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Personal profile

Research interests

I work on the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain and its global entanglements, with a particular interest in histories of the senses and sexuality. My research draws on queer studies, the history of science, and urban history to explore two questions: how new ways of sensing and thinking about 'sense' emerged from the late nineteenth century; and how these sensory practices reshaped social relationships and forms of knowledge in different areas of life.

My first book, Intimate Subjects: Touch and Tangibility in Britain's Cerebral Age (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming July 2024) examines how the understanding, experience, and practice of touch changed in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. It argues that touch is central to how we think about ourselves and others, and that changes in touch over this period transformed understandings of what it meant to be embodied. Following often ordinary encounters between individuals across different spaces, from fog-bound streets to basement teashops, the book shows how changes in touch reshaped broader organizing concepts, such as those of personal space, disability, and the relationship between the mind and body. Tracing this history, I argue, also provides a method for critically reflecting on understandings of embodiment today, particularly of vulnerability, capability, and the body as a source of knowledge.

My current project combines sensory and global history to provide a history of 'world-making' from the ground up. Within Worlds: Longing and Belonging in London's Docklands zooms in on a neighbourhood to show how worlds are made by how we inhabit them. It examines how, over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the changing and varied bodily experiences of docklands inhabitants shaped their sense of scale and time, and consequently perceptions of trust, risk, and precariousness. In so doing, the project explores how individual enactments of the world conflicted with juridical and capitalist visions of it and attempted to make that world habitable under intensifying industrial capitalism and territorialization.

As part of this project, funded by an AHRC Research, Development, and Engagement grant, I am also involved in several collaborations. With Ben Mechen, I am co-writing an article on the entangled exposure of dock labourers' bodies and the River Thames in the late nineteenth century. Ben and I are also collaborating with filmmaker George Clark on a film exploring past and present precariousness in London's docklands. The project is partnered with architect studio Witherford Watson Mann; you can find William Mann's writings here.

In other publications, I have explored how queer desire served as a way of thinking in - and way of rethinking - the history of science, and how photography might be understood as an interpretive event within contested imperial contexts.

I have been lucky to be supported by visiting fellowships and scholarships at the universities of Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and New York.

Research Supervision

I am glad to supervise PhDs on any topic within the cultural history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, especially in relation to my research. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss a project.


I teach in both the History Department and the Liberal Arts programme, an interdisciplinary programme which ranges across the arts and humanities. While at Bristol I have convened the following courses:

  • Brief Encounters: Love, Labour, and Loneliness in Modern London (second-year History)
  • History of the Present (first-year Liberal Arts)
  • Dissertation (third- and fourth-year Liberal Arts)

I have also contributed lectures and seminars to the following courses:

  • Urban Worlds: From Ancient Baghdad to Las Vegas (first-year History)
  • Rethinking History (second-year History)
  • Progress or Peril? The History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (second-year History)
  • Disease, Deviance, and Disability (second-year History)
  • Experiencing the Aesthetic (second-year Liberal Arts)
  • Dissertation (third-year History)
  • Approaches to History (MA History)

Contact Details

Email: simeon.koole@bristol.ac.uk

Office: 1.H026 School of Humanities Building


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