Colleges, School and Institutes
I began my career as a historian of the nineteenth century, working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on a Leverhulme-funded project at Cambridge University entitled ‘Past versus Present: Abandoning the Past in an Age of Progress’. I arrived at Birmingham in 2010 and my first monograph, Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 alongside an edited collection with Michael Ledger Lomas, Cities of God: the Bible and Archaeology in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2014). After that, I wrote The Victorians: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2016), which was intended to be my last publication on the nineteenth century before leaving it behind.
My new research is on coasts, oceans and the communities and species that occupy them. It involves first-person narrative writing, formed around long-distance ocean kayak journeys, and includes The Frayed Atlantic Edge: a Historian’s Journey from Shetland to the Channel (Harper Collins, 2019) as well as articles such as ‘Time, Space & Islands’, Past & Present (May 2019).
My work has been featured on BBC Breakfast TV, BBC2, Smithsonian Television, at the Hay Festival and the Edinburgh Festival, and I’ve written for media including the Times Literary Supplement, The Scotsman and The Big Issue. I’ve been nominated for teaching awards in every full year’s teaching I’ve done at Birmingham and in 2013 was awarded the Head of School's Award for Excellence in Teaching (History and Cultures), the Head of College's Award for Excellence in Teaching (Arts & Law) and the Aston Webb Award for Outstanding Early-Career Academic. In 2015-17 I was a fellow of the Intercontinental Academy, convening in Sao Paulo and Nagoya, to produce collaborative work between the humanities and sciences on the concept of Time, and in 2018 I was a Moore Fellow at the National University of Ireland Galway.
I have also been Admissions Tutor for History since September 2018.
My current research is on coasts, oceans, and the communities and species that occupy them. It blends archival research with oral histories and observation from the kayak, on sea routes that – before the dominance of road and rail - were once used by multitudes of local families. One priority in this research is to speak to the historical profession and general readerships in ways that are accessible to all. So open access articles such as ‘Time, Space & Islands’, Past & Present (May 2019) appear alongside ‘Rethinking our Coastlines’, The Big Issue (July 2019).
My main publication from this research so far, The Frayed Atlantic Edge (Harper Collins, 2019), involved kayaking from Shetland to the Channel over the course of a year, immersing myself in archives, seas and conversations, and writing a book that blends historical research, literary criticism and ecological commentary with a personal narrative from the boat. The extensive website for the book – www.frayedatlanticedge.com - introduces its key themes: from the geographical reorganisation of Britain after 1770, to the philosophical significance of Gaelic thought, and the significance of poetry as a historical resource.
In asking how British and Irish history looks from the perspective of Atlantic coastlines this research challenges existing, metropolitan, narratives. It therefore questions standard narratives such as enlightenment, industrial revolution and modernity, while exploring the nature of human entanglements with other species and environments. It is also practice based: showing how a kayak and a camera can be tools of historical research on coastlines that change on a daily basis.
I’m also interested in concepts of Time and am working on a long-term project analysing Temporalities of land- and sea-scape.
Willingness to take PhD students
I teach MA dissertations every year and currently have seven PhD students, researching a wide range of themes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century history. I particularly encourage contact from anyone with interest in the modern histories of the islands and coastlines of Britain and Ireland.