Much of his research is focussed around the social and cultural history of the Mississippi River. His first book, River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi Before Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2007) was an interdisciplinary examination of the different roles played by the Mississippi in antebellum American culture. His second book, Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century (Continuum, 2011), was an exploration of the life and culture of one of America's most fascinating cities during a crucible period in its history. His latest book, Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2019), is a pioneering account of Twain's intimate and long-lasting creative engagement with the Mississippi which also details the thriving cultural life of the Mississippi in this period and highlights a diverse collection of voices each telling their own story of the river.
He is also the editor of a variety of collections: Blacklegs, Card Sharps and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Louisiana State University Press, 2010); with Prof. Sarah Churchwell, Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers, from Charlotte Temple to The Kite Runner (Continuum, 2012); with Dr Ross Hair, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music (Routledge, 2016); and most recently, Christmas Past: An Anthology of Seasonal Stories from Nineteenth-Century America (Louisiana State University Press, 2021). Alongside those books, he has written numerous articles on a wide variety of topics - outlaws and highwaymen, country music, antebellum religious movements - for various journals and collections. He has also written for a number of magazines, including New Statesman, BBC History Magazine, and History Today, and appeared on radio (BBC Book Café, BBC 6Music, BBC World Service) and television (Heir Hunters, Myth Hunters).
In 2023, he will continue his work on the cultural and literary history of Christmas in America with the publication of The Last Gift: The Christmas Stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (Louisiana State University Press). He will also publish a new edition of Black Beauty in association with Redwings horse charity. Currently, he's at work on a book about Mark Twain and London.
He is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
This website is a record of his publications and associated research activities. You can learn more about his books here, and his articles here. Follow him on twitter, and please feel free to contact him about any aspect of his work.
He (very occasionally) blogs about nineteenth-century literature at American Scrapbook.