My broad interests are in global environmental history, the history of empire, and the social and cultural history of twentieth-century Europe. My last book was an environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from roughly 1880 through the end of the colonial period to the present (Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire, 2017; winner of the 2018 George Louis Beer Prize, AHA). The book explores the environmental transformations and interconnections associated with the explosive growth of commodity production and global trade in the tropical regions under European (mainly British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian) control - transformations that still visibly shape our world today - and how they fitted into broader patterns of social, cultural and political change.
I am currently writing a book (tentatively titled Liquid Empire) on the history of European empire through the lens of water. Focusing temporally on the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, and geographically on the European colonies of Asia and Africa, it tells the story of how different technologies, institutions, and forms of knowledge transformed human engagements with water in the colonial world, and how aquatic nature was reshaped in the process—with lasting consequences for the post-colonial world
My previous research has focused on a variety subjects: the history of mass communications, publicity and popular culture; the global history of preservation, and the history of post-war Germany. In 2015 I co-edited (with Paul Betts) a Past & Present supplement 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 2008 I published 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 Imperial period through the Third Reich. I also co-edited a volume (with Karl-Christian Führer) on media and society in 20th-century Germany, and another volume (with Fabrice d’Almeida and Pamela Swett) on pleasure and power under National Socialism, which explores the role of consumption, tourism, amusements, and luxury goods in sustaining, and at times undermining, Nazi authority. 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.