I work on the history of science in early modern Europe, focusing on Britain in the period 1650-1750. My main intellectual concern is the place of sensory experience – bodily, affective and aesthetic – in the production of knowledge.
I am the author of Aesthetic Science: Representing Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720, forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press. The scientists affiliated to the early Royal Society of London have long been regarded as forerunners of modern empiricism, rejecting the symbolic and moral goals of Renaissance natural history in favour of plainly representing the world as it really was. Aesthetic Science offers a wide-ranging revision of this interpretation, showing that key figures such as John Ray, Robert Boyle, Nehemiah Grew, Robert Hooke and Thomas Willis saw the study of nature as an “aesthetic” project. Seeking to obtain knowledge of the natural world through their senses, they practiced a science that depended on harnessing the embodied pleasures and pains necessarily arising from sensory experience.
I am now working on a new project the reconsiders the role of ideas about the body’s capacity for involuntary responses to sensory experience in the worlds of medicine, physiology, the arts, and aesthetic theory during the first half of the 18th Century. Entitled The Medical Origins of Aesthetics, 1700-1750, this project uses the theme of involuntary motion across a range of fields – from diet and medicine to physiology, moral philosophy and the arts – to offer a new history of the interconnections between medicine and aesthetic theory. In addition, this project explore how broadly medical arguments about the body’s (in)capacity for highly refined forms of sensory experience shaped changing discourses about the similarities and differences between humans and other animals.
I am currently a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of History at University College London. I hold a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. I have previously taught as the University of Oxford, New York University and University College London, and held a postdoctoral fellowship jointly at the California Institute of Technology and The Huntington Library.