The frontispiece to John Toland's 1700 edition of Harrington's political works. Image by Rachel Hammersley, with thanks to James Babb.

The frontispiece to John Toland's 1700 edition of Harrington's political works. Image by Rachel Hammersley, with thanks to James Babb.

My main current research project focuses on the seventeenth-century political thinker James Harrington, a highly influential figure whose innovative constitutional proposals exercised a profound influence on political debate during the English Revolution and for at least two centuries thereafter. His insights concerning the nature of democracy and representative government remain relevant today. 

While Harrington's reputation rests on his role as a republican author who penned The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656)offering an influential blueprint for a more durable form of republican government than those that ruled England in the 1650s, his reputation during the 1640s was as a royal servant. In 1647-8 Harrington was gentleman of the bedchamber to the captive Charles I. Though employed by Parliament, he is said to have got on well with the King and acted on behalf of him and other members of the Stuart family. Making sense of the apparent tension between Harrington's republican and royalist activities lies at the heart of my current research project.

The project will result in an intellectual biography of Harrington, which will seek to demonstrate his significance not simply as a republican author, but as an innovative political thinker, religious controversialist and philosopher. The book will shed important new light on the nature of seventeenth-century English republicanism; the development of radical political and religious ideas in the 1650s; literary experimentation; the interrelationship between political, religious, scientific and philosophical ideas during the early-modern period; and the transition from the veneration of the ancients to the celebration of the moderns.

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Thanks to a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, the academic year 2017-18 will be devoted to the remaining research and writing for the book and to developing a number of public engagement activities associated with it. You can see video podcasts presenting some of my research findings so far here: 

In May 2018 I held a workshop at Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society exploring the relevance of early-modern political thought in the twenty-first century. Four expert speakers examined four themes: popular mobilisation; toleration; environmentalism and exile. I have written a blogpost on the event.

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In July 2017 I led a workshop on the writing of early-modern intellectual biographies  at Newcastle University. For more detail on that event you can read my blogpost on the subject.

I am also currently part of a reading group at Newcastle University which is exploring the concept of civil religion. You can see the programme of the workshop we organised in September 2017 below. For more information about the project click here.

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From January 2019 I will be part of a team working on the AHRC-funded project ‘Wastes and Strays: The Past, Present and Future of English Urban Commons’. I will be working alongside the PI Chris Rodgers from the Newcastle Law School; Alessandro Zambelli, who works in the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Brighton; Emma Cheatle from the Architecture Department at Sheffield University and John Clarke from the English Department at Exeter University. The project will focus on four case studies: the Town Moor, Newcastle upon Tyne; Valley Gardens, Brighton; Mousehold Heath, Norwich; and Clifton Down, Bristol. As Co-I with responsibility for the ‘Past ‘ element of the project I will be working with a postdoctoral research assistant to examine the historical and archaeological records relating to these case studies. Alessandro Zambelli has written a blogpost summarising the project.