Dr Thomas Ellis

Department of History
Teaching Fellow in American History

Contact details

Department of History
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a cultural and diplomatic historian whose research interests centre on US-Russian Relations, the cultural and political implications of new technologies and how Americans have envisaged the future. I am currently writing a history of American perceptions of the Soviet space programme. 


  • PhD University of Southampton
  • MPhil University of Cambridge
  • BA University of York


I was born in Durham and spent my educational career moving slowly southward. I did my undergraduate degree in History and Politics at York, an MPhil in Historical Studies at Cambridge. I did my PhD at the University of Southampton, during which I spent 7 months as a research fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Prior to joining Birmingham, I taught at Southampton, Durham and the London School of Economic. I have a strong interest in public history having previously worked as a researcher for CBBC’s “Horrible Histories”.


  • 1619 and the Making of America
  • Historical Methods
  • Practicing History
  • The Making of the Contemporary World
  • Body Politics
  • Group Research Projects


My research focusses on US-Russian relations, the political and cultural impact of new technologies and how people envisage the future. These themes converge in my current book project: a history of American perceptions of the Soviet space programme from Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering 1961 orbital flight to the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The book charts how American policymakers, pundits and cultural figures grappled with the existence of a communist presence in outer space- a place that many Americans associated with the future- across three decades of fluctuating Cold War tension. This research has already led to two publications: an article on how American presidents sought to harness space cooperation’s utopian symbolism and an article on collaborations between American and Soviet aerospace museums.


  • US-Russian Relations
  • The Cold War
  • The History of Space Technology

Media experience

  • TV: CBBC’s ‘Horrible Histories’ Series 8 and Series 9.
  • Radio/Podcasts:  BBC Radio 4: ‘Gagarin and the Lost Moon’; BBC Radio 4: Greg Jenner’s Homeschool History; BBC History Extra Podcast; Dan Snow’s History Hit.
  • Print/Online: BBC History Extra, Verso Books Blog, airandspace.si.edu.