Postgraduate Spotlight: Nathan Alexander

Nathan A 1Nathan Alexander was born and raised in the town of Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, but has lived in various locations across Southern Ontario. Before coming to St Andrews, Nathan spent two and a half years teaching English in South Korea to every possible age group, from kindergarteners up to adults. Although he misses the hustle and bustle of Seoul (not to mention the kimchi), he is glad to be back in academia and studying in the comparatively laid-back atmosphere of St Andrews.

Nathan became interested in history in high school, when the September 11th attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq spurred his interest in world affairs and led him to want to make sense of why the world is the way it is. Considering the study of history the best way to do this, he undertook his B.A. in Honours History at the University of Waterloo and later his M.A. in History at Wilfrid Laurier University (both in Canada). Nathan’s historical interests have seemingly changed from year to year. He initially intended to focus on Canadian history, but then became interested in American history, before settling on African history for a time. For his master’s, he combined his interest in African history with yet another new interest, the history of the idea of race. Studying under Professor John Laband, Nathan examined British views of the Asante (a West African people in modern-day Ghana) in the nineteenth century.

A cartoon which appeared in the American atheist periodical, 'The Truth Seeker', in the late nineteenth century.

A cartoon which appeared in the American atheist periodical, ‘The Truth Seeker’, in the late nineteenth century.

A convert to the New Atheist movement ­– although not always agreeing with its chief proponents – Nathan has once again moved on to a new subject and now studies atheists, agnostics, and other freethinkers in nineteenth-century Britain and the United States, and considers how they engaged with the idea of race. Nathan’s doctoral research, supervised by Professor Colin Kidd, brings together two bodies of literature, on the history of race and on the history of atheism, that have previously seen few points of contact. While the influence of Christian thought weighed heavily upon conversations surrounding race, from the origins of supposed races to the legitimacy of slavery, surprisingly historians have not yet studied how non-religious people thought about race. More broadly, the history of atheism at the university level is regrettably understudied and Nathan hopes to contribute, if in a small way, to reversing this trend. Nathan’s fingers are crossed that his historical interests will remain stable for at least long enough to complete his dissertation!

In addition to the work on his PhD, Nathan is kept busy through his involvement with the Institute of Intellectual History and his work as editorial assistant with the School’s communications team. In this role, he prepares the fortnightly School of History Gazette, as well as working on the School’s annual alumni magazine. He is also an editor of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network’s blog. Nathan has presented his research at the University of Victoria (Canada), the University of Glasgow, the University of St Andrews, and in the summer will present at the University of Newcastle.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Nathan enjoys swimming and playing basketball. He is a keen follower of the Toronto Raptors basketball team and, as a Canuck, is an obligatory (ice) hockey fan. He is a chess player as well and likes to imagine himself as a modern-day Bobby Fischer, hopefully minus the conspiratorial rants.