'I am a cultural historian of modern Britain. I work on religion, the history of archaeology (and related disciplines), and the development of historical thought.
From 2004-2007 I undertook a PhD at Trinity College Cambridge, supervised by Professor Peter Mandler. From 2007-2010 I was Postdoctoral Research Fellow on a Leverhulme-funded project at Cambridge University entitled ‘Past versus Present: Abandoning the Past in an Age of Progress’; I was also a fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge from 2008-2010. I arrived at Birmingham in 2010 and my first monograph, Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion was published in June 2013. In 2013 I 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. I am now researching a monograph on the ways in which European ideas about death were changed by interaction with other traditions after 1890 (the rediscovery of ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian ideas, as well as new awareness of Buddhist traditions, the Avesta and Sufi thought). 'My work has been featured on BBC2, Smithsonian Television and in the
Times Literary Supplement'.
My interests relate to the way societies use the past. My research explores questions such as how changes in knowledge about the past alter the ways in which societies understand themselves. In particular, I have focused on ways in which knowledge of the ancient world was created and used in the nineteenth century, exploring how knowledge of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was dragged between biblical and classical modes of interpretation for centuries before either civilisation was able to gain its own identity. This involves analysing the delayed impact of decipherment, and the persistence of religion as the primary framework in which these civilisations were interpreted. I’m also interested in developments in the cultural authority of the Bible, especially as it was altered by archaeology, the nineteenth-century sciences and the formation of academic disciplines (with all the implications this had for relationships between scholarship and society). Another strand of my research explores changing notions of death in European culture, particularly as non-European ideas concerning death began to circulate increasing widely at the end of the nineteenth century and through the twentieth.
The themes listed above are long-term projects, but I have also published studies of nineteenth-century interpretation (and reworking) of ancient epics, and historic preservation and heritage.