I am a historian of science and medicine in modern Europe and the Atlantic world. I studied history and biology as an undergraduate in the US. I then moved to Europe and earned an MA and PhD in the history of health and the environment. I've since worked at Harvard, MIT, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Caltech. I was appointed Chair in the History and Philosophy of Science at Durham in 2018.
The first branch of my research focuses on science and media. My book, Media and the Mind: Art, Science and Notebooks as Paper Machines, 1700-1830 (Chicago: 2022) examines how everyday information technologies contributed to the origins of today's communications revolution. It explores how people used such devices to mobilise scientific and medical knowledge in ways that enhanced their freedom to achieve health and well-being.
My current research investigates how scientists such as the Scottish-educated African American physician James McCune Smith used the press to promote human equality and to expose unethical uses of scientific data. I am also investigating how women used notebooks as media devices to learn more about the natural world and their own health.
The second branch of my research focuses on science and the environment. My first book, The Language of Mineralogy: John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School, 1750-1800 (Routledge, 2008; 2016), explored the profound impact that the industrial revolution had upon how Europeans understood the reciprocal relationship between nature, health and society.
I am currently exploring the transatlantic debates concerning the relationship between race and climate in the writings of black physicians from America and Africa who lived in the British Empire. Key to this research is the legacy of colonialism in the life and work of the Sierra Leone physician James Africanus Beale Horton, one of the first Africans to earn a medical doctorate in Britain.