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Hannah Dennett

History, University of Warwick

Thesis title:

"Black Foundlings": Slavery, Trade and London in the Long Eighteenth Century

My collabortaive 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 Katleen Palmer, Curator of Exhibitions and Displays at the Foundling Musuem.

Established by royal charter in 1739, the Foundling Hospital sought to care for infants who would otherwise have been abandoned or neglected. Initally sent to foster homes in the countryside, foundlings were nursed and looked after until about five years of age before being returned to the London institution, where they received an education, religious instruction and preparation for apprenticeship in their early teens. 

This project seeks to examine 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 by investigating the Hospital’s founders and governors. Some references within the Foundling Hospital’s records suggest that several foundlings during this period were of African or Asian descent.  However, the stories of these children are missing from the narrative of the institution’s history, so my project aims to identify and trace the lives of children of colour accepted into the Hospital during this period. This will include gathering information on the types of apprenticeships these children entered and investigating the economic contributions made by foundlings which supported imperial ambitions of the nation at this time. By developing biographies of the children and exploring the circumstances of their placement in the Foundling Hospital, it is hoped this research will also add to our understanding of the experiences of the Black, Asian and mixed-race populations in London during this period. 

By examining the lives of governors, patrons and benefactors, I aim to pinpoint sources of financial support given to the charity for its establishment and maintenance. This will enable the investiagtion of links between the Foundling Hsopital, private sources of funding and colonial possessions, including slave ownership.

Overall, my research aims to broaden 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.  Likewise, the examination of philanthropic individuals and sources of funding should prove significant for understanding and analysing the impact of an imperial society upon the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital. 

Research Area

  • History


  • 'At Home in Empire: Colonial Experinces of intimacy and Mobility'

Co-orgainser with Liz Egan (Warwick, March 2021)

  • Warwick PG Podcast Series

Committee Member (Jan-July 2020)

  • 'Across the British Empire: Voices, Stories and Representations', Warwick PG Podcast series

Panellist (July 2020)

  • 'Health and Power in the Past', Warwick PG Podcast series

Episode Chair (May 2020)

Other Research Interests

  • Motherhood and illegitimacy
  • Gender history
  • History of emotions
  • British Empire

Funding and Awards

2020-2021 - Warwick Humanities Research Centre Doctoral fellowship

2019-2023 - AHRC Midlands4Cities Collabortative Doctoral Award

2018-2019 - Nottingham Trent University Research Pathway Scholarship

2018 - Nottingham Trent University History Subject Award 

Academic Profile

  • 2019-2023 - PhD History

University of Warwick

  • 2018-2019 - MA History: Distinction
Nottingham Trent Univeristy

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

  • 2015-2018 - BA (Hons) History: First Class

Nottingham Trent University

Dissertation: 'When first acquainted with the father...': A study of the London Foundling Hospital petitions in the mid-Victorian period, 1856-1876