The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Dr Jonathan Conlin BA Oxon MA PhD Cantab FRHistS FHA

Senior Lecturer, Chair of Exams for History

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Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain underwent dramatic social, political, intellectual and cultural change. My teaching and research grapples with the legacy of this ferment, a legacy which continues to shape Britain and the wider world: from the free-market ideas of the moral philosopher Adam Smith to the theories of transmutation developed by Charles Darwin and his fellow evolutionists.

History is past politics, and politics present history.

Born in New York, I studied History and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, spending a year at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn, Germany. After a Masters in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute I moved to Cambridge for my doctorate. Before coming to Southampton in 2006 I was Research Fellow in Modern History at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and briefly worked for the BBC, as Specialist Researcher on the Michael Buerk history documentary series Trade Roots. Alongside my Southampton teaching I have taught at the École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d'Angers (ESSCA) and held Visiting Fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks, the Huntington Library, the Lewis Walpole Library and Princeton University Library. I write regularly for History Today and have organized a number of events aimed at non-academic audiences, in collaboration with the National Gallery, Tate, British Film Institute and National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Tales of Two Cities
Tales of Two Cities
The Nations Mantelpiece
The Nations Mantelpiece
Evolution and the Victorians
Evolution and the Victorians
Vauxhall Revisited
Vauxhall Revisited
Critical Lives
Critical Lives





Research interests

I am completing a five-year project addressing one of the most important figures in the history of the oil industry: Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955). 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. He 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 majors agree to collaborate within the confines of what had been the Ottoman Empire. Alongside TPC Gulbenkian also played an important role shaping the firms we know today as Shell and Total. A diplomat, financier and art collector as well as an "oil man" (a label he himself shunned) Gulbenkian's interests literally spanned the globe, from California to Siberia. A grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has enabled me to write what will hopefully be the definitive biography of this secretive figure.

Alongside this project I have continued to pursue my existing research interests: in urban history, in the history of evolution and the history of museums/arts broadcasting. Earlier work on the development of cemeteries, pleasure gardens, the urban night and flaneur helped me write the first comparative history of Paris and London ever published. Tales of Two Cities has since been translated into Japanese, Russian and Brazilian.

My first book, The Nation's Mantelpiece, told the story of the National Gallery, London: an institution in which art has always mingled with politics and business. I subsequently became interested in how new theories of transmutation changed how Victorians (including William Gladstone and E. A. Freeman) perceived the historical past in terms of evolutionary "development". Together with J. M. I. Klaver of the University of Urbino I am now working on a series of projects intended to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, author of The Water-Babies, Muscular Christian and historian.

My interests in the history of museums and historiography led me to explore a number of landmarks in British arts broadcasting, notably Kenneth Clark's series Civilisation (1969) and John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972). A monograph on Civilisation was hailed as "the first of a new genre" by Sir David Attenborough. Taken as a whole my research suggests that Clark and Berger are not the Punch-and-Judy adversaries they are so often held to be, sharing a common mission to engage new audiences with ideas of creativity and beauty.



Book Chapters


Creative Media and Artefacts

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.

Recently-completed theses have addressed the history of tableaux vivants in the long nineteenth century and libertarian conservatism in High Victorian Britain.


HIST1084 Cities of the Dead: Death, Mourning and Remembrance in Victorian Britain
HIST2216 Oil Burns the Hands: Power, Politics and Petroleum in Iraq, 1900-1958
HIST3116 Between Private Memory and Public History
HIST3142 Passions and Profits: Wealth, Freedom and Virtue in the Age of Adam Smith (Pt. 1: Texts)
HIST3146 Passions and Profits: Wealth, Freedom and Virtue in the Age of Adam Smith (Pt. 2: Contexts)

Dr Jonathan Conlin
History, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Southampton S017 1BF
Email address:

Room Number:65/2073

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