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Dr Caroline Nielsen

Dr Caroline Nielsen

Project title

The Chelsea Out-Pensioners: Image and reality in 18th century and early 19th century social care

A Chelsea pensioner portrait.

Project description

My research explores the experiences of poverty, ageing, and disability in Britain and Ireland. I am particularly interested in the role of war and demobilisation in British society during the 18th and 19th centuries.

My doctoral project is a qualitative and quantitative study of the Chelsea pension system. This is the British state’s main pension system for soldiers and their families. I draw my study from the first in-depth survey of the records of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea, London.

My research incorporates a wide range of archival and archaeological material. It includes a traditional institutional study of the hospital itself. Professor Jeremy Boulton, Professor of Urban History, and Dr Jonathan Andrews, Reader in the History of Psychiatry, supervise the project.

My previous research includes:

  • attitudes towards grief
  • bodily maiming
  • death in working-class autobiographies and periodicals during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period in England and Scotland

I have recently begun a new project examining mental impairment and mental illness amongst soldiers and sailors. I am investigating medical opinions towards war trauma as a recognized condition before 1914. I am also planning a parallel research project on medicine and poor relief in early modern London.

Academic positions

  • NWE Placement with Newcastle University’s Military, War, and Security Research Group 
  • Research Associate on the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC’s joint collaboration, World War One at Home: North East and Cumbria


  • HIS1023 Encounters in World History (TA and Seminar Leader)
  • HIS2031 Between Revolutions: Britain 1688-1789 (Lectures and Seminar Leader)
  • Newcastle Medical School SSC Stage 2: The History of Medicine: Ancient to Modern (Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor)

Public engagement and media work

Disability history as a movement prioritizes public outreach and activism. I am actively involved in promoting disability history to a wider audience. I welcome enquiries about this.

  • Invited Speaker 'Reflections on Disability History: People, Places and Perceptions', a one-day event organized by the Institute of Local and Family History (ILFH), Lancashire. 2012
  • Participant in the Loftus Radio Productions History of Disability series for BBC Radio 4, presented by Peter White, producer Elizabeth Burke.
  • Designer of the Newcastle Military, War and Security Research Group’s Resource Pages and compiler of the MWSRG Subject Guides.
  • Research Associate on the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC’s joint collaboration, World War One at Home: North East and Cumbria.


  • 2009-2010 – Seminar Co-Coordinator for Newcastle’s Historical Studies Postgraduate Forum (PGF). The Lunchtime Seminars are designed to be an informal and friendly place to present your research to an audience of both staff and other students, and get detailed constructive feedback on your paper.


  • BA Honours History (Newcastle University) – winner of Catherine Mackichan Prize for Undergraduate Medieval History
  • MA History (Newcastle University)
  • PGCert in Arts and Humanities Research Training



  • 'Disability, Fraud and Medical Experience at the Royal Hospital of Chelsea in the Long Eighteenth Century' in Britain's Soldiers: Rethinking War and Society, 1715-1815, eds. Kevin Linch & Matthew McCormack (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, forthcoming [2014])
  • Newcastle University’s Military, War and Security Research Group’s Resource Pages and Subject Guides (I welcome enquiries on these)
  • ‘“Continuing to Serve?” Representations of the Elderly Veteran Soldier in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries’ in Men After War, eds. Stephen McVeigh & Nicola Cooper, (London: Routledge, 2013).

Select conference papers

  • “Continuing to Serve: Representations of the Elderly Veteran Soldier in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries”, War and Gender Conference organized by War-Net, Newcastle University, UK (March 2011)
  • "Disability, Fraud, and Medical Experience among the Pensioners at the Royal Hospital of Chelsea in the late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries", Britain's Soldiers Conference, University of Leeds, UK (July 2011)
  • ‘His Unhappy Situation Merits Our Relief’: Disabled Veterans and the Experience of Long Term Invalidism during the Late Regency and Early Victorian Period’ Disability and the Victorians: Confronting Legacies, Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, Leeds Trinity University College, (July 2012)
  • ‘“And Your Petitioner will ever Pray Fight!”: Former Soldiers, Poverty and Statutory Poor Relief in England, c.1770-1820”, War, Society, and Culture in Britain, 1688-1830: New Perspectives, (July 2013)


My research interests are very varied, and I enjoy studying nearly all aspects of early modern and modern society. I am especially interested in working on, and encouraging wider participation in:

  • the history of the body, gender, and sexuality
  • the history of impairment, disabilities, and all forms of deformity
  • the history of medicine and chronic disease
  • the study of poverty and the poor
  • the social history of war and demobilization
  • the social history of death and bereavement
  • biography and life-writing
  • office-holding, debt, credit and corruption in early modern England

I am also interested in transferable student study skills, especially archival and library research abilities. Student and staff engagement with local heritage groups and archive skills are of interest.