Research

My research addresses the inter-relations of philosophy, natural philosophy, and political economy in the eighteenth century, together with their connections with literary culture. In the past this work has focused on the writings of the eighteenth-century moral philosopher and political economist, Adam Smith, in the context of the natural philosophy of the period. More recently, I have written a study of vitalism in the long eighteenth century: Eighteenth-Century Vitalism: Bodies, Culture, Politics (Palgrave, 2012). This book traces the persistent presence of a language of vital nature in eighteenth-century science, literature and philosophical writing: in moral philosophy, theories of sensibility and political economy, and in the radical journalism and women's writing of the 1790s. The book explores the influence of the Scottish vitalist physiology of Robert Whytt and others on writers and thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith, David Hume, Erasmus Darwin, John Hunter, John Thelwall and Mary Wollstonecraft. It shows the centrality of vitalism to eighteenth-century accounts of the body, nature, matter and life, and offers a new way of understanding the relationship between eighteenth-century science and culture and that of the Romantic period. To date, vitalism has most usually been associated with Romantic theories of nature, but my book shows how the supposition of a 'vital principle' or life-force recurred throughout eighteenth-century natural philosophy, to counter the inadequacy of mechanism for an understanding of natural life. As should be clear from the above, I have a particular interest in the philosophical writings of the Scottish Enlightenment, and I have published articles on Hume and the blind poet Thomas Blacklock, as well as on the history of the term 'imagination' in this context.

Past activities include invitations to speak at the 'Function of Poetry in the Scottish Enlightenment' seminar series at St. Andrews and King's College, Cambridge (2010-11), and at an ESRC-funded workshop on 'Rhetorics of Moderation' at the University of Edinburgh (2011). Publications related to these events are, respectively: 'Wordsworth, Poetry and the Science of Man in Enlightenment Scotland' in The Poetic Enlightenment: Poetry and Human Science, 1650-1820 eds. Tom Jones and Rowan Boyson (Pickering and Chatto, 2013), and 'Cicero's ears, or eloquence in the age of politeness: oratory, moderation, and the sublime in Enlightenment Scotland', Eighteenth-Century Studies, 46:4 (2013). I was an invited speaker at a conference on 'Systems of Life: Economies, Politics, and the Biological Sciences, 1750-1850', held at the Huntington Library and Occidental College, California, in November 2012, where I spoke on Smith and vitalism. My paper is forthcoming in a volume out shortly from Fordham University Press. In January 2014, I participated in a panel discussion on 'Life: Before and After 1800' at the MLA convention in Chicago, and in August 2014 I was an invited participant at the 'Vital Matters' conference on vitalism at the University of Groningen. In October 2014 I spoke at a symposium on the work of Scottish Enlightenment historian, Silvia Sebastiani, at the Centre for Intellectual History, University of Sussex. In January 2016, I was co-organiser of a conference on 'Writing Political Economy 1750-1850' here at Sussex; keynote speakers were Professor Peter de Bolla (Cambridge) and Professor Mary Poovey (NYU). More recently, I have presented my work to the Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture group at Oxford University, and at the 'Women, Money and Markets' conference at Kings College London.

Current research explores the work of Mary Wollstonecraft in the context of debates around late eighteenth-century political economy. I have previously held a one-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship in connection with this work. Papers related to this project include 'Domesticity, Objects and Idleness', in Women’s Writing and another on  Wollstonecraft's history of the French Revolution, in European Romantic Review, 25:6 (2014). 'Mary Wollstonecraft’s Cottage Economics: Property, Political Economy, and the European future' is forthcoming from ELH in summer 2017. My recent blog for OUP on 'Wollstonecraft our Contemporary' is here: https://blog.oup.com/2017/05/mary-wollstonecraft-contemporary/ Finally, together with my colleague Richard Adelman, I am editor of the essay collection, 'Political Economy, Literature, and the Formation of Knowledge, 1720-1850' (forthcoming, Routledge).

Please see under 'publications' for further details.