I grew up in New Zealand, in Wellington and Auckland. I studied English, History and Philosophy for my BA at the University of Auckland. For my MA degree, I continued in English at Auckland, doing my dissertation on Laurence Sterne. After some time working, I went to the University of Cambridge to research and write my PhD dissertation on the sentimental novel in the mid-eighteenth century. Since 1992 I have taught here in the English Department at Queen Mary.
My research concerns eighteenth-century literature and culture in English. My first book was on the eighteenth-century sentimental novel, exploring sensibility and political controversy in eighteenth-century Britain. My next book was The History of Gothic Fiction (Edinburgh University Press, 2000), on the idea of history in the gothic novel.
My monograph entitled The Coffee-House: a Cultural History (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004) focussed on the representation of the coffee-house in the period 1650-1750. I am the general editor of the History of Tea Project at Queen Mary, which produced a four-volume edition of texts on tea and its cultures entitled Tea and the Tea-Table in Eighteenth-Century England (Pickering and Chatto, 2010). The Empire of Tea, written with Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger is soon to be published.
Other topics within eighteenth-century studies that I have addressed in articles and chapters include: panoramas and 1790s spectacle in London; natural history and museums; georgic poetry and ideas of empire; travel writing and the rhetoric of wonder; the invention of the kangaroo; slavery and sensibility.