Public History

Desert Island Histories: James Vernon


In no particular order, I went for the books that have been transformative rather than the good read principle. These are my favourite books because they have transformed the way I think and work and I’d want to spend my time on a desert island arguing with them.

Mintz, Sweetness and Power
I was tempted to put William’s Capitalism and Slavery but it was Mintz that woke me up to the constitutive role of slavery in shaping the process of production and the forms of consumption in industrializing Europe.

Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey
No other book made me understand how historical change is lived phenomologically through new embodied experiences of time and space

Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
The writing, the passion, the force of the argument. I don’t buy it but it shaped everything I was taught and thought until graduate school

Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire
The book I most admire in terms of its ability to synthesize and to situate industrialization in its proper imperial and global frame

Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
I love the breathtaking theoretical and empirical innovation of this book. Its a history that enables us to rethink both the past and the present.

Polanyi, The Great Transformation
The book that allowed me to see that it was the confection of markets, not just the mechanization of production, that was the great transformation. And one that reminded me that every revolution has its counter-revolution.

Foucault, The Order of Things
Opened my eyes to the absolute centrality of the production and organization of knowledge to generating change and our understandings of it.

Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
It was either this or Butler’s Gender Trouble for both introduced me to power of the anti-essentialist critique and its possibilities for reconceiving history and politics.

Guha, A Rule of Property for Bengal
The historiography of South Asia has been a constant catalyst of thought for me but Guha’s classic has a relentless and searing intelligence that is hard to match or emulate.

Davidoff and Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the Middle Classes 1780-1850
There is so much I admire about this book but the way in which it used cultural history to show us how industrial capitalism forged a new understanding and experience of gender and the family still pulls me up short.

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