Associate Professor
Telephone: (01792) 513514
Room: Office - 107
First Floor
James Callaghan
Singleton Campus

My research focuses on early modern Europe, including Britain, and particularly on Italy. I've published on the history of diplomacy, on material culture and on political life in this period more broadly. My first book, Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador, was published in 2012 and explored the diplomacy behind Henry’s first divorce. An academic monograph, Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome followed in 2015. My new project looks at the cultural history of handguns during the early sixteenth century, when they were a new technology. 

Alongside my work in early modern history I'm interested in the presentation of this past to the public: in popular literature, films, on TV and at heritage sites. In recent work I've explored the use of performance and narrative to communicate historical research. The Black Prince of Florence, my biography of Alessandro de’ Medici, first Medici duke of Florence and said to be the illegitimate son of an enslaved African woman, was published in 2016. It was an Evening Standard book of the year and shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year 2017. I’m currently working on a related creative writing project.

I was a 2015 BBC Radio 3 'New Generation Thinker' and regularly contribute to radio and TV programmes including Radio 3’s Free Thinking. I was an adviser to the set team on the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall and have appeared on Radio 4’s In Our Time

I studied Politics and Communication Studies at the University of Liverpool and went on to work in the media before returning to academia to study for a PhD in History at Royal Holloway, University of London. I held fellowships at the Institute for Historical Research, the British School at Rome and the European University Institute, and taught at Durham and Sheffield Universities before taking up my post at Swansea in 2015.

Areas of Expertise

  • Renaissance history


  1. The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici. London / New York: Bodley Head / Oxford University Press.
  2. Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome: The Rise of the Resident Ambassador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Mere emulators of Italy: The Spanish in Italian diplomatic discourse, 1492-1550. In Piers Baker-Bates and Miles Pattenden (Ed.), The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Images of Iberia. Farnham: Ashgate.
  4. Performing Henry at the court of Rome. In Suzannah Lipscomb and Thomas Betteridge (Ed.), Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance. (pp. 179-196). Farnham: Ashgate.
  5. The Divorce of Henry VIII. London: Vintage.

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  • HI-M22 Dissertation

    Students produce a dissertation of up to 20,000 words on a historical topic, chosen in conjunction with their supervisor. This represents the culmination of the History MAs, and constitutes Part Two of the programme.

  • HI-M39 Research Folder

    This module is designed to help students to identify a dissertation topic appropriate to their interests and expertise, and to tackle the problems of methodology, develop the research techniques, and undertake the project planning which are the necessary preliminaries to researching and writing a 20,000 word dissertation.

  • HIH118 Early Modern World, 1500-1800

    In 1500, European exploration and colonisation of the rest of the world was only in its infancy. America, two continents North and South, had been unknown to Europeans until just eight years previously. Most of it was still unmapped by Europeans, as were large parts of the rest of the world. By 1800, on the other hand, it was possible to construct a recognisable modern version of a world map. Europeans had explored, colonised, and resettled huge swathes of America in the first instances. They had killed or displaced millions of Native Americans in the process, wiping out whole civilisations, and they had enslaved 12 million or more Africans in that same process, inflicting immense damage on African societies. Europeans were in the early stages of colonising large parts of Africa and Asia too by 1800. And yet, advances in science had transformed human understanding of the universe, of the world, and indeed of ourselves. This was connected through the Renaissance in art, culture, and politics as well as science, to enormous changes in the structure of polities and societies. The early modern era perhaps saw the invention not only of modern empires, but of large, centralised modern states. Also, the Renaissance and then Enlightenment changed the way people and states interacted. Arguably, the early modern period represents the transition period between an era of medieval hierarchy and the origins of modern social and political democracy. Essentially, the aim of the module, through your lectures, seminars, and independent reading and thinking, is to give you a sense of the connections between these places and their histories, highlighting that the increasing inter-connection between them is itself a feature of the early modern period. You¿ll also get a broad sense of how the world as a whole changed between 1500 and 1800.

  • HIH237 The Practice of History

    The purpose of the module is to encourage you to think more deeply about how historians work and, in particular, about how we as historians can locate and use primary historical sources effectively as a means of interpreting and understanding the past. During the module we will learn about the survival of historical evidence, how it is organised and made accessible to historians to undertake their research, and how to effectively locate and interpret it in your studies. We will consider how the process of doing historical research changes over time, in particular with the impact of recent developments like digitization. At the core of the module will be the work you undertake with others in your seminar group using a range of primary sources which your seminar tutor will introduce to you. As part of the module assessment you will also undertake your own primary source based research project using items from these collections. The module is designed strengthen your analytical skills and to help prepare you for the more extensive uses of primary evidence which you will encounter in final year special subjects and dissertation.

  • HIH277 Whose Past Is It Anyway? Exploring the Heritage Industry

    This module will give students an introduction to the heritage industry. It¿s suited both to those considering a career in this sector and to students who¿d like to think in more general terms about the way our society consumes the past. The module will combine critical analysis of a range of heritage sites with lectures and seminar discussion of the lively debates around the role of history and heritage in society. We¿ll explore the challenges of difficult histories ¿ such as the legacies of slavery and colonialism. We¿ll consider both tangible heritage, like physical buildings and landscapes, and intangible heritage, like language and culture. The module will be assessed by a coursework portfolio of site reviews and an extended essay.

  • HIH3300 History Dissertation

    The History dissertation is a free-standing, 40-credit module that runs across both semesters of Level Three. Candidates conduct research upon a subject of their choice, devised in consultation with a member of staff teaching for the degrees in History, and concerning a topic that falls within staff research and teaching interests.

  • HIHD00 Heritage Dissertation (Practice-Based)

    This module affords students the opportunity to complete their MA in Heritage by undertaking a practical heritage project. The project, worth 67% of the marks, may be undertaken independently, or via a placement with a heritage project or organisation. It will be accompanied by a reflective commentary worth 33% of the marks.

  • HIHD01 Heritage Dissertation (Written)

    Students produce a dissertation on a heritage topic, chosen and developed in conjunction with their supervisor in line with the standard College MA requirements.

  • HIHM01 Debates and Approaches in Heritage and Public History

    This module offers an introduction to current debates in heritage and public history and a chance to develop practical skills in the communication of history to broad audiences. It will provide an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between academic study and the past as portrayed by, with and for the public (or publics). We¿ll explore case-studies in heritage from around the world. Why have museum presentations of history proved so controversial? What is the role of heritage in nation- and community-building? There will be opportunities to try out a variety of practical techniques in historical communication, and to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. Students will familiarise themselves with current policy contexts for heritage and public history, and will acquire valuable skills for careers in the heritage sector and beyond.

  • HIHM04 Heritage Work Placement

    This module enables students to gain practical experience of working with a heritage organisation or project in a graduate-level role. Placements may involve the acquisition of skills in museum work, community projects, heritage interpretation and policy (but are not restricted to these areas). Group discussion and individual tutorials will support students in preparing an extended essay reflecting on their work experience in the context of literature on heritage and public history.

  • HIHM06 Appalachian State University (Semester of Study Abroad)

    This module is delivered at Appalachian State University for those students who participate in the Extended MA Programme in Public History and Heritage.


  • An Oral History of the Archival Profession in Oklahoma (current)

    Student name:
    Other supervisor: Dr David Anderson
    Other supervisor: Dr Catherine Fletcher
  • Untitled (current)

    Student name:
    Other supervisor: Dr Leighton James
    Other supervisor: Dr Catherine Fletcher
  • War and Cultural Heritage in Florence, 1943-1946 (current)

    Student name:
    Other supervisor: Dr Catherine Fletcher
    Other supervisor: Dr Nigel Pollard