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Laura Lee Downs


Professor of Gender History


Fields of research

  • Modern Europe, with an emphasis on France, Italy and Great Britain
  • Comparative labor history
  • History and social theory
  • Histories of gender and sexuality
  • Comparative history of childhood
  • Comparative history of social protection 

Current seminars at EUI

Current research projects

Professor Downs’s current research explores the shifting relationships between the social and the political in twentieth-century Europe via the comparative study of civil society mobilizations around social welfare in Italy, France and Great Britain from about 1870-1970. This research has given rise to a European research network “The Quest for Welfare and Democracy,” which developed out of a series of workshops that Downs organized at the EUI in 2014 and 2015 (see link to project website, above). The network brings together some 35 scholars from across Europe in a series of individual and collective projects that are inspired by a single, shared conviction: that the story of European welfare states is rooted in deeper and more local histories that are populated by activists and reformers whose names never appear in standard histories of the welfare state. By examining the manifold ways in which families, churches, trade unions, municipalities and other private or semi-public associations have interacted with each other and with the state in the identification of social problems and the creation of solutions, we propose to broaden our understanding of European social welfare both historically and socially, looking back before 1945 while plunging deeper into the fabric of civil society organizations, where so much of Europe’s social protection has taken place - and still does to this day.


  • English
  • French
  • Italian




Tel. [+39] 055 4686 571 / 541

Email  Laura.Downs@EUI.eu


Postal address: 
Department of History and Civilization 
Via Bolognese 156 
50139 Florence - Italy 


Administrative Assistant:  Francesca Parenti

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 15:00-17:00. For appointments please contact:  Francesca Parenti

Office SAMN 226 at Villa Salviati, Manica

Professor Downs’s current research has given rise to four separate book projects, all of which are unfolding in dialogue with the Quest for Welfare and Democracy network:

  • A ‘Perpetually Moving Frontier’? Social Protection, Civil Society and the State. Italy, France and Great Britain, 1870s-1970s
  • Women’s Social Action and the Reconfiguration of Politics on the Right. Italy, France and Great Britain, 1918-1975 
  • Families in the Quest for Welfare and Democracy (co-edited with Sally Alexander and Paul Ginsborg)
  • 'La piu serena italianizzazione:’ How the women of Assistenza all’Italia Redenta shaped Italian state-building in the Italo-Yugoslav borderlands, 1919-1978


Selected recent publications

  • “What is Work? Building a Holistic Approach to Women’s Labor History over the longue durée,” in Raffaella Sarti, Anna Bellavitis and Manuela Martini, eds., What is Work? Gendered Perspectives between Home, Family and Business, Berghahn (forthcoming, 2017)
  • « Gender History: A space of ongoing debate, » in Peter Burke et Marek Tamm, eds. Debating New Approaches in History (forthcoming, 2017)
  • « Au revoir les enfants: Wartime evacuation and the politics of childhood in France and Britain, 1939-1945, » History Workshop Journal 81/2 (fall 2016), 1-39.
  • « La colonie de vacances : Une institution de la société civile », in Francis Lebon et Jérôme Camus, eds., Regards sociologiques sur l’animation (Paris, 2015), 17-28.
  • «‘And so we transform a people’: Women’s Social Action and the Reconfiguration of Politics on the French Right, 1934-1947», Past and Present 225 (November 2014), 2-39.
  • «Le travail», La Première guerre mondiale, sous la dir. de Jay Winter, Tome III, Fayard, Paris, 2014.
  •  «War Work», in Jay Winter, ed., The Cambridge History of the First World War, Volume III, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014, 72-95. 
  • «La République garantit l’égalité des citoyennes », in Marion Fontaine, Frédéric Monier et Christophe Prochasson, eds. La République démystifiée. Une contre-histoire de la IIIe République, Paris, La Découverte, 2013, 138-49.
  • «Enfance en guerre : Les évacuations d’enfants en France et en Grande Bretagne1939-1940 », Annales, H.S.C. 66-2, avril-juin 2011, 413-48.
  • «'Nous plantions les trois couleurs’: Action sociale féminine et recomposition des politiques de la droite française. Le mouvement Croix-de-feu et le Parti social français, 1934-1947 », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 58-3, juillet-septembre 2011, 118-63.
  • Writing Gender History, London, Arnold Press, 2004; 2e edition, revised and expanded, Bloomsbury Press, 2010.
  • Histoire des colonies de vacances de 1880 à nos jours, Paris, Editions Perrin, 2009
  • “’Each and every one of you must become a chef’”: Towards a social politics of working-class childhood on the extreme right in 1930s France”, Journal of Modern History, March 2009, 1-44.


Page last updated on 06 July 2018