I’m interested in how people relate to the past – and the fragility and possibilities of those relationships.
My research is on cultural history and the afterlives of the ancient world: from medieval tales of Alexander the Great (where he visits the land of giant spiders and courts the Queen of the Amazons), to Greek drama on the Broadway stage. I’m fascinated by characters on the edges of many histories: the opium-addict, the con-artist, the failed prophet, the child prodigy, the forger, the burlesque writer – and their unlikely attempts to change the world.
My first book, Classical Victorians, was published by Cambridge University Press, as the inaugural volume of their ‘Classics After Antiquity’ series. Victorian Britain set out to make the ancient world its own – and this book is the story of how it failed.
My current research project, Alexandrias, tracks the search for Alexander the Great and the cities he founded, from Egypt to Afghanistan. Adventurers and con-artists, psychics and scholars, have gone in search of them. But, as many discovered, finding a lost city is often the easy part – it’s what happens next where things get complicated. Alexandrias explores how the relationship between later cultures and the ancient world has been shaped by the awareness of loss; by the presence of what cannot be recalled. It asks whether history’s goal should truly be to remember everything – or should it sometimes let itself (in the manner of John Donne) be ‘re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not’?