I am an early modern historian with research interests in the history of science, religion, and scholarship in Europe. I am currently a Fellow by Examination (Prize Fellow) at Magdalen College.
I am currently working on three projects. The first examines the history of the idea of the soul in early modern England, focusing particularly on the development of the heterodox view that humans did not possess immortal souls. The early modern debate over this issue was an interdisciplinary one: it involved religion, medicine, and natural philosophy, but also historical scholarship. Building on this work, I am also writing a ‘biography’ of William Warburton’s classic Divine Legation of Moses (1738-41), a book about the biblical Hebrews’ belief in immortality that despite being a highly technical work of scholarship became a public sensation in the mid-eighteenth century.
Another key interest is the history of astrology in the early modern world. I’m writing about the process by which astrology, once a vibrant aspect of cultural and intellectual life, came to be rejected as a superstition outside the bounds of science – a huge shift that remains a major puzzle in the history of science. My main interest is the contribution of late humanist scholarship to this shift and to ‘disenchantment’ more broadly. I'm also particularly interested in the evidence provided by student disputations in universities. In 2021, I organised (with Jan Machielsen and Robin Briggs) an interdisciplinary conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sir Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), which was supported by the Past & Present Society; recordings of the event can be found here. I’m also interested in the fact that the marginalization of astrology was a pan-European as well as a global phenomenon – in that it was also felt in European colonies around the world – and I am in the early stages of working on the marginalisation of astrology in New Spain.
I’m also interested in the history of epidemics. I have written about the role played by astrologers in early modern ‘public health’, and I recently curated an exhibition on the history of epidemics at Magdalen in the College’s Old Library, which ran from February to July 2023. The online version of the exhibition can be accessed here.
With the anthropologist David Zeitlyn, I am curating a major exhibition at the Bodleian Library on divination and astrology across the world and throughout history.