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Laura Lee Downs

Professor of History of Gender and Sexuality Downs2019a



Prof. Downs will not take on any new supervisees in the academic year 2020-2021 

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 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.

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 più serena italianizzazione:’ How the women of Assistenza all’Italia Redenta shaped Italian state-building in the Italo-Yugoslav borderlands, 1919-1978


English, French, Italian

Current seminars at EUI

Selected recent publications

  • « Il était une fois…La démobilisation féminine, 1918-1919 », L’Humanité-Dimanche, 24-30, 76-81 (janvier 2019)
  • « 'La piu’ serena italianizzazione?' Social action and nationalist politics in the North-eastern Adriatic borderlands (1919-1954) », Acta Histriae 26/4 (December 2018), 1087-1102 (December 2018)
  • « Quand les enfants des classes populaires devenaient ceux qui restent dans la ville pendant les grandes vacances d’été », Fondation Jean Jaurès, Penser pour agir (6 July 2018) 
  • « Can we Construct 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, 2018), 349-67
  • « Gender History: A space of debate » and “Response to Miri Rubin’s Reply” in Peter Burke et Marek Tamm, eds. Debating New Approaches in History (Bloomsbury, 2018), 101-25
  • « 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
  • « '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.
  • « 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.
  • 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)



Office Hours: Thursdays, 14:00-16:00.
For appointments please contact the Administrative Assistant:  Francesca Parenti


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

Office SAMN226 at Villa Salviati, Manica

Page last updated on 03 February 2020