My broad interests are in global environmental history and the social and cultural history of twentieth-century Europe. I am currently working on an environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from roughly 1880 to 1960. The project explores the environmental transformations and interconnections associated with the explosive growth of commodity production and global trade in the tropical regions under European control - transformations that still visibly shape our world today - and how they fitted into broader patterns of social, cultural and political change. This concerns not only the impact of European (British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian) attempts to harness tropical ecosystems for economic gain, but also the role of indigenous patterns of resource use and colonial conservation efforts. I am also currently co-editing, with Paul Betts, a volume on ‘Heritage in the Modern World’, which reconsiders the role of historical preservation (of both the man-made and the ‘natural’) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from a global perspective.
In a wholly different vein, I have recently co-edited a book (with Fabrice d’Almeida and Pamela Swett) on pleasure and power under National Socialism, which explores the role of consumption, tourism, amusements, luxury goods and the like in sustaining, and at times undermining, Nazi authority.
My previous research has had two principal foci: the history of mass communications, publicity and popular culture; and the history of the former East Germany. In 2008 I completed a social history of the mass media in Germany which focuses on how the rapid expansion of modern communications and commercial entertainment fitted into the wider development of social, political and cultural life from the late Imperial period (c. 1890s) through the Third Reich. I also co-edited a volume with Karl-Christian Führer on media and society in 20th-century Germany. Prior to that, my first book explored the building of socialism in East Germany ‘from below’, and my second book offered the first overview of historiographic debates surrounding East Germany and its legacy.