Dr Ben Mechen

Ben Mechen is a social and cultural historian of modern Britain. Much of his work to date has focused on histories of sex and sexuality in late twentieth century Britain, and especially the various meanings given to sexual health, happiness and freedom across pop culture, politics, commerce and the human sciences. 

This research, which began during his PhD at UCL, has resulted in a number of articles, book chapters, edited volumes and journal special issues, as well as a first monograph to be published by University of California Press. 

Overall, his research in this area reopens a critique of the period’s apparent sexual liberalism by considering what and who this idea left out, as well as the new rules and norms ‘permissiveness’ paradoxically put in place.

More recently, Ben has begun two new projects in modern environmental history. 

The first, developed with Simeon Koole (Bristol), is an embodied and sensory history of the European timber trade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The project draws upon strands in posthuman and “new materialist” thought to consider the interconnected vulnerabilities of Rotherhithe’s dockside labourers, the Thames floodplain, and Sweden’s forests in the ages of capital and empire. 

The second, to be the basis of a second monograph, is called Salvage Ecologies in Late 20th Century Britain. It tries to offer a history of ecological thought and praxis in Britain that reaches beyond a history of organised environmentalism, ecological “pioneers,” environmental policy or “Earth System” science – the strands of analysis dominant in the historiography. 

Instead, the project identifies a series of largely unhistoricised experiments in everyday ecology between the 1970s and 1990s, from re-naturing sites of dereliction to making art out of waste. Many were rooted in queer, feminist, Black or anarchist thinking about the environment. And joining them together, the project argues, was an attempt to salvage from the ruins of late modernity new ways of living on, and with, the Earth, in a departure from seeking mastery over it. 

Ben rejoined UCL History in 2023 after holding a variety of research and teaching roles at the University of Bristol, King’s College London, Royal Holloway and the University of Birmingham. Before this, he completed his PhD, MA and BA at UCL History.

Selected publications


Further information about Ben is available on his UCL Profile.