0:05:07 I got a first; it was a very bad year and only eight got firsts; I did have a long set-to in the viva with Trevor-Roper; I was very keen on Annales at the time and he thought I was just making it up; John Cooper wanted to quiz me on whether I really knew what the Ricardian theory of rent was about; I went on to Nuffield - Roderick, Angus and I all decided that Nuffield was the place, and Roderick and I decided that Habakkuk was the person we wanted to be supervised by; Charles went off to the Diplomatic Corps and Angus wanted to become an economist; in some ways the ethos of Nuffield was very narrow; I realized in retrospect what a liberation it was coming to King’s and talking to scientists, who were interested in the large questions of the world, and that they could talk in a comprehensible way, also literary people, whereas in Nuffield it was just social sciences which could be a bit oppressive; but having said that there were some good people there and it was intellectually stimulating; I knew I wanted to carry on doing research but I also thought London would be much more exciting; that was partly why I chose London as my DPhil topic; originally I was going to do something on self-help - why was it that, in 1906, people voted for Liberals in a big way whereas if you went back to Chartism and before, Liberalism was under great suspicion; I was interested in how Liberalism had become a popular creed and originally it was going to be around Samuel Smiles; as I read into the stuff it became clear that the place where it was not working at all was London, so that was the intellectual background together with some French work by Louis Chevalier ‘ Classes Laborieuses et Classes Dangereuses’ ; then meeting French anthropologists helped me broaden the way I thought about it; at the time I was leaving it open whether I would carry on in academia; my fantasy was that we would set up a journal a bit like 'Libération', and we did try in 1967-8 but it folded after twelve issues; the idea was that it should be Libération-Paris Match-Picture Post, to bring radical photojournalism and leftish news together; at the same time I began to get more uncomfortable with the New Left line, particularly the more Trotskyist; people were talking about having a revolution in Europe and I didn't think we needed that; I think I was a sort of crypto-Fabian; one of the things I did having finished 'Outcast London' was accept a commission to write on Engels; I did that because the agent wanted a very readable biography and I felt that if I was going to broaden myself from London and Victorian history, this was the moment to do it; on the strength of the advance I managed to learn German and eventually got a Humboldt scholarship; I got a year in Frankfurt at a rather interesting time, just at the end of the SDS and the Baader-Meinhof - 1973 or something like that; that was fascinating although I also thought that they were crazy; I kept saying that what had been happening in Britain was interesting, but they thought it was the 'Italian Spring' - factory occupations, and terrorism, which I didn't like, though I knew some who were involved; the film that has just come out on Baader-Meinhof was really good and brought a lot back, and the sense that bad mistakes on the part of the authorities can lead to a profound change in the nature of politics (in that case the move to terrorism)b; at the same time I'd got a job; it was 1973-74 when the university cuts were coming and I was running out of the advance; I applied for a job in Essex in the sociology department; I got it but they said the post was frozen; after about three or four months I was beginning to get worried and a college job in King's came up and I applied for it; then the post at Essex was unfrozen, but by then I'd been charmed by King's, and the fact of having a job in history rather than sociology appealed to me too
9:04:11 As a supervisor, Habakkuk was fairly hands-off; it was still the time when one's supervisor tended to give you a glass of sherry once a term rather than what we now think of as a graduate supervision; he had his own hobby-horses, but he wrote a marvellous book on the migration of labour and capital between America and Britain, and his own lectures were good; he was not what I expected when I did get to know him a bit; he was an unassuming Welshman, but he only published a small fraction of what he had been doing; he was in All Souls and you noticed boxes and boxes of half-finished books, so he did know a lot; I remember he was very good with my book where the first section was all about how the labour market worked and he had really useful things to say; the other person I should mention at Nuffield was Max Hartwell and he was very keen to set up a little school around him; I was quite fond of him but there was obviously a lot of tension and when Peter Matthias got the job he even wrote an inaugural lecture that he would have given if he had got it; it did mean that because he was at Nuffield that there was a little group of economic and social historians whom he supported; Brian Harrison wrote a great book on temperance at the time; he was someone who at first seemed terribly square but as one got to know him, gradually unwound; I remember him asking me to do the obituary on Raphael in the DNB; I kept it fairly formal but he encouraged me to tell more, about how inspirational he could be; there was a side of Brian which was very open to heterodoxy although he didn't look like that at all; he was a good thing in Nuffield, and so was Jose Harris, the biographer of Beveridge and a historian of the Welfare State; they had come to Nuffield as research fellows together, so there was quite a strong, interesting, history group there
13:24:17 On 'Outcast London' - it seems strange now as it is such a different historical epoch, at that time what we now call neo-liberal ideas were thought of as part of bad old Victorian days, and one was interested in discovering at what point they were challenged; in 'Outcast London' my aim was partly to show why the question of poverty and under-employment was a dominant problem in Victorian or pre-1914 England; I was particularly interested in it because I had read work on Rio and other third world cities - the whole idea of the shanty town and the Third World was in my mind when thinking about casual labour; strangely no-one had done much systematic work on it although I did find some American economists in the thirties, Simon Kuznets for example, who had worked quite interestingly on it; it was also a period when it was thought that a quantitative estimation would make history into a much more exact science, so I did all this work on the censuses but actually most of it proved fairly irrelevant; you could divide the London population into five Registrar General classes but it actually didn't explain anything about how London worked; on the other hand there was work done by geographers, which I found very inspiring, on the location of industry so you could examine street maps and show why industries clustered in particular areas, how local labour markets work; a lot of that had been done in the '50s and '60s and I built on that; I was never quite a Marxist but I was interested in the sort of problems that I thought Marx raised; another of the influences at the time on the New Left was Althusser; I was interested in him because against the idea of people simply expressing class interest he had the idea of “the problematic”; this meant that the question could be set up in a much more Saussurean way as a set of relations between signs, which you could still at that point connect with a class; in the third part I was trying to explain the shift in different ways of thinking about the social problem in London; it started with demoralization which is a classic liberal idea of a poor law kind, that if people don't practice thrift they will sink; that they could survive if they managed their incomes better; in the '80s it becomes a much more social-Darwinist idea of what was called ‘degeneration’; the idea that the city-dweller was degenerate, London was drawing in good country types but you could never meet a third generation Londoner who was not an imbecile; I was interested in how these discourses changed; I did not use the word discourse and the time but that was what it looked forward to; I was still trying to connect it to social class analysis, but I did so in a loose enough way that it didn't really matter in the end; I was interested under what conditions the idea that poverty, a fairly insoluble problem, apart from charity, goes away; of course I had a very simplistic answer at the time which was simply that the First World War created full employment for a bit, it wasn't the same problem as before, and after the war the trade unions were organized so there wasn't the same casual labour problem; so that was part of the background; I was interested too in the way in which historians had focused on the industrial revolution in the North and I wanted to show that the South was just as exciting a thing to study in the nineteenth century - why London had this amazing reputation; when I was a student, the East End still had an aura of difference about it with Toynbee Hall and the London labour tradition; the other thing that was just good fortune was the marvellous documentation with the Mayhew and Booth material, so you couldn't fail to make it an interesting piece of work
20:13:15 When working I definitely go for a walk in the afternoon, particularly in recent years; I use periods of insomnia to work things out; sometimes I have a notebook beside my bed, and often regret it when I haven't, and jot down an idea, some of which turn out to be very good; I am very old-fashioned in the technology, I use handwriting to take extensive notes, I write the thing on the computer but make sure I get them printed as quickly as possible; my first planning will be hand-written so it is just when I get to actually write a chapter I will do it on the computer; I have loads of 8x5 index cards, and still have those I had for 'Outcast London'; I am learning but am still fairly backward on the Internet; I'm used to going to libraries and looking things up.
22:42:05 For the Cambridge job my competitor was Robert Skidelsky; at the time Eric Hobsbawm said he had a little influence in King's, and the thing that was slightly shocking when I arrived was how conservative the faculty was; King's was a beacon of enlightenment and I felt very comfortable here; I felt nervous to start with wondering whether I would be up to it, but once that feeling had past I just felt very lucky as it was my sort of atmosphere par excellence if I could choose one; one of the things that surprised and delighted me was to meet scientists, and on the Electors - an illuminating experience for me - with people like Sydney Brenner who could give a wonderfully graphic picture on what a particular dissertation was about, its background, what the problem was and whether it was worth studying; or Bernard Williams with his contempt for routine linguistic philosophy so that people whom Oxford thought were the best thing since sliced bread, he could just scythe through; there was the sense of assured intellectual confidence which in the end could look like arrogance, such as Wynne Godley who thought he could do the alternative forecasting to the Treasury, but I rather admired all that; talking now about whether the College should introduce various bureaucratic schedules for renewal, that was so different in those days and no one would have dreamt of anything like that; people did trust each other, I think; in Oxford I had been a research fellow so didn't really have any administrative duties, but coming here and finding that so many things were just done by word of mouth, on the telephone, or informally, you didn't have to have a great paper chase over everything; King's also gave me the opportunity to set up my own seminar on social history -.in those days social history was still regarded as outside polite society as far as the Faculty was concerned....so I set up the Social History Seminar with Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn, which Raphael Samuel, Tim Mason and myself had originally pioneered in St Anthony's; that became a sort of alternative focus for eighteenth to twentieth century work which got a large crowd of people; so there was a sense of forward movement, taking on questions that nobody had asked before, expanding horizons into feminism, takes on Empire, Black history, all sorts of things which were beginning to happen; when I did get a Faculty job it was in intellectual history; in Oxford I had enjoyed it but just thought of it as part of history, whereas in Cambridge it was presumed to demand a rarefied set of skills. I just thought that any decent historian would have used those skills when asking questions; there was a whole group of us that did social history and that carried through until the mid-nineties; King's then thought it well-enough established not to need an independent seminar; so King's I have always found a very decent place; when I had the misfortune of trying to move house around 1989 and found myself on a bridging loan for about eight or nine months, which was not pleasant, Michael Cowdy, the Bursar, gave me an interest-free loan for two years, something that no academic institution would feel empowered to do these days; that sort of informality and trust is something that I've liked most about Cambridge; I think Cambridge is a strange place because its nearly all immigrants from one place or another with some rather resentful locals underneath it all; Quentin Skinner talks of it as Calvinism without God, and there is a certain amount of that; there isn't really a culture of port-swilling in Cambridge, the Puritanism has somehow survived; I respect that as it doesn't produce the old corruption that occasionally Oxford did; on the other hand it can be a bit icy at times; when my parents died they left a cottage in the Wye Valley, at a place called Llangrove between Ross and Monmouth, so we spend quite a lot of time there; I have always enjoyed the idea of living two temporalities; for a long time I lived in London while teaching in Cambridge; since the 90s I have lived almost exclusively here but have another place in the country; I greatly appreciate the different pace of existence and preoccupations in Herefordshire, and I value both places
31:59:24 John Dunn was probably one of the main people who got me here and has always been very supportive; his book on Locke is quite justifiably a classic; in its time his book on Revolutions was also innovative and I taught on that; again it was part of the intellectual expansiveness in Cambridge at the time that SPS and history were able to share such a course; he was also very supportive when I had the idea of setting up something on the history of political economy in the Research Centre; all along I think he has played a good role in the College.
33:32:06 I have known Emma Rothschild since the sixties; we were undergraduates together in Oxford though she came at some ridiculous age like fifteen; then she went to live in the States and got a job at MIT; when I was in a position to do so we set up some research fellowships in politics in the College and I encouraged her to apply and she got one of them; she had done work on war and peace in Sweden and we had this idea that although the technology had changed immeasurably since the ancients, thinking about war and peace hadn't changed that much; we first set up a seminar about war and peace and I remember people like Miles Burnyeat giving wonderful talks on violence in antiquity; in economics, Cambridge particularly with the passing of the Keynesian generation, was getting more and more mathematical and technocratic, so as a countermove we wanted to try to re-establish the central importance of history as part of economic knowledge. From her days at MIT Emma has wonderful connections, as you might imagine, with major funding organizations, particularly in the United States. We got a grant from the Macarthur Foundation and we set up the Centre; the idea was to create studentships to encourage economics’ students to learn some history and vice versa; that doesn't operate quite as well now since with the coming of the MPhils, people find other ways of doing that, but we still give money to support such things as post-graduates who want to learn a language in order to pursue their research as there is a danger that everything is becoming much too monoglot; if persons come up with an exciting idea in history and economic we try to find funding, and appoint them as research fellows; Emma has been influenced by another part of the Annales tradition which is mentalité, so situated between intellectual history and cultural history; Quentin, John and others were always sixteenth-seventeenth century. This meant that intellectual history was always a small conversation between elites. We were interested in extending this into thoughts about economy or commercial society, whatever one might call it at the time; also, particularly when one gets to the nineteenth and twentieth century, you are dealing with mass readership and mass opinion, so you need a broader definition of what sort of history this is; situated somewhere between intellectual, cultural and political history of economic thought in this context, and its relationship to the economy itself
38:44:22 I was also writing a book about conceptions of poverty in Britain and France, and a little bit on Germany; it was written as a riposte in a sense to the neo-liberal idea that Adam Smith was best expounded by Milton Friedman, I argued thate there was no direct genealogy that led back from the Chicago School to Adam Smith; between them came the French Revolution, and the first disciples of Smith were radical; Smith himself had various quite critical thoughts about the law of entail, inheritance etc.Smith’s strange position can't actually be aligned either to left or right very helpfully, which is the grandiose ambition which you find in history, and at the same time the vanity of riches ; obviously it was a critique of empire at the time; to show that Smith was quite critical, I wanted to show how it developed in both France and Britain, and in Britain that Paine was in some sense was a reader of Smith; but of course in 1792-3, Paine gets burnt in five hundred villages up and down the country; I wanted also to criticise the way in which Malthus has been conventionally presented as a critic of Condorcet and Paine, when actually he hardly touches them; I used Condorcet to show there was new thought which came along with the French Revolution, connected partly with the development of statistics in the eighteenth century, used in calculus and the way in which that gets connected with life tables and life expectancy; this was effectively the origin of national insurance, and to show that it was also part of the early vision of the French Revolution; it gets hit on the head, obviously the French State gets more financially encumbered and incompetent and goes bankrupt anyway; also, if you look in Britain at the mid 1790s it is still on the agenda, with Pitt and others having ideas on poor law reform; it becomes anathema in the reaction to revolution as is stated then by Malthus and so on; I wanted to show that these were the first systematic thoughts of a non-utopian kind of how to deal with poverty, and that it was pushed out by what we now come to think of as political economy in a more orthodox sense; I looked at people like Jean-Baptiste Say in France; however I was also interested in showing where the idea of industrial revolution came from, why, for instance did they come from France rather from Britain and through the school of Jean-Baptiste Say, then it gets picked up in the end by Bismarck and the new liberals in Britain. The other motivation behind the book was to show in contrast to a Left, which intellectually speaking, had got so identified with the Marx-Engels tradition that I wanted to show that there were other ways in which one could be radical and progressive, and this was one of the lineages which had been forgotten and needed to be retrieved, particularly against present neo-liberal orthodoxies.
44:03:23 What I found an immense privilege was supervising MPhils and PhDs; that almost doesn't feel like work as often I felt I was getting as much back as I was giving to them; I have mixed feelings about supervisions; if they are in groups of three or four that is fine, one to one can be a bit tiresome; I think we are very lucky in Cambridge with our seminar system because it means that so many people from all over the world come passing through; the only thing I would say where things could be a bit more liberal, I have now got a retirement part-time Chair in Queen Mary, and the good thing there is that you can devise an M.A. option; here, in history, you get appointed to teach pre-existing papers and its very difficult to change the syllabus as you have to give two or three years notice; in those areas it is a bit rigid and we need to move in a more flexible direction; I also wonder sometimes whether the lecture system is the best way of conveying knowledge; I don't mind lecturing though I prefer giving talks; on the other hand, when I first came to Cambridge I was told that it was not so much for students, but to make sure that you knew your topics, and it did force me to get up a whole cluster of subjects that otherwise I would have just waffled on about without really knowing; that is to be said in its favour
47:21:22 I now have a particular project that I held a little conference on last week, on 1848 as a turning point, particularly in political thought; more generally I am trying to write an intellectual but general biography of Marx which is taking the contextual idea seriously; I think the Marx we've inherited is an invention of the 1890-1920 period; I am trying to get back to a cohort of people who, for whatever reason, thought what they did in the 1840s, to show the fragility of a lot of the thought, the misunderstandings which have given it this canonical sense; I am not wildly trying to prove something else, but bring the whole thing back to a proper study of history and to show its contingent factors; it is not just intellectual history as I've got an idea about the familial relations that are fascinating; I have got very interested in his father; I think its a story of hubris, a set of ideas, which seemed to have a lot going for them in the 40s but then he gets into the critique of political economy which he thinks is going to be the absolute answer. As he gets into it, I think, he finds it doesn't work, but the problem is that his wife believes he is writing the great book, so has put up with this disorderly way of life and lack of income; this is also Engels' view, so in a way he is a prisoner of their expectations and he can't give it up as a mistake; its a bit like Casaubon; it has a certain tragic quality because he doesn't speak to anybody about it but gets psychosomatic symptoms such as boils; the other thing is that he reverts to a sort of utopian socialist view because he gets more and more seduced by the idea of the primitive communism; his main opponent in latter years was Henry Maine as he had started with patriarchy; I think there are more interesting things to say, though it is a bit tough at the moment as I am trying to set the story in a larger philosophical history of the eighteen and nineteenth century in particular the history of German idealism. But basically I am enjoying it, and there are two or three unfinished books in my filing cabinet also waiting to be attended to, when I get the chance.