I am a historian of the intellectual, cultural and religious history of early modern Europe, and of its relationship with the non-European world. I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2010. I was then appointed a Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. Since October 2015, I have been a Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. I have also held positions at the Folger Library in Washington D.C. (Visiting Fellow, 2013), the University of Edinburgh (Chancellor’s Fellow, 2013–14), and at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge (2014–15). In 2016 I received the inaugural Leszek Kołakowski Prize in Intellectual History.
First and foremost, I am historian of knowledge and the way it changes across time and place, focussing in particular on the period between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. I have written about the history of philosophy, science, medicine, scholarship, theology, orientalism, and legal and political thought.
Often, my work involves making new discoveries about individuals, subjects, and institutions. Among others, these have included Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, the Hebraist John Spencer, the early modern study of Persian religious history, eighteenth-century Egyptology, and the Society of Apothecaries. (You can follow these up on the Publications page.) But above all I am interested in explaining large-scale patterns of change that transcend the influence of any individual or group. This theme was pursued in my first book, Ancient Wisdom in the Age of the New Science (2015), which demonstrated how almost all educated men and women in the seventeenth century engaged deeply with the history of ancient philosophy, in stark contrast to the still prevalent stereotype of the period as one that witnessed a move away from humanistic modes of thought. Moreover, in a period before Philhellenism, ‘philosophy’ was not considered a peculiarly Greek achievement, and I showed how ideas about non-European philosophy were deeply influential not just on scholarship, but also on science and philosophy itself. Ancient Wisdom was named as one of the 2016 Books of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement.
Recently, I have further explored the question of the relationship between scholarship and the structural process of religious confessionalisation in a volume of essays co-edited with Nick Hardy, and published in the Proceedings of the British Academy Series: Confessionalisation and Erudition in Early Modern Europe: An Episode in the History of the Humanities.
I have just finished my next monograph, The Kingdom of Darkness: Bayle, Newton, and the Emancipation of the European Mind from Philosophy. It will be published in 2021.
If you are a student and cannot get hold of my publications electronically or in your institutional library, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and I shall supply you with a copy.
I supervise graduate students at both Masters and PhD level, and always welcome initial approaches from potential students. Please see the contact page in the first instance.
I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. As well as my academic work, I write for the London Review of Books, the Literary Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. I also speak at schools, and am happy to receive requests to do so (please contact me by email in the first instance).