Finding Lydia Harvey


A book launch and conversation with Dr Julia Laite, author of the book The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey: A True Story of Sex, Crime and the Meaning of Justice.


How did sex trafficking, labour exploitation, inequality, and the rise of border regimes intersect in the early twentieth century? What can micro-history tell us about the lived experience of these intersecting forces?

For this launch event, former ISRF Fellow Julia Laite is joined by a panel of historians to discuss her recent book, The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey: A True Story of Sex, Crime and the Meaning of Justice. The book, newly out in paperback, is a global history that reconstructs the lives of those involved in an infamous sex trafficking case in the early twentieth century.

At the heart of the history is the young woman Lydia Harvey, a working-class girl from New Zealand who left behind the grueling labour of domestic service when two people promised her a better and easier life. Using innovative micro-historical research and narrative techniques, the book traces her journey from New Zealand, to Argentina, and to London, and also examines the lives of those whose stories intersected with hers.

The book tackles the thorny issue of global sex trafficking, tying its all-too-human face to its legal and cultural contexts while also linking it to labour exploitation, gendered and racial inequalities, and the new border regimes of the early twentieth century world. Laite illuminates the way in which individuals, cities, and nations were bound together by networks of migrant labourers that fed expanding global sex and entertainment industries. Throughout, Laite stays focused on the dreams and aspirations of ordinary people like Lydia Harvey.

Julia Laite offers an overview of her book with responses from two experts on the topic: Siobhán Hearne, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University and author of Policing Prostitution: Regulating the Lower Classes in Late Imperial Russia (2021); and Matt Houlbrook, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham and author of Prince of Tricksters: the Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (2016). A Q&A follows, moderated by Professor Christopher Newfield, ISRF Director of Research.

This is the fifteenth in the ISRF’s series of Book Launches.