Name: Dr Oliver Buxton Dunn

Employment History

  • 15 August 2016 to present, Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA), Cambridge:

PDRA with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. I process historical sources of data (16th – 19th century) for use in numerous research projects in British early modern and modern economic and social history. I contribute to analysis and the writing of research papers and funding applications. I lecture in history and run advanced historical research methods workshops in the digital humanities with Cambridge Digital Humanities Network (CRASSH).

  • 2 May 2015 to 15 August 2016. PDRA with the Cambridge Group. (part-time till 15th August 2016)
  • 1 November 2014 to 14 August 2016. Consultant at Track Record Global (Brighton, UK), a digital start-up company that manages online the compliance records for suppliers of major British retailers, including John Lewis and Argos.
  • 1 February 2009 to 1 April 2009. Research Assistant for the London School for Advanced Study, ‘Life in the Suburbs’ project under Mrs. Gill Newton.
  • 1 February 2007 – 1 September 2010. Research Assistant with the Cambridge Group. I filmed records and collected data from archives across England and Wales.


Ph.D. History and Civilisation: European University Institute, Italy (EUI), Granted 15 January 2015. Thesis title: ‘A State of Corruption. Fraud and the Birth of British Trade Taxation, c. 1550-90’.

My doctoral dissertation revealed in a new light the new system of customs taxation in sixteenth-century England. An ‘eruption of corruption’ based on reports of fraud and evasion provides important detail about customs collections and the relationship between officials and the state. This activity contradicts a characterisation of the early English customs as exceptionally centralised from a European comparative perspective. Customs officers were autonomous private actors. Oversight of their practices and accounting was problematic. Accusations of corruption – a word increasingly used at the time – featured debate about how the new customs should be governed. This was a discourse that I argue influenced how British customs developed from medieval foundations.  Laws and the accounting systems behind new customs were designed to protect against misdemeanours. These structures lay behind a new national customs system that lasted from 1558 till 1800. Corruption was embedded in this area of early state formation.

Master of Research: European University Institute, 2010-11. Taught units in social sciences and history and global and cultural history. Preliminary research allowing for continuation of doctoral research. Ungraded.

Master of Philosophy in Early Modern Studies: University of Cambridge, 2009-10. Courses on early modern themes, including ‘Visual and Material Culture’, ‘Research Skills’ and ‘Thesis Writing’. 70%

Bachelor of Arts in Historical Studies: University of Bristol, 2003-6. Courses in medieval and early modern European history, including ‘Introduction to Medieval History’, ‘History of the Book’, and, ‘The Smugglers’ City’. 68% (88% for Undergraduate Research Dissertation).

Research projects

  • Transport, policy, and the British industrial revolution, 1680-1911. Funding from Keynes Fund Cambridge (£90,000).
  • THOTH. Transcription of Objects of Tabulated Handwriting. This is a machine learning system that uses hand-written text recognition and OCR quickly convert historical tabulated information in documents into modern data.
  • Consultancy for Aviva plc working on the digitisation of their insurance archive.
  • Early population estimates for England (c. 1650-1690). Digitisation of hearth tax and religious censuses using OCR to estimate town-level population size in Leicestershire and Hampshire. This was a pilot funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant (£50,000). This pilot has now become the basis for an ESRC application.
  • Fuel prices in Cambridgeshire 1560-1800. (£4000 from Isaac Newton trust.)
  • British industrial production and energy consumption by industry in 1954 and 1963. Funded by the grant ‘Who did the dirty work? Energy embodied in European and global trade, 1800-1970’, from the Swedish Research Council.
  • Transport, Urbanization and Economic Development in England’, funded by a Leverhulme grant and the US National Science Foundation. I led research into British coasting trades and transport. I was a beneficiary of an Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000).
  • Statistical analysis for The History of Energy and the Environment. Joint Center for History and Economics.


  • Methods Fellow with the Cambridge Digital Humanities Program. I teach graduate workshops in the digital humanities, entitled: Introduction to Archival Photography, Sources to Data, Introduction to OCR, and Mapping the Past.
  • Outline lectures on British Economic and Social History and special series of four lectures, Agricultural and Agrarian change.


  • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J., O. Dunn, Database of historic ports and coastal sailing routes in England and Wales2019 (Data in Brief).
  • Dunn, O., ‘Corrupting Practices and the New Customs of England (c.1558-70)’, online working papers Datini-Ester advanced seminar, 1/2015.

Published datasets

  • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J and Dunn, Oliver and Bogart, Dan and Satchell, Max and Shaw-Taylor, Leigh (2019). Historical ports and sailing shipping routes in England and Wales 1540-1914. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853711

Unpublished datasets

  • Newcastle Host Accounts, full years 1590-1600. 20,000 obs. Variable given are ship names, destination ports, cargo, tolls paid, hosts and merchant names. Handwritten text recognition software was used to collect this data.
  • Coastal shipping using port books, years cover span the period 1649-1689. 4500 obs. Variables given are ship names, ports, and voyage dates.
  • UK export data 1860-1914.  Approx. 10,000+ observations. Destination country. Product type. Quantity.
  • UK census of production 1954/1964. Total UK manufactures production with energy input and value of goods.
  • Hearth tax data set for Hampshire and Leicestershire. Complete population counts based on parochial Hearth Tax Assessments circa 1670.

Working papers

  • The following can be found at:

  • Dunn, O., ‘Coastal shipping speed and frequency before the Transport Revolution. England and Wales, 1649-1689’, (Cambridge Group for history of Population and Social Structure Working Papers).
  • Bogart, D., O. Dunn, E. Alvarez and L.M.S. Shaw-Taylor‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail’, 2019 (Cambridge Group for history of Population and Social Structure Working Papers). Romola Davenport, Max Satchell, Oliver Dunn, Gill Newton and Leigh Shaw-Taylor, ‘New methodologies for the estimation of urbanisation for England c.1670 and c.1761’.
  • Alvarez, E., Bogart, D., Shaw-Taylor, L., Dunn, O., and Satchell, A.E.M., ‘Growth before steam: A GIS approach to estimating multi-modal transport costs and productivity growth in England, 1680-1830.’
  • Bogart, D., Alvarez, E., Dunn, O., Satchell, A.E.M., Shaw Taylor, L. ‘Market access and urban growth in England and Wales during the pre-steam era.’

Funding awards

  • Keynes Fund research grant (£90,000) PI Leigh Shaw-Taylor
  • Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000) PI Leigh Shaw-Taylor
  • Paderewski grant (£1,500) for the study of Polish-European history at the European Centre Natolin, Warsaw, Poland. Summer, 2013.
  • Fees and living costs for four years of doctoral studies at the European University Institute from UK government Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills. (£80,000 plus fees)
  • Ellen McArthur Studentship in Economic History. University of Cambridge (£1500)

Conference papers

  • April 2019, Economic History Conference. paper given: ‘Transport, policy, and the British industrial revolution, 1680-1911: The case of lighthouses’.
  • May 2018 (session co-organiser) From Sources to Data workshop at Cambridge with the National Archives, CamPop, and Aviva plc.
  • April 2018 (session organiser) European Social Science History Conference, ‘Comparing Transport Networks, Geographies of Political and Economic Organisation in England/Wales and in the Ottoman Empire 1600-1900’. University of Belfast.
  • November 2017, Dockland’s History Group Seminar, ‘London’s Coastal Shipping Networks during the age of Sail: 1650-1830’. London.
  • November 2017, Local Population Studies Society conference’ ‘Coastal shipping and ports in England and Wales, 1650-1911’. Univ. of Leicester.
  • September 2017, European Network for the Comparative History of Population Geography and Occupational Structure conference. Presentation on transport networks and population history. Univ. of Cambridge
  • April 2017, Agricliometrics III conference, ‘Empirical estimations of shipping costs based on commodity prices in England and Wales during the nineteenth century’. Univ. of Cambridge.
  • April 2017, Economic History conference, ‘Coastal shipping and transport change in England and Wales, 1680-1830’. London.
  • October 2014, co-convenor of interdisciplinary conference: ‘Materiality and practice of the border, past and present’, EUI Florence.
  • September 2014, Shady Business, White Collar Crime in History Conference at the German Historical Institute, Washington DC. Co-sponsored by the Said Business School. (funding won)
  • May 2014, Social History Association Conference, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK
  • April 2014, Participant in the Datini Prato Advanced Seminar: ‘The market and its agents’, Prato, Italy (funding won)
  • November 2013, Social Science History Association Annual Conference, Chicago: ‘The first “modern” customs and subsidies, the secretive economy, and the taint of “corrupcion” in England, 1552-91’
  • August 2011, Accounting History Review conference in Cardiff, Wales: ‘Malfeasance in the Elizabethan customs administration and the reaction of monarchical power’.
  • September 2011, Forms of corruption in history conference, Sorbonne University, Paris, France: ‘Malfeasance in the Elizabethan English customs administration and the concept of “corruption” in history’.


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