Dr Alexander Cook

BA (Hons) ANU, M.Phil University of Cambridge, PhD University of Cambridge
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • British History 210305
  • European History (Excl. British, Classical Greek And Roman) 210307
  • Australian History (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History) 210303
  • History Of Ideas 220209
  • Other History And Archaeology 2199

Research interests

Modern French and British history; history of political thought and political culture;  the Enlightenment; the Age or Revolution; empire;the uses of history; historical theory and method.


I am an intellectual and cultural historian whose interests centre upon Britain, France and their colonial worlds from the eighteenth century.  I am interested in politics and political thought, empire, consumption and culture amongst other things. Much of my personal research is focused upon the social history of ideas. I analyse the way in which ideas, discourses, texts and images are taken up, adapted and used by individuals and groups in social situations. I also have a strong interest in historiography and in the uses of history in both the past and the present.

I graduated from the Australian National University with Honours in History and a University Medal, before going on to complete graduate study at the University of Cambridge. During this time I also participated in a range of historical projects with the BBC and worked on exhibitions at the National Library of Australia and the National Museum of Australia. After a brief period as a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Queensland, I returned to the ANU where I now teach British and European history, as well as historical theory and method.

From 2013 to 2016, I served as co-Editor of History Australia, the journal of the Australian Historical Association.  From 2010 until 2015 I was Director of Undergraduate Studies in History at the ANU, and I am privileged to work with a talented group of post-graduate students undertaking exciting and innovative projects in a range of fields.

I was a Chief Investigator on the ARC funded Discovery Project, 'Revolutionary Voyages', a colloborative project involving historians from Australia, France and the United States, that explores the history of scientific expeditions and voyages of discovery during the era of the French Revolution.


Researcher's projects


The Politics of Nature in the Age of Revolution - This is a project examining conceptions of human nature, natural law and historical process during the era of the French Revolution. The subject of a series of recent articles, it will culminate in a monograph focused on the revolutionary politician, philosopher, historian and traveler Constantin-Francois Volney - a figure recently described as the 'Foucault of his age'.

Revolutionary Voyages - This collaborative ARC-funded project will provide the first systematic, collective analysis of the scientific voyages of exploration undertaken during the Revolutionary era in France.  Studying expeditions to the Carribean, Egypt and the Pacific, it involves an international team of researchers from Australia, France and the USA.

The Politics of Pleasure in the eighteenth century - This project analyses conceptions of pleasure, and of its role in human life, in the political and moral thought of Europe during the long eighteenth century. It examines the dynamics of that intellectual history against the backdrop of contemporary hopes and fears concerning the rise of commercial society, the division of the religious world and the instability of social order.

Thinking the Human in the Era of Enlightenment - This group project, run in collaboration with Dr Ned Curthoys and Dr Shino Konishi, produced an extended inter-disciplinary dialogue on the character and function of competing conceptions of human nature during the Enlightenment in both Europe and its colonial world. It resulted in a book, Representing Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment (Pickering and Chatto, 2013) and a special issue of the journal Intellectual History Review (2013).

Current student projects

I currently serve as supervisor and panel chair for the following Higher Degree Research students:


Rhianne Grieve, 'The Concept of Harmony in early British socialist thought' (PhD candidate)

Stephanie Wright, 'Fighting Women of the Revolution: France, Spain and Rojava' (PhD candidate)




Past student projects

Thomas Lalevee, 'From Perfectibility to Progress, French Social Science c.1780-1840'. (PhD, 2022)

Alexis Bergantz, 'French Connection: The Culture and Politics of Frenchness in Australia, 1880-1914' (PhD, 2016)

Emily Duthie, 'Labour Colonies for Gentleman: Philanthropic Settlements and the Making of the Social Reformer in London, 1884-1914' (PhD, 2019)

Karen Downing, 'Crusoe's Chains: The Creation of Restless Men in Britain and Australia, c.1788-1840' (PhD, 2010).



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Updated:  22 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers