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.
John also researches urban walking and 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 those in the past who explored cities on foot and also examines urban walking as a methodology 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 welcomes inquiries from people who wish to undertake a research degree in any aspect of modern British social and cultural history, particularly People’s History.