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Personal profile

Biography

I joined St Andrews as a lecturer in 2012 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2018. I have a PhD in History from the University of Warwick (2010), and subsequently held an Early Career Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick, a Max Weber Fellowship at the European University Institute and a Dibner Fellowship in the History of Science at the Huntington Library, California.

Research overview

Making Knowledge, Forging Empire?
My current research project examines French collection of scientific and commercial data around the western Indian Ocean in the second half of the eighteenth century. It aims to establish the extent to which the French absolutist state controlled or directed the scholarly activities of its colonial officials. Understanding the history of such data collection and study is important because eighteenth-century French colonial policies depended substantially on the accumulation of information. This is often termed ‘colonial science’ in the historiography.

The project takes an expansive understanding of what comprised ‘colonial knowledge’. While it addresses areas of traditional concern to the history of science (e.g. botany, astronomy and cartography, medicine), it argues that the accrual of commercial information and development of aesthetic expertise were equally central to the articulation of colonial power. Likewise, it takes a similarly expansive understanding of how information was conveyed, routinely drawing evidence from material and visual culture alongside that contained within written archival sources.

My research asks questions about the development and expression of state power. It holds, however, that the answers to those questions can be found not in metanarratives about state politics but rather in the study of activity on the ground. To understand how the relationship between power and knowledge was worked out in colonial situations, I follow the activities and connections made by a French family located in Surat, Gujarat, and by other colonial French families located elsewhere, especially the Île de France (Mauritius). Taken together, these allow for an examination of the relationship between the development of new forms of colonial knowledge, the exertion of state power, and the lived experience of empire by men, women and children.

Cultivating Commerce: Cultures of Botany in Britain and France, 1760-1815
My 2018 monograph exposes and analyses the links between botany, the plant trade and cultures of connoisseurship in France, Britain and their empires during the politically turbulent period of 1760-1815. It shows in particular how plant traders acted as key cultural, social and intellectual intermediaries, selling specimens and sharing information with communities of connoisseurs, botanists, gardeners and other consumers. Cultivating Commerce is as much a social and cultural history as a history of science; it revises existing historical accounts by demonstrating the extent to which the science of botany was affected by the wider commercial, scholarly, and cultural transitions experienced in Britain and France in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Teaching activity

I teach and research eighteenth-century cultural and social history, focusing the global connections and transnational links made between France, Britain and the wider world. My courses examine aspects of the relationship between science, society and culture, and on how information, knowledge and cultural influences moved (or failed to move) between nations and across social groups. This is reflected in my 3000-level honours modules on the French Revolution, on Franco-British cultural relations and on society and culture in the Indian Ocean World. My 4000-level special subject, 'Curiosity, Empire and Science in 18th-Century Europe' uses the history of collecting and material culture to explore these themes at a deeper level, as does my MLitt teaching on global and transnational history, material culture studies and the social history of science. I have to date supervised 7 PhD students to completion and have 4 more underway. I would be happy to hear from students considering pursuing any of the above themes for undergraduate or postgraduate study.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth

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