- Primary position:
- Senior Lecturer
My first book, The Nation's Mantelpiece, focussed on the history of the National Gallery, London. In addition to considering how the worlds of art, business and high politics interacted in the nineteenth and twentieth century this study considered the different ways in which historical change has been understood and represented. I became interested in how new theories of transmutation changed how Victorians perceived the historical past, and have since explored how ideas of "development" influenced the thinking of eminent Victorian statesmen, authors and historians, including W. E. Gladstone, Charles Kingsley and E. A. Freeman. I am currently writing a textbook on Victorian responses to evolution for Continuum, and organized a conference on Freeman with Alex Bremner of the University of Edinburgh, held at the Gladstone and John Rylands Libraries in June 2012.
I have also explored a number of topics in Georgian and Victorian urban history. In 2006 I organized "Vauxhall Revisited", a conference on pleasure gardens: suburban resorts that played an important role in the emergence of the public sphere and the modern city. Much of my work on pleasure gardens, department stores and cultural politics more generally has had an Anglo-French focus, and has challenged a tendency to see the two nations as ‘natural and necessary enemies’. Laurent Turcot of the Université de Trois Rivières and I have prepared an English edition of Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s 1780 Parallel of Paris and London, a manifesto for a mutually beneficial, cross-Channel dialogue. Mercier's text inspired me to write Tales of Two Cities, a study of the influence Paris and London have exerted on one another in the modern period.
The University of Southampton's electronic library (e-prints)
Conference or Workshop Item
I research modern British cultural history, from the mid-eighteenth century up to the present. In 2013 I begin research for a new biography of the oil magnate, philanthropist and art collector Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955). This five-year project has been made possible by a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. I first began researching and writing about Gulbenkian's activities in 2002, focussing on his philanthropic vision as well as his collecting of European art. The story of how Gulbenkian persuaded the Ottoman authorities of the long-term economic potential of oil and helped create the firms we know today as Royal Dutch Shell and Total promises to shed new light on the emergence of the oil industry, the history of Britain and France's relationship with the Middle East, as well as on a preeminent business architect.
An opportunity to work on the BBC series Trade Roots (presented by Michael Buerk) gave me an insight into how the past is presented on radio. Since then I have researched the history of arts documentaries on television, in the UK and US. Archival research into the making and reception of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969) and John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) has led to a book and journal articles, as well as conferences, symposia and film seasons at the National Gallery, BFI and National Gallery of Art, Washington. Together with reviews and interviews in Sight & Sound, History Today and on the BBC's Today programme, these projects sought to inspire renewed public discussion of beauty, civilisation and other terms which have fallen into desuetude.
On leave 2012 - 16
Areas where I can offer postgraduate supervision:
Modern British politics and culture; Victorian evolution and historiography; history of museums and arts broadcasting.
Current theses in progress include a study of the Southwark Mint, the largest of the late seventeenth-/early eighteenth-century London sanctuaries for debtors; the reputation and legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection; poses plastiques and "living pictures" (i.e. tableaux vivants) in 1890s music hall.