School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies


Photo of Dr Mike Esbester

Dr Mike Esbester

  • Qualifications: BA (Hons) History (University of Exeter), MA Railway Studies (University of York), PhD Railway Studies (University of York)
  • Role Title: Senior Lecturer in History
  • Address: Milldam, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3AS
  • Telephone: 023 9284 6085
  • Email:
  • Department: School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies
  • Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


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, public or students; I draw on this research in my teaching, which covers European history from approximately 1750.

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 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 accidents.

In my second 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 have served on the Executive Committee of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility.

Teaching Responsibilities

  • Unit Coordinator and Tutor, History Special Subject 2 (Level 6)
  • Tutor, Modernity and the Masses (Level 5)
  • Tutor, Empires and Identities (Level 5)
  • Tutor, Society and Culture in Twentieth-Century Europe (Level 4)
  • Personal tutor at Levels 5 & 6
  • Undergraduate dissertation supervisor (Level 6)
  • Tutor, MA in War, Culture and Society (Level 7)


Research Clusters

  • Social and Cultural History

Discipline Areas

  • History

Current Research Projects

My new research project, started in 2013 and lasting for two years, looks at perceptions of legitimacy of occupational safety and health in post-1960 Britain. It is funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, and is collaborative with Professor Paul Almond of the University of Reading’s School of Law. You can find out more about the project here, or read the project blog .

At the same time, I am continuing the research started during my AHRC Early Career Fellowship. This explore how safety has been culturally and socially constructed. I interrogate the meanings of ‘safety’ through the lens of safety education, which used a diverse range of media such as posters, booklets, cigarette cards, board games, medals, films, and more, to try to persuade people to change their behaviour and act safely. This work includes a large range of academic, professional and public engagement activities and outputs – including, in recent years, public lectures, film showings, an online exhibition with the National Railway Museum (which can be viewed here: Caution! Railway safety since 1913), and work with practitioners and unions to apply history to current safety concerns.

I am currently preparing a number of publications: a monograph for Ashgate, provisionally entitled The Birth of Modern Safety. Preventing Worker Accidents on Britain’s Railways, 1871-1948; (with Dr Tom Crook, Oxford Brookes University) an edited book, focusing on the history of risk, danger and safety in modern Britain; and (with Dr Jameson Wetmore, Arizona State University) a special issue of Technology & Culture, focusing on international histories of road safety.


Research profile

Explore my research profile, publications and activities on the Portsmouth Research Portal

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