Mike Esbester
  • King Henry 1 Street, Park Building

    PO1 2DZ Portsmouth

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

British and potentially European transport and mobility history, 19th and 20th centuries.

British and potentially European topics relating to the history of safety, risk and accidents, 19th and 20th centuries.

Personal profile


I joined Portsmouth in 2011, having previously been an AHRC Early Career Fellow at Oxford Brookes University and having worked at the University of Reading. My research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, particularly on the cultural history of safety, risk and accident prevention, and on the history of mobility.

I am committed to taking my research to as wide an audience as possible, whether academic, professional, public or students. As part of this I work with a wide range of external partners, including the British Safety Council, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the current rail industry. I am the academic convenor for the ‘History & Policy’ seminar series within the Department for Transport, bringing academic historians into the DfT to provide insight into the present.

I draw on my research in my teaching, which covers European history from approximately 1750. I welcome proposals from prospective postgraduate students on topics relating to the history of transport and mobility in modern Britain, and on the history of topics relating to health, safety, risk, accident prevention and the modern state and governance, broadly understood. I am currently third supervisor to three PhD students, as well as supervising one MRes student.

I am also the Employability Lead for the History subject area – encouraging and supporting our students in securing their ideal careers after they graduate is an important part of our curriculum. I work actively with colleagues across the University and with our many external partners to ensure our students have the best possible opportunities to develop their skills and to gain experience beyond the formal academic setting.


Research Interests

Research Clusters

  • Social and Cultural History

Discipline Areas

  • History
  • Current Research Projects

My research interests lie in two areas: the history of safety and accidents, and the history of mobility.

The first of these areas is focused on the history of accident prevention, especially the idea of safety education – the use of the media to try to persuade people to change their behaviour – introduced into Britain just before the First World War. I am interested in the methods that were used (including innovative and highly visual techniques such as posters, films, booklets and messages printed on cigarette cards and the like) and the messages contained within safety education (often discussing personal responsibility for accident prevention). I am also interested in how people have experienced and understood accidents.

A key part of my work in this area looks at the railway industry. I am currently developing this work into a monograph (under contract with Taylor & Francis), as well as co-leading the innovative crowd-sourcing ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project with the National Railway Museum. In addition, I have produced an online exhibition with the National Railway Museum (which can be viewed here: Caution! Railway safety since 1913).

In the past I have received grants from the AHRC and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). IOSH supported a major project, lasting for two years and co-led with a Professor Paul Almond at the University of Reading, examining perceptions and understandings of occupational health and safety in post-1960 Britain. This project engaged with practitioners, in particular, and was an important demonstration of the value of the past in understanding the present and preparing for the future. You can download the project report here.


In my second major research area, I explore how people have experienced mobility in the past, with particular reference to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. My research has particularly focused on the cultural meanings of new technologies, including the steam railway and the motor car. Contributing to this, I am Deputy Editor of the Journal of Transport History, I co-convene the Institute of Historical Research ‘Transport and Mobility History’  seminar series and I have served on the Executive Committee of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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