Simon Brown

PhD Candidate

Early Modern Europe


I study early modern European history, with a focus on Britain from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. My dissertation, "Useful Subjects: Theology, Education and Practical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century Britain," examines the history of "useful knowledge" as an aspiration and project from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century in England and its empire. It focuses on the ways that knowledge typically left out of this category, particularly religion and ethics, was valued for its use and practicality in the late stages of the Reformation in the form of "practical divinity." I trace how the popularity and consensus around practical divinity shaped the ideas about pedagogy, plans for schools and practices of teaching that would be at the base of schemes to educate people in the useful knowledge of handicrafts, manufactures and navigation. This account can help us understand the connection between new forms of religious discipline and toleration, and novel conceptions of population and economy that both came to be associated with the Enlightenment.

I am an editor at the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog. I co-founded and convened the Religion and History Graduate Seminar, and have organized the Berkeley-Stanford British Studies Reading Group. I have taught for introductory courses on modern European and early American history, the history of religion and undergraduate thesis research. I received a BPhil in history and philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh.


Research Interests

  • Religion 
  • Political Economy
  • Education
  • Intellectual History

Publications (Not Peer-Reviewed)

"Higher Education and the Stuff of Revolutions," Tocqueville21 /  Journal of the History of Ideas Blog (2019)

"Learning to Demonstrate the Spirit in English Practical Divinity," History of Knowledge Blog (2018)

"A 'Usefull (Indeed Most Usefull) Thing' and the Fortunes of a Scholarly Petitioner in Interregnum England," Journal of the History of Ideas Blog (2017)

Book Review: God in the Enlightenment, eds. William Bulman and Robert Ingram, The Immanent Frame (2016)