Dr Martha Vandrei
I am an historian of British cultural and intellectual history from about 1600. Much of my work has investigated how people understood and related to the past through scholarship, antiquarianism, drama, poetry, art, and architecture. This was the focus of my first book, Queen Boudica and Historical Culture in Britain: An Image of Truth, which was published by the Past and Present book series and Oxford University Press in summer 2018.
In my work, I draw on a variety of source material, including biblical, classical, antiquarian and literary works, as well as theatre, song, imagery, and sculpture. My most recent interests are in the history of philosophy and intellectual history, especially in the development of the discipline of the history of ideas in Britain and America. I am using these frameworks to reconsider approaches to intellectual history, particularly in the nineteenth century.
My new book project explores how non-rational ideas influenced humanistic scholarship in the modern period, provisionally titled "Beyond Reason: The Irrational in Intellectual Life in Modern Britain". Or something like that.
I am an historian of ideas and culture in Britain, working across periods which are too often seen in isolation from one another, in particular the early modern and the modern, but also with an eye toward the more distant past. My interest has been specifically in the field of historical culture, or the reception of the past in Britain, ranging from the history of popular history and antiquarianism to the more established field of the history of historiography. I am particularly interested in the historical antecedents of modern ideas; this necessitates taking this longue-durée approach, as well as working across traditional disciplinary boundaries, and acknowledging the interconnectedness of the wide variety of genres, media, and methods that constitute our ideas about the past.
I am currently working on a book about non-rational ideas (what the classicist Gilbert Murray called "the infrarational") and their influence in British scholarship in the modern period. I am also interested in how the history of ideas can face onto public history though an examination of amateur and non-specialist knowledge culture. These projects are related in ways that may or may not be obvious.
I was Co-I on the AHRC-funded "Voyaging through History: the meanings of the Mayflower in Britain, 1620-2020", with Dr Tom Hulme (Queens University Belfast), and a Research Associate, Dr Ed Downey. We worked with our Project Partners, the British Library and the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, to explore the multi-faceted afterlife of the famous voyage as it was understood in Britain.
I also collaborate with a colleagues elsewhere, though not usually for money.
I am interested in supervising research projects that engage with the history of historiography and historical culture, as well as memory, commemoration, and the reception of the past. However, I would be very open to discussing proposals from students interested in the history of ideas in Britain more broadly, especially regarding intellectual and cultural discourses of knowledge, disciplines, religion, and gender.
Leo Shipp, 'The Poets Laureate in the long eighteenth century'. (SWWDTP-funded, first supervisor)
External impact and engagement
Along with the Project Team, I am working with the British Library and the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton to explore the meanings of the Mayflower voyage in the past, as well as in contemporary culture.
Contribution to discipline
I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in July 2018. I have been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts since 2019.
I have been employed as a researcher on a variety of projects outside of academia, including the major film project The People Speak (History Channel, 2009), and Churchill's Other Lives for BBC Radio 4. I have also been employed as a private researcher by members of Samuel Johnson's Literary Club, which has just celebrated its 250th anniversary with the publication of The New Annals of the Club (Modern Art Press, 2014).
I have written articles for The Conversation and History Today and have been interviewed for BBC Radio Cornwall.
I teach first-, second-, and third-year undergraduates, as well as supervise PhD students. I teach two related second-year modules, "The Age of Reason" and "The Age of Unreason", which focus on the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century aftermath respectively. At third year, I teach the delightfully over-popular HUC3045, "Myth in the Modern World: From the Classics to Conspiracies". This looks at a wide range of myths, misinformation, and just... bad ideas... as a way of understanding the intellectual history of the modern era. We examine how scholars have approached the study of "myth", looking at a diverse range of people from early anthropologists and psychologists to ufologists and modern-day internet crazies.
I received my first degree en absentia from the State University of New York while studying abroad at Oxford of all places. I went on to complete an MA in Modern History at King's College London and, to the astonishment of my high school history teachers who rarely saw me outside of detention, went on to complete my PhD in 2013, also at KCL, under the supervision of Professor Ludmilla Jordanova. Following appointments as a research assistant at the University of York and on various media projects with the BBC and others, I was appointed to Lecturer at the University of Exeter in 2015. I divide my time between Cornwall and London and love both equally but for different reasons.