John is a social and cultural historian who takes a ‘People’s History’ approach to nineteenth and twentieth-century British history and the history of London.
John’s primary area of research is ‘everyday’ heroism, acts of life-risking bravery, undertaken by civilians in commonplace surroundings. He is also 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. John also researches urban walking and, more specifically, the relationships between historians, urban walking and urban/metropolitan history.
Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange are at the heart of John’s work, including projects on the 1977 Battle of Lewisham and on the passengers who arrived on the Empire Windrush in 1948.
- PhD History, King’s College London 2010
- BA History (First-class), Roehampton University (University of Surrey) 2005
- Fellow of the Royal Historical Society 2014
- Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy 2015
Teaching and Supervision
- London's Burning: Social Movements and Public Protest in the Capital 1830-2003
- Landmarks in London History
- Walking Through London's History
- London Lives: People’s History through Digital Archives (forthcoming 2021)
- Postgraduate Research Supervision
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.
Further profile content
Heroes of Postman's Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London
Extensive study of the everyday heroes who feature on the Watts Memorial
Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian
Landmark study of civilian heroism in nineteenth-century Britain.
John is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a Member of the British Academy Hearth Tax Project Management Committee. He is the Chair of the Greater London Local History Committee of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, and Chair of the Friends of the Watts Memorial, an organization responsible for protecting an important piece of London’s history.
John’s research generates a high degree of public engagement; examples of this include the ‘Remembering the Battle of Lewisham’ project and the ‘Windrush: Arrival 1948’ Project. John is a member of the Goldsmiths Public Engagement Strategy Group and was Academic Lead for Public Engagement (2017-2020). The Public Engagement Strategy Group assists staff and postgraduates to understand and undertake public engagement linked to their research and teaching. John has participated in various public engagement activities including the Being Human Festival, the Brockley Society’s Festival of Ideas, Goldsmiths Showoff, Lewisham People’s Day, the Telegraph Hill Festival, and various talks, presentations and activities around the Watts Memorial.
2017: Interview with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London about the Battle of Lewisham
2016: Contributor to BBC London’s ‘Inside Out London’ TV programme about the Watts Memorial
2015: Contributor to London Live TV piece, ‘Postman’s Park: the saddest place in London’
2012: Contributor to BBC World Service documentary ‘No Greater Love’ about the Watts Memorial
Grants and awards
Winner, Warden’s Annual Public Engagement Award for Civic Engagement
Awarded for the Windrush: Arrival 1948 project
Winner, Warden’s Annual Public Engagement Award for Community Engagement
Awarded for the Remembering the Battle of Lewisham project
Goldsmiths Alumni and Friends Fund - Windrush: Arrival 1948
Award of £2,000
Winner, Goldsmiths Student-Led Teaching Award
Awarded for Outstanding Use of Research in Teaching
Goldsmiths Annual Fund - Remembering the Battle of Lewisham
Award of £3,250
2014: Finalist, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s Engage Competition
Creativeworks London (AHRC) - The Everyday Heroes of Postman’s Park, Mobile App
Award of £15,000