Skip to main content
Professor Mary Heimann

Professor Mary Heimann

Professor of Modern History, Deputy Head of History

+44 (0)29 2087 5157
4.38, John Percival Building
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


My approach to the history of ideas is rather like that of an anthropologist. I try to recover and make sense of how people, living at different times and in different places, conceptualise their own and rival religious faiths, scientific paradigms, national identities and political utopias.

I have particular expertise in Czechoslovakia, English Catholicism and Communist-Catholic relations during the Cold War.

My best-known publications are Catholic Devotion in Victorian England (Oxford University Press), ‘Christianity in Western Europe from the Enlightenment’ in A World History of Christianity, and Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed (Yale University Press).

My next book, Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain, will also be published by Yale University Press.

My work on Czechoslovak history has attracted the attention of governments, diplomats and policy-makers, including NATO.

In 2016 it was selected as an AHRC Impact Case Study for Wales.

Impact Case Study

Czechoslovakia: The State that Failed featured at international writers’ and book festivals, including the Prague Writers Festival.

Prague Writers Festival

A new Czech edition was brought out by Petrkov in 2020 with an introduction by the first Czech Prime Minister.

In Spring 2021, it was one of the 10 most-read books in the Czech Republic.

I founded and direct Cardiff's Central and East European Research Centre and Czechoslovak Special Collection

I supervise postgraduate students in modern European history, especially Catholic and Czechoslovak history.

I was nominated by my students for 'Teaching Excellence', 'Personal Tutor' and 'Most Uplifting Member of Staff' awards.

My research-led teaching was made the subject of a feature article in the Times Higher Education magazine.

Recent media interviews include New York Times, BBC Radio 4, DV TV, Sunday Supplement and All Things Considered


I'm an historian specialising in Czechoslovakia, English Catholicism, and religion in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

I founded the Central and East European Research Centre and the Czechoslovak Special Collection at Cardiff University.

I was educated at Vassar College in upstate New York (BA in History and English, 1987) and at Magdalen College, Oxford (1988-1992).

My DPhil (PhD) in Modern History was awarded from the University of Oxford in 1993.

Before being appointed to the Chair of Modern History at Cardiff University, I was a Research Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge (1992-5), Lecturer in History at the University of York (1995-6), Research Editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (1996-7) and Senior Lecturer, then Reader, at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

I have won various research grants (AHRC, Leverhulme, Maguire), held visiting fellowships (Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno) and had policy recommendations adopted by NATO’s Partnership for Peace (2015).

I serve on the editorial boards of The English Historical Review (Oxford University Press) and British Catholic History (Cambridge University Press).

I was for many years Associate Editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press) with responsibility for English Catholic subjects; I also worked on The Gladstone Diaries and History of the University of Oxford projects. Until recently I was also on the editorial boards of The Innes Review (Edinburgh University Press) and Europe-Asia Studies (formerly Soviet Studies).

I have been a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 2005.

Professional memberships

  • Czechoslovak Studies Association
  • Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)
  • Forum for Czech and Slovak Studies (UK)
  • British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Academic positions

  • 2016-present: Professor of Modern History, Cardiff University
  • 2016: Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, Stathclyde University
  • 1996-1997: Research Editor, Oxford DNB, University of Oxford
  • 1995-1996: Lecturer in History, University of York
  • 1992-1995: Research Fellow, Newnham College, Cambridge

Speaking engagements

  • Ruusbroec Spring Lecture, 'Bible-smuggling across the Iron Curtain', University of Antwerp (2022)
  • Speaker, 'Bibles, Suffering and Material Religion', Conference on Material Religion, University of Lund (2022)
  • Discussant, 'Czechoslovakism', BASEES conference, University of Cambridge (2022)
  • Speaker, New Diplomatic History annual conference, Aarhus University (2021)
  • Speaker, Conference on Evangelicals and Religious Freedom, Baylor University (2021)
  • Guest Speaker, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.(2021)
  • Panel, Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference, Cardiff University (2021)
  • Live discussion/book launch with former Czech Prime Minister, Prague Business Club (2020)
  • Interview with Matthew Bannister for 'Last Word' BBC Radio 4 (2020)
  • Interview for 'All Things Considered' BBC Radio Wales (2020)
  • Television interview with Emma Smetana for DV TV (2020)
  • Plenary/Keynote Lecture 'Remembering St Francis' University of Durham (2019)
  • Czech Communism through British Eyes 1948-1989 (public lecture) Charles University, Prague (2019)
  • Interview for 'Sunday Supplement' on the 1989 Velvet Revolution BBC Radio Wales (2019)
  • Czechoslovakia after 1989 (research talk), Cardiff University (2019)
  • Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain (research talk), University of Oxford (2019)
  • Czechoslovakia and Munich (plenary lecture) CoMo, University of Sheffield (2018)


















  • Heimann, M. 2005. Catholic revivalism in worship and devotion. In: Gilley, S. and Stanley, B. eds. The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 8, World Christianities c.1815–c.1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press



  • Heimann, M. 2002. English Catholic particularism in piety and politics. In: Lamberts, E. ed. The Black International: L'Internationale Noire 1870-1878 - The Holy See and Militant Catholicism in Europe/Le Saint-Siege et le Catholicisme Militant en Europe. KADOC Studies Leuven: Leuven University Press





I teach a mix of modern European history, focussing mainly on Czechoslovakia and twentieth-century East-Central Europe.

Specialist double-semester modules developed at Cardiff include:

  • HS1884 Czechoslovakia: The View From Central Europe
  • HS1772 Martyrs and Collaborators: Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain
  • HST685 The 1989 Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe
  • HS1135 Modern Britain (with colleagues)

I contribute to various team-taught modules in History (History in Practice, Exploring Historical Debate, Dissertation Masterclass).

I supervise both undergraduate and postgraduate research projects in Modern History.

I am currently developing two single-semester modules:

  • The Dark Twentieth Century
  • Czechoslovakia: The Twentieth Century in Miniature

My approach to the history of ideas is rather like that of an anthropologist. I treat the past as a series of foreign cultures whose mental outlooks, prejudices and assumptions are different from our own.

My research seeks to recover and make sense of how people, living at different times and in different places, conceptualise their own and rival religious faiths, scientific paradigms, national identities and political utopias.

I publish in two distinct fields:

  • nineteenth and twentieth-century religious history, especially British
  • twentieth-century East European political history, especially Czechoslovak

My best-known publications are Catholic Devotion in Victorian England (Oxford University Press), ‘Christianity in Western Europe from the Enlightenment’ in A World History of Christianity, and Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed (Yale University Press).

A new Czech edition, Československo - stát, který zklamal, was published in 2020, with a foreword by the first Czech Prime Minister, Petr Pithart, and endorsements by former Civic Forum leader Jan Urban and Slovak deputy Foreign Minister Magdaléna Vášáryová.

My next book, Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain, is also to be published by Yale University Press.

I have received various research awards, including from The Leverhulme Trust, the AHRC and the ESRC.

My research has been the subject of both REF (2014) and AHRC (2016) Impact Case Studies.

I am grateful to BASEES, the Czech Embassy in London, the Slovak Embassy in London, and the Honorary Slovak Consul in Wales for support with following recent research-related, wider engagement events:

Commemorating 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia:


Taking witness testimony 30 years after the 1989 Velvet Revolution:

Generation '89 Witness Seminar


I welcome and enjoy supervising Masters and Doctoral (PhD) research students in Modern History.

My areas of particular expertise and scholarly interest include:

  • Czechoslovakia
  • English Catholicism
  • Communism
  • Science and Religion
  • East-Central Europe
  • The Cold War
  • Underground Religion
  • Political Trials

Past projects

I have long experience of supervising doctoral and other postgraduate students to successful and timely completion.

Current/recent research students include:

  • Elizabeth Kohn, 'Communist Women in a Czechoslovak Show Trial: Glasnerová and Kleinová' (MPhil begun 2022)
  • James Moffatt, 'Political Trials in Normalized Czechoslovakia: Rudolf Battěk' (MPhil begun 2022)
  • Kristof Smeyers, 'The Flesh Made Word: Stigmata in the Public Sphere in Britain' (co-supervised with Tine Van Osselaer at the University of Antwerp; PhD awarded 2021)
  • Nicole Burnett, 'The Way to Wealth, Health and Happiness: Frugality in British Print Culture of the Long Eighteenth Century' (second supervisor; first supervisor Keir Waddington. MPhil awarded 2021).
  • Stephen O’Donnell, ‘Trans-National Slovak Nationalism, circa 1890-1914′ (PhD awarded 2018)
  • Allan Jones, 'A Catholic Moral Theology of End of Life Care', (second supervisor; joint PhD with KU Leuven; begun 2018).
  • David Green, ‘The Czechoslovak Communist Party’s Revolution’ (ESRC-funded PhD; awarded 2014)
  • Gregory Williams, ‘Cultural Policy and the Czechoslovak Communist Party, circa 1970-1988′ (fully-funded PhD; in progress)
  • Jennifer Dowie Roe, ‘Spiritualist Summer Schools, 1860-1900’ (PhD awarded 2011)

A sample of other dissertation topics supervised to successful completion include:

  • A Study of Censorship: Law and Order during Dubček’s Normalisation
  • Radio Free Europe in Czechoslovakia, circa 1974-1984
  • British Phrenology in Crisis, circa 1880-1930
  • Czechoslovak Representations at the Paris Peace Conference 1919
  • The Development of Francis Galton’s Eugenics Theory from 1865-1911
  • The Czechoslovak Exile Government in London, 1939-1945
  • Satires of Communism in Czech Film of the New Wave
  • Nazi Constructions of Childhood in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp
  • Religious Practice among English Catholics, circa 1829-1850
  • Edvard Beneš and the Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans, 1938-1945
  • The Communist Party of Great Britain’s Response to the Warsaw Pact Intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968
  • Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty: A Cameo of the Cold War
  • How Distinctively Czech was the Velvet Revolution of 1989?
  • Edvard Beneš’s Role in the 1948 Communist Coup
  • Portrayals of the 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia in British Print Media
  • Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century Scotland
  • Sketches of Holy Women in Nineteenth-Century Methodism
  • Catholic Social Thought and Action in the 1930s in England

Postgraduate Summer School at NYU in Prague

I designed and co-ran the 5th CRCEES Postgraduate Research Methodology Summer School held at New York University in Prague (11-20 July 2011). This brought together 20 doctoral students and 15 academic experts from universities across Europe, including Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Kazakhstan and Serbia. The AHRC, SFC and HEFCE funded the ten-day residential postgraduate summer school. Review of Prague Summer School

External Examining

  • University of Cambridge (2022)
  • Leeds Trinity University (2019)
  • University of St Andrews (2016)
  • University of Aberdeen (2014)
  • University of Edinburgh (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
  • University of Glasgow (2015)
  • University of Oxford (2008)
  • University of York (1998)
  • Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand (2016)