- Primary position:
- Senior Lecturer - on research leave
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, The Rev. Charles Kingsley and E. A. Freeman. I wrote a textbook on Victorian responses to evolution, and organized a 2012 conference on Freeman with Alex Bremner of the University of Edinburgh (a proceedings volume is currently in press).
I have also explored a number of topics in Georgian and Victorian urban history. In 2008 I organized "Vauxhall Revisited", a conference on pleasure gardens: suburban resorts that shaped how city life was understood and represented. This led to an edited volume, published in the Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture series. Much of my work on pleasure gardens, department stores, the urban night 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.
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 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/podcasts/the-national-gallery-podcast-episode-twenty-eight], British Film Institute 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.
The University of Southampton's electronic library (e-prints)
Conference or Workshop Item
In 2013, I began a five-year project looking at one of the most important figures in the history of oil: Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), also known as "Mr Five Percent". Born into a family of Ottoman Armenian merchants in Istanbul, Gulbenkian spent much of his life in London and Paris before settling in Lisbon in 1942. Gulbenkian established the Turkish (later Iraq) Petroleum Company in 1912, and is often associated with the 1928 "Red Line Agreement", which saw the world's oil supermajors agree to collaborate within the confines of what had been the Ottoman Empire. Gulbenkian's personal holding of 5% of Middle East oil production derived from this agreement, which was renegotiated in 1948, after the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia. His success in securing and holding on to this famous five percent as empires faded, borders shifted and new nation-states emerged was testament to his skill as a negotiator.
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 current project is intended to produce what will hopefully be the definitive biography of Gulbenkian, in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2019. Alongside TPC Gulbenkian also played an important role shaping the firms we know today as Shell and Total. A diplomat and financier as well as an "oil man" (a label he himself shunned) Gulbenkian's interests literally spanned the globe, from California to China. Yet the man himself kept a low-profile, preferring to broker deals out of the sight of the media.
This geographical extent, Gulbenkian's secretiveness and his polyglot correspondence (he wrote Armenian, Ottoman Turkish, French and English) present any would-be biographer with unusual challenges. I am grateful to have the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, based in Lisbon. Stewards of Gulbenkian's oil interests and art as well as his archives, in October 2014 the Foundation hosted an exhibition I curated on Gulbenkian's early life. "More than Mr Five Percent: The Early Life of Calouste Gulbenkian" provided the public with a chance to see some of the treasures I have uncovered in my work so far. Taken as a whole the project promises to shed new light on the emergence of the oil industry, the history of Britain, France and the United States' relationship with the Middle East, as well as on the life and career of a preeminent business architect.
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; history of the oil industry.
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 Victorian music hall; libertarian conservatism in High Victorian Britain.