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The University of Southampton
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Dr Jonathan Conlin BA Oxon MA PhD Cantab FRHistS FHA

Senior Lecturer; Impact Champion

Dr Jonathan Conlin's photo

History is past politics, and politics present history.

I am a historian of British cultural history from c. 1750 to the present. My books include a history of the National Gallery, a comparative history of Paris and London, and an introduction to the eighteenth-century moral philosopher Adam Smith, and have been translated into seven foreign languages. Alongside academic journals I have contributed to GQ, Sight and Sound and History Today. For my recent biography of the Anglo-Armenian oil magnate, financier and art collector Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), see the “Research” tab, below. 

Born and raised 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 a Junior Research Fellow 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, Huntington Library, Lewis Walpole Library and Princeton University Library. To celebrate the fortieth anniversaries of the landmark BBC television series Civilisation (1969) and Ways of Seeing (1972) I organized a series of screenings, concerts and study days at 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
Civilisation
Civilisation
Critical Lives
Critical Lives
Great Economic Thinkers
Great Economic Thinkers
Making History
Making History
Mr. Five Per Cent
Mr. Five Per Cent

Research interests

2019 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955): oil magnate, art collector and philanthropist, known as "Mr Five Per Cent" on account of his personal 5% holding of Middle East oil production. Recognizing the need for a scholarly biography of their founder, in 2012 the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation agreed to support a five-year research project which I was privileged to lead. The ramifications of Gulbenkian's personal, diplomatic and business interests roamed far beyond oil, and presented unique challenges. With the help of a small team I examined a wealth of primary source material located in ten different countries, written in nine different languages. The resulting book, Mr Five Per Cent: the Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World's Richest Man (2019) was published in English, Portuguese and a number of other languages. You can find out more about this project and its wide-ranging impact by following this link.

The Gulbenkian Biography Project drew together several of my pre-existing research interests, such as the history of collecting, but has also led me to explore new avenues, notably the emergence of a global oil industry in the first half of the twentieth century. A financier and diplomat more than an "oil man", tracing Gulbenkian's career led me to spend long periods in bank archives in the UK, France and Germany. His supra-national perspective led me to challenge existing narratives of "economic imperialism" and "energy security", and revealed the many ways in which multi-national oil companies and banks manipulated their "host" governments – in both “east” and “west”.

Together with Dr Ozan Ozavci of the University of Utrecht and with the support of the Gingko and Gulbenkian Foundations I am organising a workshop and conference intended to mark the centenary of the 1923 Lausanne Conference. Despite being “the longest lasting and most successful of the post-First World War settlements” (Keith Jeffrey and Alan Sharp) the Lausanne Conference has received little attention from scholars. We see the upcoming centenary less as an opportunity to provide a “missing” equivalent to existing studies of Versailles, however, and more as an opportunity to transcend traditional diplomatic history, reintroducing non-state actors such as multinational companies, banks, political parties, NGOs and the media. Lausanne shifted borders and unleashed unprecedented population exchanges, but it also changed how capital, goods and information moved between east and west, as well as within the Near East region. Turkey's relations with her neighbours are currently in a state of flux, lending a more nuanced understanding of Lausanne a new urgency.

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Creative Media and Artefacts

Role-play exercise in Bloomberg Suite
Role-play exercise in Bloomberg Suite

All my modules are delivered using the “flipped classroom” model: hands-on, skills-based workshops, peer assessment and role-plays replace traditional lectures, leading students beyond the seminar room walls, across the university, city and wider region. Seminars take in the relatively familiar (Hartley Special Collections), the unusual (Southampton Crematorium, Exxon’s Fawley oil refinery) and the experimental (a role-play exercise using Social Sciences’ Bloomberg Suite).

With the support of the university’s Estates & Facilities department and Southampton City Art Gallery I recently designed two new modules which will change how our undergraduates interact with their university and city: HIST1181 Room for Improvement invites them to explore the history of higher education in Britain by studying the design of familiar campus buildings, bringing the backdrop of their lives centre stage. HIST2230 Portraiture: Curating the Self sees students curate their own temporary exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery.

Modules

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)

Areas where I can offer 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.

Here are some examples of publications that emerged from research by my graduate as well as by my undergraduate students:

Dr Jonathan Conlin
History, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BF
Email address: jgwc2@soton.ac.uk

Room Number: 65/2073

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