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Nichola Jayne Tonks

PhD: History

Thesis Title: Re-imagining the soul: ancient Egyptian iconography and British material culture, 1830 – 1930


Thesis Description:

Between the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Egyptian revivalism influenced belief in the persistence of consciousness after death and redefined the perception of human souls. The material culture associated with movements dedicated to Spiritualism and Occultism are particularly pertinent. Funerary architecture, memento mori, burial sites and writings on death and the afterlife all bear witness to the change. By combining theoretical approaches from the history of ideas, material culture studies and archaeology, my research will analyse the cultural appropriation of ancient Egyptian ideas about death, the after-life, and the soul in Modern Britain. The material culture of the Egyptian revivals in Britain were not purely decorative, but were material markers of fractious debates regarding the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Victorian appropriations of Egyptian imagery, combined with archival research, can elucidate ideas of ancient Egypt transcended time and cultures, and were re-conceptualised, appropriated, and displayed materially in Modern Britain.  This research combines, and builds upon, my MA dissertation, which focused on the material culture of mourning and death in Victorian Britain, and my UG dissertation, which examined the material culture of the Egyptian Revivals in Britain.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr David Gange - History - University of Birmingham

Dr Sadiah Qureshi - History - University of Birmingham

Dr Eleanor Dobson - English - University of Birmingham


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • Tonks N & Sykes K, ‘A Crisis of Faith?: C. S. Lewis, Religion and the First World War’ in Larsen R & Whitehead I (Eds.), Popular Experience and Cultural Representation of the Great War, 1914-1918 , (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2017) pp. 109-118

  • Dobson E & Tonks N, Edited collection forthcoming.

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Journal of History and Cultures


January 2018 - Present

Issue 9 of the Journal is due to be released in February 2019.

Modern and Contemprary Histories Forum


October 2017 - Present

the MAC forum meets once a month and invites PhD students to present their research in an informal environment. We also organise social activities and events throughout the academic year to bring together PhD candidates in a variety of disciplines to foster a lively and vibrant research community at the University of Birmingham. We also host a one-day symposium which is being held in February 2019.



'Tea with the Sphinx: Reception of Ancient Egypt’s Myth, Magic and Mysticism', University of Birmingham, September 7th & 8th 2018, Role Lead Organiser

  • Funding obtained from BRIHC 
  • Funding obtained from the Postgraduate development fund

‘Tea with the Sphinx: Defining the Field of Ancient Egypt Reception Studies’ conference, University of Birmingham, 1st & 2nd September 2017, Role: Co-organiser

  • Funding obtained from BRIHC (Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures)

Introduced a public screening of The Mummy’s Hand (1940), at Westmere House, 31st August 2017

‘Tea with the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination’ conference, University of Birmingham, 23rd & 24th September 2016, Role: Co-organiser

‘Egyptomania and the Material Culture of British Burials; or, How Hamilton Lost His Feet’, Paper given at ‘Tea with the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination’, University of Birmingham, 23rd September 2016

  • Funding obtained from Past and Present 
  • Funding obtained from BAVS
  • Funding obtained from BRIHC
  • Funding obtained from BARS

Introduced a public screening of The Mummy (1932), at Westmere House, 22 September 2016

Professional Membership

British Association for Victorian Studies (2015– Present)

North American Victorian Studies Association (2018- Present)

Other Research Interests:

  • The reception of the ancient world in Modern Britain
  • Religion and Secularism in the nineteenth century Britain
  • Victorian burial and mourning rituals
  • Hair and Jet Jewellery 

Outside of my primary research area, as a mother of two young children, I also have an interest in Child Rights and have become involved with an M3C project in my spare time on that basis. Lead by Jeanette Rodgers, Child Rights Week is a funded initiative that cultivates relationships between local schools, surrounding communities, local councils and key child rights organisations in the Midlands, to promote children's rights within the school environment. You can read more about this project through this link.


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