Personal Information

Name: Oliver Dunn

DOB: 03/05/1982

Nationality: British

Current employment:

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate, CamPop, Univ. of Cambridge

Start date: 31 August 2016.


  • 31 August 2016 to present, Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA), Cambridge:

PDRA with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. I process historical sources of data (16th – 19th century) for use in numerous research projects in British early modern and modern economic and social history. I contribute to analysis and the writing of research papers and funding applications. I lecture in history and run advanced historical research methods workshops in the digital humanities with Cambridge Digital Humanities Network (CRASSH).

  • 2 May 2015 to 30 August 2016. Research Associate with the Cambridge Group.
  • 1 November 2014 to 1 May 2016. Part-time product assessor at Track Record Global (Brighton, UK), a digital start-up company that manages online the compliance records for suppliers of major British retailers, including John Lewis and Argos.
  • 1 February 2009 to 1 April 2009. Research Assistant for the London School for Advanced Study, ‘Life in the Suburbs’ project under Mrs. Gill Newton.
  • 1 February 2007 – 1 September 2010. Research Assistant with the Cambridge Group. I filmed records and collected data from archives across England and Wales.


  • Ph.D. History and Civilisation: European University Institute, Italy (EUI), Granted 1 January 2015. Thesis title: ‘A State of Corruption. Fraud and the Birth of British Trade Taxation, c. 1550-90’.

My doctoral dissertation revealed in a new light the new system of customs taxation in sixteenth-century England. An ‘eruption of corruption’ based on reports of fraud and evasion provides important detail about customs collections and the relationship between officials and the state. This activity contradicts a characterisation of the early English customs as exceptionally centralised from a European comparative perspective. Customs officers were, in fact, autonomous. Oversight of their practices and accounting was problematic, and this led to problems. Customs men were regularly criticised for their dubious wealth and bad behaviour. This stressed situation emerged as customs became increasingly valuable between 1558 and 1570. Accusations of corruption – a word used at the time – featured debate about how the new customs should be governed. This discourse, I argue, influenced critically how British customs developed from medieval equivalents.  Laws and the accounting systems behind new customs were designed to protect against misdemeanours. These structures lay behind a new national customs system that lasted from 1558 till 1800. Corruption was embedded in this area of early state formation.

Master of Research: EUI, 2010-11. Taught units in social sciences and history and global and cultural history. Preliminary research allowing for continuation of doctoral research. Ungraded.

Master of Philosophy in Early Modern Studies: University of Cambridge, 2009-10. Courses on early modern themes, including ‘Visual and Material Culture’, ‘Research Skills’ and ‘Thesis Writing’. 70%

Bachelor of Arts in Historical Studies: University of Bristol, 2003-6. Courses in medieval and early modern European history, including ‘Introduction to Medieval History’, ‘History of the Book’, and, ‘The Smugglers’ City’.  68% (88% for Undergraduate Dissertation).

Research projects

  • New digitization methods using high-definition photography of sources for use with a hand-written text recognition or machine reading software (Transkribus). This promises rapid and cost-effective transcription of historical documents for use in large scale data collection.
  • Consultancy for Aviva plc working on the digitization of their insurance archive.
  • New databases under construction:
  • Coastal port books data 1650-1750 (£8,000 commissioned by Dr. Dan Bogart).
  • Newcastle coal shipping data 1590-1597 (£3,000 commissioned by Ms. Estelle Overs).
  • Early population estimates for England (c. 1650). Digitization of hearth tax and religious censuses using OCR to estimate town-level population size in Leicestershire and Hampshire. This was a pilot funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant (£50,000). This pilot has now become the basis for an ESRC application.
  • Fuel prices in Cambridgeshire 1560-1800. (£4000 from Isaac Newton trust.)
  • British industrial production and energy consumption by industry in 1954 and 1963. Funded by the grant ‘Who did the dirty work? Energy embodied in European and global trade, 1800-1970’, from the Swedish Research Council.
  • British exports: values by receiving country, 1860-1907.  Funding: ibid
  • British ports database. A new set of 400 ports for GIS 1680 and 1830.
  • Historical coastal routes data 1680-1830 drawn from Admiralty pilot guides and maps and other sources.
  • Transport, policy, and the British industrial revolution, 1680-1911. Funding from Keynes Fund Cambridge (£90,000).
  • Transport, Urbanization and Economic Development in England’, funded by a Leverhulme grant and the US National Science Foundation. I led research into British coasting trades and transport. I was a named beneficiary of an Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000).
  • Data analysis for The History of Energy and the Environment. Joint Center for History and Economics.


  • Outline lectures on British Economic and Social History and special series of four lectures, Agricultural and Agrarian change.
  • College tutorials.
  • Working with the Cambridge Digital Humanities Program, I created two graduate workshops: Introduction to Archival Photography, and Introduction to Creating Databases from Historical Sources.


  • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J., O. Dunn, Historical landing locations and sailing coastal routes in England and Wales, 2018 (under review with Research Data).
  • Dunn, O., ‘The speed of coastal shipping services in England, 1650–1680’, 2018 (under review with Journal of Transport History) .
  • Bogart, D., O. Dunn, E. Alvarez and L.M.S. Shaw-Taylor‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail’, 2018 (revise/resubmit with Economic History Review).
  • Dunn, O., ‘Corrupting Practices and the New Customs of England (c.1558-70)’, online working papers Datini-Ester advanced seminar, 1/2015.

Data sets

  • Ship panel database from coastal port books. 4500 observations. Voyage dates and nominal data.
  • UK export data 1860-1914.  Approx. 10,000+ observations. Destination country. Product type. Quantity.
  • UK census of production 1954/1964. Total UK manufactures production with energy input and value of goods.
  • Hearth tax data set for Hampshire and Leicestershire. Complete population counts based on parochial Hearth Tax Assessments circa 1670.

Funding awards

  • Keynes Fund research grant (£90,000) PI Leigh Shaw-Taylor
  • Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000) PI Leigh Shaw-Taylor
  • Paderewski grant (£1,500) for the study of Polish-European history at the European Centre Natolin, Warsaw, Poland. Summer, 2013.
  • Fees and living costs for four years of doctoral studies at the European University Institute from UK government Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills. (£80,000 plus fees)
  • Ellen McArthur Studentship in Economic History. University of Cambridge (£1500)


  • May 2018 (session co-organiser) From Sources to Data workshop at Cambridge with the National Archives, CamPop, and Aviva plc.
  • April 2018 (session organiser) European Social Science History Conference, ‘Comparing Transport Networks, Geographies of Political and Economic Organisation in England/Wales and in the Ottoman Empire 1600-1900’. University of Belfast.
  • November 2017, Dockland’s History Group Seminar, ‘London’s Coastal Shipping Networks during the age of Sail: 1650-1830’. London.
  • November 2017, Local Population Studies Society conference’ ‘Coastal shipping and ports in England and Wales, 1650-1911’. Univ. of Leicester.
  • September 2017, European Network for the Comparative History of Population Geography and Occupational Structure conference. Presentation on transport networks and population history. Univ. of Cambridge
  • April 2017, Agricliometrics III conference, ‘Empirical estimations of shipping costs based on commodity prices in England and Wales during the nineteenth century’. Univ. of Cambridge.
  • April 2017, Economic History conference, ‘Coastal shipping and transport change in England and Wales, 1680-1830’. London.
  • October 2014, co-convenor of interdisciplinary conference: ‘Materiality and practice of the border, past and present’, EUI Florence
  • September 2014, Shady Business, White Collar Crime in History Conference at the German Historical Institute, Washington DC. Co-sponsored by the Said Business School. (funding won)
  • May 2014, Social History Association Conference, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK
  • April 2014, Participant in the Datini Prato Advanced Seminar: ‘The market and its agents’, Prato, Italy (funding won)
  • November 2013, Social Science History Association Annual Conference, Chicago: ‘The first “modern” customs and subsidies, the secretive economy, and the taint of “corrupcion” in England, 1552-91’
  • August 2011, Accounting History Review conference in Cardiff, Wales: ‘Malfeasance in the Elizabethan customs administration and the reaction of monarchical power’.
  • September 2011, Forms of corruption in history conference, Sorbonne University, Paris, France: ‘Malfeasance in the Elizabethan English customs administration and the concept of “corruption” in history’.