I am a social and cultural historian of Modern Europe. Trained as a historian of modern Britain, my research spans the Victorian era through the 20th century, with a particular concentration on the British empire, the history of childhood, and (most recently) on popular responses to warfare.
My book, Empire's Children: Child Emigration, Welfare, and the Decline of the British World, 1869-1967 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), combined multi-country archival research with original oral history interviews to tell the story of Britain's child migrants: the roughly 90,000 poor or orphaned British children who were sent by charities and government officials to start new lives in the "white dominions" of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Southern Rhodesia. In tracing how the policy of child emigration became a critical site of contestation over the meaning of imperial Britishness and the lasting influence of the "British world," Empire's Children reveals the powerful ways that imperial politics shaped modern child welfare, as well as how ideas about children and childhood structured the boundaries of the politically possible during the twilight of empire. In 2015, it received the Grace Abbott Book Prize from the Society for the History of Children and Youth, a biennial award that recognizes the best book published in the history of children and youth. To listen to a podcast I did with Monica Black about the book, click here.
I'm currently working on a book project entitled “Be Prepared: Risk and the Neoliberal Sensibility in Modern Britain.” The book explores how Britons have understood, and sought to prepare for, catastrophic risks in the modern era. It brings together a fascinating range of topics - from Arctic exploration to first aid classes, debates over food hoarding to bomb shelters, science fiction doomsayers to British survivalists - in order to follow the public debate about the hazards of empire, industrialization, war, and nuclear annihilation from the Victorian period through the 20th century. By moving beyond the conventional narrative of Britain’s 20th century, which has centered on the world wars and the rise of the welfare state, “Be Prepared” illustrates that Britons have long perceived risk in ways that value individualism, self-reliance, and competition over social trust and collectivism. The study thus reveals the deep roots of Britain’s “neoliberal sensibility,” helping to explain the popular basis of neoliberalism today.
"Be Prepared" has been generously supported by a 2015 National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend as well as a 2020 ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship, which will fund a yearlong residency at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2021-2022.
I teach a variety of classes within the field of Modern European history, including courses on the British Empire, the French Revolution, World War I, the history of childhood, and migration. I have also taught an advanced seminar on gender, class, and crime in Victorian Britain, and have co-taught first-year seminars on the nature of genocide and the social, political, and cultural effects of nuclear weapons. I enjoy using different kinds of primary sources in my teaching, such as novels, poems, official reports, oral histories, and songs. A particular interest of mine is how imagery has shaped culture and society over time, and as such I use a lot of visual sources in my teaching, including photographs, artwork, cartoons, and films.
In 2020, the 6 enormous talented students from my research colloquium, "Cultures of Survival," published an article on the Victorian first aid movement that they collectively conceptualized, researched, and wrote during the course. Check it out here: Esther Isaac, Alisa Bajramovic, Isabel Miller, Chelsea Pan, Emily Ratté, Anton Vincente Kliot, "To 'Labour with a Greater Sense of Safety': First Aid, Civic Duty, and Risk Management in the British Working Class, 1870-1914," Journal of Social History 54, no. 2 (Winter 2020): 526-549.
I am always happy to work with students on thesis research within European history. My research interests make me particularly able to advise projects related to modern Britain and France, European imperialism, childhood, migration, oral history, and warfare, but I am open to exploring topics with students that range farther afield. If you have an idea for a thesis and want to talk about it, feel free to drop by my office hours.