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Liquid politics

Author: Frank Trentmann
Institution: Birkbeck College London
Type of case study: Research

About the research

This research was carried out by Frank Trentmann and Vanessa Taylor. Frank Trentmann is a Professor of History in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was also director of the 2002-2007 ESRC/AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme. Vanessa Taylor is a research fellow at the Greenwich Maritime Institute.

Liquid Politics was an ESRC and AHRC funded project which examined conflicts over water in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain, and focused in particular on the creation of a ‘consumer’ in battles over water in general and during droughts in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. This particular historical period saw water being supplied for baths and WCs, which also brought about concerns regarding water shortages and sustainable consumption. It was also a time of conflicts regarding how water was priced and who was responsible for managing supplies. The research revealed the rise of early consumer defence leagues and traced an expanding sense of citizenship and entitlement to water that has impeded attempts at demand management to this day.

For this research project, the ‘Edwardians’ data provided an invaluable source of rich material about daily water practices, the diversity of routines, and conflicts linking private and public realms.


Taylor, V., and Trentmann, F. (2011), ‘Liquid Politics: Water and the politics of everyday life in the modern city’, Past and Present, 211 (May), pp. 199-241.

Taylor, V., Chappells, H., Medd, W., and Trentmann, F. (2009), ‘Drought is Normal: the socio-technical evolution of drought and water demand in the UK, 1893-2006’, Journal of Historical Geography, 35 (July), pp. 568-91.

Trentmann, F. and Taylor, V. (2005), ‘From users to consumers: water politics in nineteenth-century London’ in Trentmann, F. (ed.) The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World, Oxford: Berg.