John’s primary area of research is ‘everyday’ heroism, acts of life-risking bravery, undertaken by civilians in commonplace surroundings. His 2014 book, Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian, was the first full-length study of the concept. John is also the leading expert on the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Postman’s Park in the City of London, a Victorian monument dedicated to acts of everyday heroism. He has published extensively on the subject, including the official history of the monument, Postman’s Park: G. F. Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, and Heroes of Postman's Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London, which documents the lives and deaths of all sixty-two people commemorated.
In addition to heroism, John also pursues research in a number of other areas. He is interested in social movements and popular protest; in particular, how popular manifestations of contentious politics, such as marches, demonstrations, strikes and riots, can be better understood and analysed by historians. He is also interested in various aspects of public memory, memorialization, and commemoration with a particular emphasis on the reception of commemoration and popular memory.
Most recently, John has started research into urban walking and, more specifically, the relationships between historians, urban walking and urban/metropolitan history. Based on the premise that “those who walked about the city, talked about the city”, this research encompasses not only those in the past who explored cities on foot, but also urban walking and ideas such as psychogeography and mythogeography as methodologies for investigating and understanding the modern city in a historical context. This research works in tandem with another of John’s interests, the social, cultural and political constructions and uses of public spaces.
John also undertakes research into various aspects of learning and teaching in higher education and publishes his findings via his blog; Learning and Teaching about Teaching and Learning.
Grants and awards
In 2012, John received a grant from Creativeworks London to collaboratively create a mobile app based upon his research on the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park and, in 2014 the app was a finalist in the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s Engage Competition. John has also received grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Marc Fitch Fund, and the Royal Historical Society.
John has undertaken a range of media appearances including interviews on BBC Radio London, BBC World Service, London Live TV, and Resonance FM. He has also contributed to a BBC History Magazine Podcast and pieces for the BBC News Magazine.