Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Hannah Dennett

Research Overview

Funded by Midlands4Cities, my collaborative PhD project is in conjunction with the Foundling Museum, London and supervised by Professors Maxine Berg and Rebecca Earle at the University of Warwick and Kathleen Palmer, Curator of Exhibitions and Displays at the Foundling Museum. Titled 'Forgotten Foundlings: Black Lives and the Eighteenth-Century Foundling Hospital', my project is uncovering the lives of children of the African and Asian diasporas taken in by the institution during the long eighteenth century. In piecing together the fragments of these children's experiences, my research examines the Foundling Hospital's connections to the British Empire and plantation economy through the lives of children of colour received into the institution during the eighteenth century and the Hospital's founders and governors.

Established by royal charter in 1739, the Foundling Hospital sought to care for infants who would have otherwise been abandoned or neglected. Some references within the Foundling Hospital records suggest that several foundlings during this period were of African or Asian heritage, however, until now these children's stories have been missing from the narrative of the institution's history. Through tracing the lives of children of colour during their time as foundlings, I explore the circumstances surrounding their arrival at the institution, their time at nurse in the countryside, the apprentices they undertook, and life beyond the Hospital.

I also examine the colonial connections of governors, patrons and benefactors to demonstrate how political and financial links to the British Empire permeated all aspects of the Foundling Hospital as an institution. In doing so, it reveals the position of the Foundling Hospital within the wider imperial context of the eighteenth century.

Overall, my research broadens the historical narrative of the Foundling Hospital by creating a more accurate reflection of the lives and experiences of all foundlings cared for during this period. It also offers a new avenue through which to discover the experiences of people of the African and Asian diasporas in the period, particularly those of women and children of colour who often left few traces in the records.

Research Interests
  • Motherhood and illegitimacy
  • The London Foundling Hospital
  • Gender history
  • History of emotions
  • British Empire
Academic Profile

2019-2023 - University of Warwick

PhD History - AHRC Midlands4Cities Collaborative project with the Foundling Museum, London

Supervisors: Professor Maxine Berg, Professor Rebecca Earle, Kathleen Palmer, Exhibitions and Displays Curator

Thesis: Forgotten Foundlings: Black Lives and the Eighteenth-Century Foundling Hospital

2018-2019 - Nottingham Trent University

MA History - Distinction

Dissertation: 'Unnatural and Barbarous'?: A study of women accused of committing infanticide in early modern England, 1674-1800

2015-2018 - Nottingham Trent University

BA (Hons) History - First Class

Dissertation: 'When first acquainted with the father...': A study of the London Foundling Hospital petitions in the mid-Victorian period, 1856-1867

Funding and Awards

2023 - Social History Society Public History Prize

Awarded a special commendation for curating the exhibition Tiny Traces: African and Asian Children at London's Foundling Hospital at the Foundling Museum, London

2020-2021 - Warwick Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowship

2019-2023 - Midlands4Cities Collaborative Doctoral Award

2018-2019 - Nottingham Trent University Research Pathway Scholarship

2018 - Nottingham Trent University BA History Subject Prize

Conferences and Seminars

June 2023 - London Foundling Hospital History: An Online Conference

    • Member of the organising committee, bringing together the international community of Foundling Hospital researchers for the first time.

April 2023 - Paid to Care: understanding remunerated childcare in the past, present and future Conference, Birkbeck, University of London

    • Paper - 'Under the care of an exceeding good nurse': African and Asian Children's Experiences at Nurse in the Eighteenth-Century Foundling Hospital

March 2023 - Compassion and Care: Emotions and Experience in the Care of Children through History Conference, Manchester

    • Paper - 'Knowing the prejudices existing against Children of Colour': African and Asian Children and the Eighteenth-Century Foundling Hospital

March 2023 - The Victorian Studies Centre, University of Leicester - Guest speaker for the Spring Seminar Series

    • Paper: Tiny Traces: Uncovering the Lives of African and Asian Children at London's Foundling Hospital

July 2022 - Social History Society Conference

    • Paper - Fanny Kenyon: The Life of a Black Foundling

January 2022 - Warwick History Research Seminar

    • Respondent to Professor Alison K. Smit's paper, Annushka, the Kalmyk

May 2021 - Warwick History Research Seminar

    • Respondent to Professor Helen Berry's paper, Child Labour, Philanthropy, and the London Foundling Hospital: the Problem with 'Seeing' British Imperial History at Home

March 2021 - 'At Home in Empire: Colonial Experiences of Intimacy and Mobility' Online Conference - co-organiser as part of Warwick Humanities Research Centre Fellowship

March 2021 - IHR British in the London Eighteenth CenturySeminar - Lightening Talks online

    • Paper- Forgotten Foundlings: Black Lives and the Eighteenth-Century Foundling Hospital

January-July 2020 Warwick PG Podcast series - Committee Member

July 2020 - Warwick PG Podcast series - Panellist

    • 'Across the British Empire: Voices, Stories and Representations'

May 2020 - Warwick PG Podcast series - Episode Chair

    • 'Health and Power in the Past'
Public Engagement

October 2022-February 2023 - Tiny Traces: African and Asian Children at London's Foundling Hospital Exhibition - Curator

As part of my Collaborative Doctoral Award I curated an exhibition at the Foundling Museum, London, based on my research findings.

This included:

    • Developing the layout and flow of the exhibition
    • Selecting the different stories from my research to be included
    • Sourcing and selecting archival material and objects for each section to illustrate the stories being highlighted
    • Scripting and presenting the introductory film
    • Writing the exhibition booklet, text panels and labels
    • Transcribing the archival documents to enable better accessibility

November 2022 - The Verbatim Formula (TVF)

    • A collaboration with TVB, a participatory project for care-experienced young people.
    • I worked with the TVF team to share stories of the children from my research. they used these to develop a spoken word piece which they then performed at the Foundling Museum.

November 2022 - Past Matters Podcast

    • Podcast conversation with Ploy Radford discussing selected aspects of the Tiny Traces exhibition

October 2022 - Live radio interview about the Tiny Traces exhibition on BBC Radio London

October 2020 - Public talk on line for the Foundling Museum

    • Forgotten Foundlings: Uncovering the Life of Thomas Trowbridge

Forthcoming - Book review in Local Populations Studies Journal

    • Richard C. Maguire, Africans in East Anglian, 1467-1833 (The Boydell Press, 2021)

November 2022 - Egham Museum Blog

October 2022 - Women's History Network Blog


Royal Historical Society

Economic History Society

Social History Society

Children's History society

Early Modern and Eighteenth-Century Centre, Warwick

Global History and Culture Centre, Warwick

A woman seated and being filmed by a cameraman in the Court Room at the London Foundling Museum

Recording the introductory film for the Tiny Traces exhibition in the Court Room at the Foundling Museum, London

Exhibition gallery showing wall text, two pictures and a display case
Various documents and labels displayed on a blue wall in an exhibition
Photographs from the Tiny Traces exhibition