I’m a Senior Lecturer in modern history, and part of the Centre for Modern British Studies at the University of Birmingham. My previous books (for Oneworld Books and Oxford University Press) have been cultural histories of the nineteenth century.
As a historian of that period I’ve written for the Times Literary Supplement and appeared on BBC2 and at the Hay Festival. But the Beginner’s Guide, above, was my endeavour to set out my view of the century before gradually making the shift to be a historian of oceans and coastlines, dealing with a much longer period of time.
In new projects, I’m making use of some long-standing working habits. For years I’ve done lots of my reading/thinking outdoors, going on long reading trips in my bivi bag or sleeping bag:
On these trips, my drybag would be full of the history books I needed to immerse myself in, but would also contain poetry and natural history. With around eight hours travel and six hours sleep, I could read for many hours each day and think while on the move. This proved far more productive than my routines at home or in the office.
In 2013 I started to put photos/reports from reading trips online at a blog called Mountain, Coast, River (partly in an effort to learn to write more engagingly). And I’ve spent the last three years acquiring skills to help me shift my research interests. This has involved a project on the concept of time, collaborating with natural scientists, philosophers and others, which began in 2015 in Brazil, continued in Japan in 2016 and ended back in Brazil a year later. It has also involved experiments in nature writing for magazines and edited collections.
My training was as a musician rather than a historian, and occasionally I can’t help returning to those roots to play music inspired by seascapes and weather: here I can be heard on an album by Jon Opstad.