘Against “the eviction of the pedestrian”: the Pedestrians’ Association and walking practices in urban Britain after World War II’, Radical History Review (2012), 113–38
  • James Winter, London’s Teeming Streets, 1830-1914 ()
  • Ishaque, Muhammed, and Noland, R., ‘Making roads safe for pedestrians or keeping them out of the way?: an historical perspective on pedestrian policies in Britain’, Journal of Transport History, 27 (2006), 115–37
  • Errázuriz, T., ‘When walking became serious: reshaping the role of pedestrians in Santiago, 1900–1931’, Journal of Transport History, 32 (2011), 39–65; 
  • Norton, P., ‘Street rivals: jaywalking and the invention of the motor age street’, Technology and Culture, 48 (2007), 331–59; 
  • Norton, P., ‘Urban mobility without wheels: a historiographical review of pedestrianism’, in Mom, G., Pirie, G. and Tissot, C. (eds.), Mobility in History: The State of the Art in the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (Neuchâtel, 2009), 111–15
  • Guldi, J., ‘The history of walking and the digital turn: stride and lounge in London, 1808–1851’, Journal of Modern History, 84 (2012), 116–44
  • Andersson, P., ‘“Bustling, crowding, and pushing”: pickpockets and the nineteenth-century street crowd’, Urban History, 41 (2014), 291–310
  • Penelope Corfield, ‘Walking the City Streets: The Urban Odyssey in Eighteenth-Century England’, Journal of Urban History, 16: 2 (1990)
  • Andersson, P., Street Life in Late Victorian London: The Constable and the Crowd (Basingstoke, 2013)
  • Stephen Jankiewicz, ‘A Dangerous Class: The Street Sellers of Nineteenth-Century London’, Journal of Social History, 46: 2 (Winter 2012), 391-415 
  • Mona Domosh, ‘Those “Gorgeous Incongruities”: Polite Politics and Public Space on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century New York City’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 88: 2 (1998), 209-26.
  • Jenny Birchall, ‘‘The Carnival Revels of Manchester’s Vagabonds’: Young Working‐class Women and Monkey Parades in the 1870s’, Women’s History Review, 15: 2 (2006)
  • Joe Moran, ‘Imagining the street in post-war Britain’, Urban History, 39: 1 (February 2012) 166 – 186
  • Nicholas Fyfe, ed., Images of the Street: Planning, Identity and Control in Public Space (1998)
  • Tim Hitchcock and Heather Shore, The Streets of London

Gendered streets and social control:

  • A. Croll, ‘Street Disorder, Surveillance, and Shame: Regulating Behaviour in the Public Spaces of the Late Victorian British Town’, Social History, 24 (1999), 250-68;
  • J. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London (Chicago, IL, 1992), pp. 41-80;
  • D. Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation and the City (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995);
  • Robert Storch, ‘The Policeman as Domestic Missionary: Urban Discipline and Popular culture in Northern England, 1850-1880’, Journal of Social History, 9: 4 (1976), 481-509
  • Laura Harrison, ‘The Streets have been watched regularly’: The York Penitentiary Society, Young Working-Class Women and the regulation of Behaviour in the Public Spaces of York, c1845-1919′, Women’s History Review, 28: 3 (2019), 457-478
  • Tony Henderson, Disorderly Women in 18th Century London: Prostitution and Control in the Metropolis, 1730-1830 (1999)
  • Jane Rendall, ‘Displaying Sexuality: Gendered Identities and the Early 19th Century Street’, in N. Fyfe, ed, Images of the Street: Planning, Identity and Control in Public Space (London, 1998), pp. 75-91

Traffic and roads:

  • Peter Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City
  • Simon Gunn, ‘ People and the car: the expansion of automobility in urban Britain, c.1955–70′, Social History, 38: 2 (2013)
  • Joe Moran, ‘Crossing the Road in Britain, 1931-76’, Historical Journal, Volume 49 , Issue 2 , June 2006 , 477 – 496
  • Michael Law, ‘Speed and blood on the bypass: the new automobilities of inter-war London’, Urban History, Volume 39 , Issue 3 , August 2012 , 490 – 509
  • Bill Luckin and David Sheen, ‘Defining Early Modern Automobility: The Road Traffic Accident Crisis in Manchester, 1939–45’, Cultural and Social History, 6: 2 (2009)
  • Keith Laybourn and David Taylor, eds., The Battle for the Roads of Britain: Police, Motorists and the Law, c.1890s to 1970s (2015)
  • Michael John Law, ”Stopping to Dream’: The Beautification and Vandalism of London’s Interwar Arterial Roads’, London Journal, 35 (2010)
  • Michael John Law, ‘‘The car indispensable’: the hidden influence of the car in inter-war suburban London’, Journal of Historical Geography, Volume 38, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 424-433
  • Simon Gunn, ‘RING ROAD: BIRMINGHAM AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE MOTOR CITY IDEAL IN 1970s BRITAIN’, Historical Journal, 61: 1 (March 2018), pp. 227 – 248

policing the streets:

  • Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, ‘Central Park against the streets: the enclosure of public space cultures in mid-nineteenth century New York’, Social and Cultural Geography, 15: 2 (2004)
  • Tim Hitchcock and Heather Shore, eds., The Streets of London from the Great Fire to the Great Stink (Rivers Oram, London, 2003)
  • R. Storch, ‘The policeman as domestic missionary: urban discipline and popular culture in northern England, 1850-1880’, Journal of Social History, 9: 4 (1976)
  • David Churchill, Crime Control and Everyday Life in the Victorian City: the Police and the Public (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • Sarah Pickard, ed, Anti-social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
  • Tim Waterman, ‘Publicity and Propriety’, in Ed Wall and Tim Waterman, Landscape and Agency: critical essays (Routledge, 2017)

reclaiming the streets

Cowman, K., ‘Play streets: women, children and the problem of urban traffic, 1930–1970’, Social History, 42 (2017), 233–56;