My research and teaching has focused on three broad areas: the intellectual history of the natural sciences in the nineteenth-century United States, including the position of scientific thought and practice in the wider culture; the history of psychiatry and ideas concerning mental illness from the nineteenth century through to the turn of the twentieth century; and (in a new research project built around an intellectual biography of the radical poet, critic, and editor Joseph Freeman) the 'literary left' and Marxist intellectual life from around 1900 to the 1960s.
I teach on two core second-year modules in American intellectual and cultural history from English settlement to the present, and I am interested in offering more specialised optional modules ranging… read more
My current research focuses on the relation of theory and practice in the natural sciences, and seeks to situate debates on this topic in the context of broader trends in American intellectual… read more
I teach on two core second-year modules in American intellectual and cultural history from English settlement to the present, and I am interested in offering more specialised optional modules ranging across the history of science, technology, and religion in the United States, particularly in the nineteenth century. At present I offer a final-year and Masters-level module on the history of Darwinism and Creationism in the United States.
My current research focuses on the relation of theory and practice in the natural sciences, and seeks to situate debates on this topic in the context of broader trends in American intellectual history during the second half of the nineteenth century. My doctoral research focused on the shifting epistemic claims made in particular disciplines in the earth and human sciences, within particular institutional and cultural networks rooted in established centres of learning. The title of my PhD dissertation is "Intellectual Transitions in American Geology, Palaeontology and Anthropology, 1850-1900," and the thesis was completed in 2009. Some key figures in my research include the geologists Thomas C. Chamberlin and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler; the palaeontologist Edward D. Cope; and anthropologists John Wesley Powell and Franz Boas.
I am now looking to develop historical understandings of the emergence and professionalisation of different scientific disciplines during the later nineteenth century, and embed these changes in the larger context of shifting philosophical and religious assumptions. One focus, on which I am writing a research article, is how conceptions of scientific knowledge and practice were both deployed and revised as a means of justifying a larger pedagogical aim at the University of Chicago in the 1890s. More generally, my interests also relate to the development of the philosophy of pragmatism during this period, the growing influence of logical positivism on American science in the early twentieth century, and questions relating to the transition from romanticism to modernism in varied spheres of American culture and intellectual life.
Previous research has included a masters dissertation on the work and thought of the American historian Richard Hofstadter, and his relation to the New York Intellectuals and debates over liberalism in the decades following the Second World War.
I am currently working on a book provisionally titled 'The Romance of Knowledge: American Endeavors in the Natural and Human Sciences, 1850-1900,' ranging across several scientific disciplines including the earth and life sciences. I am also pursuing research into turn-of-the-century American psychology, looking beyond central figures such as William James to consider the contributions of figures such as Hugo Munsterberg and James McKeen Cattell. Another current project will consider the representation of scientific methods in American literature, including the science fiction of astronomer Simon Newcomb, as well as the fictional and non-fictional work of Henry Adams.