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.