Born in London, he read history at Jesus College, Cambridge (1976–79) and received a Harkness Fellowship which enabled him to study American history at Yale University. He returned to Cambridge to undertake research in Victorian social science and social policy and in 1982 he was elected a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College. In 1985, he moved to Oxford as University Lecturer in the Department for Continuing Education. He continues to teach regular adult classes and is president of the Thames and Solent district of the Workers' Educational Association. In 1990, he was appointed to a Fellowship at St Peter's College, where he has also served as admissions tutor and senior dean. During the academic year 2000–01, he was the University Assessor, a senior administrator responsible for student welfare. He has served as Chairman of Examiners for the Final Honour School of Modern History and recently chaired the first ever review of the University archives.
Dons and workers: Oxford and adult education since 1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)
"Exceptionalism and Internationalism: The Origins of American Social Science Reconsidered", The Journal of Historical Sociology Vol. 11, 1 (1998) pp. 1–36
"Intellectuals and the English Working Class 1870–1945: The case of adult education", History of Education Vol. 29, 4 (1999) pp. 281–300
"Education as Politics: University Adult Education in England since 1870", Oxford Review of Education Vol. 25, nos. 1&2 (1999) pp. 89–101
"Republicanism, Radicalism and Sectionalism: Land Reform and the Languages of American Working Men 1820–1860", in Articulating America: Fashioning a National Political Culture in Early America, 1750–1850, ed. Rebecca Starr (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) pp. 177–233
Science, Reform and Politics in Victorian Britain: The Social Science Association 1857-1886 (CUP, 2002)
"Civil Society in Nineteenth-century Britain and Germany: J. M. Ludlow, Lujo Brentano and the Labour Question", in Civil Society in British History: Ideas, Identities, Institutions, ed. Jose Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) pp. 97–113