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Catherine Sumnall MA PhD

College Teaching Officer in Geography and Admissions Director, Sidney Sussex


I studied for my BA, MPhil, and PhD at Cambridge, in the Department of Geography and the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, under the supervision of Prof. Richard Smith.

My post-doctoral research, on early modern European maritime migration, was based in the Faculty of History at the University of Birmingham, working with Dr Jelle van Lottum and Dr Aske Brock.

I have very much enjoyed conducting applied research into admissions and widening participation for the University of Cambridge, and the London School of Economics, and am delighted to now be Admissions Director in all subjects at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, which is also where I studied myself.

I am Director of Studies for 1A, 1B and II and a Fellow in Geography at Sidney.


  • BA Geography, University of Cambridge, 2002-2005
  • MPhil Geographical Research, University of Cambridge, 2006-7
  • PhD A historical geography of illegitimacy in the Gurk Valley, Austria, 1868 to 1945, University of Cambridge, 2007-11


My research interests centre around historical demography and historical geography in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. I am especially fascinated by the ways in which people negotiate demographic life events, such as birth and marriage, in relation to the social and economic conditions of their community.

Much of my research is focused on Austria, and especially on births outside and before marriage in the period between 1868 and 1945. I combine quantitative analysis of parish registers, lists of souls, and other quasi-census records, with more qualitative resources such as autobiography and oral history, to build up a picture not only of the path to vital events on a population level, but also the emotional demographies of life.


Selected publications:

Historical geography and demography

  • Aske Brock, Jelle van Lottum and Catherine Sumnall, 2015, 'Mobility, Migration and Human Capital in the Long Eighteenth Century: the life of Joseph Anton Ponsaing', in M. Fusaro, B. Allaire, R. Blakemore and T. Vanneste (eds.) 'Law, Labour and Empire: comparative perspectives on seafarers, c. 1500-1800', London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Catherine Sumnall, 2011, 'Illegitimacy and its social reception in the Gurk Valley, Austria, c.1880 to 1940', in M-P. Arrizabalaga, I. Bolovan, M. Eppel, J. Kok, M-L. Nagata (eds.), Many Paths to Happiness? Studies in Population and Family History: a Festschrift for Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux, Amsterdam: Askant.
  • Catherine Sumnall, 2009, 'Micro-geographies of illegitimacy and social change in the Gurk valley, 1870 to 1960', Families in Europe between the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries (Editors: A. Fauve-Chamoux & I. Bolovan), Cluj-Napoca: Babes-Bolyai University Press.
  • Catherine Sumnall, 2009, 'There's no such thing as sin in the Alps. Some Reflections on the historical demography of illegitimacy in Carinthia after 1868', Transylvanian Review XVIII, Supplement to conference: Demographic changes in the time of Industrialisation.


  • Catherine Sumnall, 2015, ANOVA on A*s at A-level and Tripos performance, Cambridge Admissions Office
  • Catherine Sumnall, 2015, UMS performance and the eventual HE destination of Cambridge applicants, Cambridge Admissions Office


  • Director of Studies at Sidney Sussex for IA, IB, and II
  • Lecturer in IA Human Geography: historical geography
  • Lecturer in IA statistical methods
  • Supervisor across IA human geography, and relevant IB and II papers