The central theme of my research has been the relation between humans, machines and information. I have approached this question from the perspective of the history of science and STS as well as through social and political history. My focus has been on nineteenth-century Britain and questions in political economy, risk and insurance as well as on infrastructure and the politics of data and ‘AI’.
I have published on Charles Babbage, on Ordnance Survey mapping, on the New Liberal J.A. Hobson and early theorists and historians of industrialisation.
My method has for many years involved close reading, intellectual history and archival study. In more recent years I have combined this with the computational techniques of distant reading and viewing, including computer vision, machine learning, probabilistic approaches to language, text and data mining.
I have also worked on the ‘two cultures’ controversy and British ‘decline’, on responses to technology in American history, the Unabomber, utopianism and debates on the ‘Anthropocene’ and the rise of environmentalism. In addition to these interests, I am currently working on an ambitious new project on Humphrey Jennings and Pandaemonium.