Research Interests

Research Themes

My research interests focus on two related areas. The first is the social, political and cultural life of towns during the eighteenth century, a subject which I initially explored in my doctoral thesis through a study of urban histories which were written at the time, which was published as The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth Century England  (Oxford, 1997).   I continue to be interested in urban politics and culture and the representation of towns in contemporary literature and in the traditions of antiquarianism which lay behind the production of many eighteenth-century urban histories. I explored this phenomenon more fully  in Antiquaries: the Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London, 2004).   In my last book, Cities and the Grand Tour  I extended my interests in antiquarianism and topography to the continent and specifically, the urban experiences of British tourists in Italy over the long eighteenth century.   Through case studies of Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice I explored the different meanings and imaginative associations attached to these cities and how the contrasting descriptions reflected travellers’ own attitudes to urbanism. I was also interested in the potential of travel literature for investigating the construction of gender and national identities, with a particular emphasis upon the experience of female travellers.

I am on the organizing committee of the Pre Modern Towns Group, the Urban History Group and the European Association of Urban Historians and am a member of the International Commission for the History of Towns and the Historic Towns Committee.  I also edit the Urban History  journal, published by Cambridge University Press.

Current Research Projects

I am currently working on two projects: one is the ‘invention’ of the historic town in the nineteenth century. This builds on my interests in antiquarianism, early archaeology, and the uses of the past to explore how certain towns such as Chester,  York or Coventry  came to be branded  ‘historic’ and an attractive destination for visitors and what the implications were for the preservation of the historic urban environment. 

The other project is  a study of Sir William Gell, who travelled widely in the eastern Mediterranean  in the early nineteenth century before settling in Naples, where he became a leading authority on Pompeii. I have recently received funding from the Society of Antiquaries to study Gell’s manuscripts in the UK, in Rome and in Athens.

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