I had visited Cambridge twice before. Once was when I went for an entry examination in 1960 and then for an anthropology conference in 1968. I certainly remember being amazed at its beauty, and particularly that of King's College, where I was based on my second visit. Nevertheless it was still a shock to arrive in the more elevated status of Senior Research Fellow at King's College in the autumn of 1971. The Fellowship was only for four years, and it was likely I would move on. As things turned out, I have never left. There was a period between 1976 and 1981 when I was not a Fellow of King's, though still a Member of the High Table and a University Lecturer. After 1981 I was a Fellow of the College, as I now am for life, and I remained in the University until retirement in 2009.

This means that Cambridge has been my work place for well over half my life. It has indelibly influenced me. My time there can be briefly described as comprising five phases.

Senior Research Fellow of King's College, 1971-4

I was elected to a Senior Research Fellowship in History at King’s College, Cambridge and went there in autumn 1971. Sarah Harrison, who became my second wife, and I started to develop the intensive study of two English parishes, Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria and Earls Colne in Essex. We also began our long collaboration with computer scientists. Simultaneously I was pursuing the themes started in The Family Life of Ralph Josselin and my M.Phil. dissertation on marriage, family and sexual history in England. We edited the full Diary of Ralph Josselin, published by the British Academy in 1976.

I became more involved in the work of the ‘Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure’. In King’s College, I was a member of the Fellowship Electors and met many distinguished thinkers, including some world famous scientists. This was a time when I consolidated my historical training with wider reading in the Annales School, deeper work on historical sources, and improving my methods and understanding of history and anthropology.

Lecturer in Social Anthropology 1975-1981

I was appointed to a Lectureship in Social Anthropology in 1974 and started teaching from January 1975. These are the years during which I was finding my feet as a teacher and administrator in the Department of Social Anthropology under the guidance of Jack Goody, who became a very large influence on my life from this period onwards.

Sarah and I moved with her children to our house in the village of Lode, near Cambridge, where we have remained since – setting up a home, large garden, stocking our library and starting a second-hand book business.

I was involved in a great deal of administration in Faculty and Department and became a long-serving member of various committees of the Social Science Research Council.

I was also laying down the skills and contents of a full lecture load, supervision of undergraduates and postgraduate students, in a discipline which I had only come to late in life. I was also running a large a research project on the history and anthropology of three communities for the Social Science Research Council. The methodology we had developed for the study of Earls Colne in Essex and Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria was summarized in a book on Reconstructing Historical Communities (1977).

Not least, I was undergoing a major shift in my theoretical paradigm. My whole framework of thought changed in 1977 as I started to write The Origins of English Individualism (1978), which received widespread attention and caused considerable controversy.

Reader in Historical Anthropology 1981-1991

I received a personal Readership in Historical Anthropology in 1981 and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1986. This was a time when we were completing the Earls Colne study and publishing the records on microfiche. The introductions were later published as A Guide to English Historical Records (1983).

We had originally intended to do a parallel study on the parish of Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria. In the end, moving south and preoccupied with other things, the study was abandoned. The main outcome was a book describing the activities of a network of burglars, coin clippers and highwaymen in seventeenth century Westmorland, The Justice and the Mare's Ale (1981).

This was the time of writing various drafts of Marriage and Love in England 1300-1840 (1986). Ten years after writing Individualism I also collected together a number of essays I had written in the intervening years and published them as The Culture of Capitalism (1987).

The work on database systems continued and began to enter a new phase with the start of work on the new probabilistic retrieval systems. I began to spend much energy trying to learn how the Museum Cataloguing System (MUSCAT) worked, and also experimenting with multi-media, which began to be possible as Videodisc technology evolved.

It was also in this period that I set up the Cambridge Rivers Video Project, mainly so that I could work with my talented Ph.D. students to give them some training in filming. We made several films and also started to make long interviews of leading anthropologists. By 1986 I had filmed 16 interviews, all of them with anthropologists. This was the start of a project which, as of summer 2017, comprising more than 230 interviews in all fields of creative and intellectual work.

I returned to Nepal and the Gurung village of Thak for the first time in 1986 with Sarah. This would be the second of twenty visits by 2017, including trips almost every year until the Maoist insurgency of 2003. This was a time of deepening of fieldwork techniques and of more supervision of graduate students working on India and Nepal.

Out of this work in Nepal came films, surveys, censuses. Apart from a few essays, there was also a short book written with Indrabahadur Gurung, A Guide to the Gurungs (1990). Sarah and I also published an English language edition of Bernard Pignède’s work on the Gurungs, with a number of new appendices.

Professor of Anthropological Science 1991-2009

I received a Personal Chair (Professor of Anthropological Science) in 1991. The first two years continued with much administration as I was effectively Head of Department much of the time. A major turning point was meeting Gerry Martin in the autumn of 1990. He provided crucial support, mental and material, for the next fourteen years and made it possible to finish the Naga videodisc project, to film more effectively in Nepal, and encouraged me to return to those big questions concerning the nature and origins of the modern world.

Another turning point was in the summer of 1990 when we made our first visit to Japan. Over the next fifteen years we worked together with our Japanese friends to translate between British and Japanese culture. In the autumn of 1993 I started to write a book on The Savage Wars of Peace: England, Japan and the Malthusian Trap (1997).

I also pursued the interest in technologies and material culture which Gerry and I shared. Involvement in Gerry Martin’s ‘Achievement Project’ and a growing interest in world history and running seminars on Japan and China were also important.

This fed into the experience, in 1998-2000, of working as a principal advisor and presenter for a six part series with which the TV Channel 4 made to celebrate the Millenium, ‘The Day the World Took Off’. This was also a time when, after the birth of Sarah’s first grandchild in 1997, we spent a good deal of time visiting Australia and filming our grandchildren growing up – a new comparative film project.

A new venture into philosophical history was central to the later 1990's. This culminated in The Riddle of the Modern World (2000) and The Making of the Modern World (2002). It was also a time when I worked with Gerry on the history of technology and particularly glass, which resulted in our joint book The Glass Bathyscaphe (2002).

The Internet was just becoming fully usable as storage, editing and bandwidth all improved dramatically. So we could realize our dream of making both the Earls Colne and Naga databases available permanently on line.

Gerry encouraged me before his death in 2004 to try to summarize my work in a simpler form. So I wrote and published the first of my simpler books, written for my eight-year old grand-daughter (imagined to be about seventeen), Letters to Lily: On How the World Works (2005). I was also working with my mother on a book, Green Gold: The Empire of Tea (2003), combining her experience on an Assamese tea garden for twenty years with my historical interests.

In 2005 I completed the book on Japan which was published as Japan Through the Looking Glass (2007). By this time we were becoming interested in China. We went on our first serious expedition in 2002 and have visited on average once a year since. I set up a project which incorporated half a dozen Chinese Ph.D. students and various collaborations with Chinese universities and filmmakers.

This period is most notable for its emphasis on forms of mass communication.
Earlier periods had been about how to find, analyse, link and interrogate data and make it available in a fairly undigested form through databases and long books. From about 2001 onwards the Internet began to flourish and, with Mark Turin and Sara Shneiderman, we set up ‘Digital Himalaya’ and my own website. I started to upload videos to ‘Youtube’ in October 2006. As of June 2017 I have 1563 videos uploaded, with 10,466,000 views and 13,000 subscribers.

As I approached retirement from my University Professorship at the age of 67 in 2009 I decided to write a set of reflections on what I had encountered over the years, both in the University and King's College. This was published as Reflections on Cambridge (2009).

Throughout these Cambridge years I had been heavily involved in teaching and administration. I lectured to students on kinship and marriage, introductory anthropology, economic and political anthropology, demography, classical theories in the social sciences, the state, technology, property, visual anthropology, feudalism and capitalism, comparative law, community, urban anthropology, inequality, population, the western family, war and violence and sexual behaviour.

Like Oxford, Cambridge is noted for its intensive supervision system. This involves setting an essay, reading it, discussing it one to one or one to two for an hour. During these thirty years I supervised well over two hundred undergraduates in all fields of anthropology.

Each year I took on one or two taught master’s students, many of whom have gone on with me to do a Ph.D. They have come from all over the world, and each one requires a dozen supervisions, and direction on their thesis. There have been over sixty of these.

I have supervised over forty Ph.D. students, supervising on average five or six at any one time. They have worked on many topics in most continents, for example on face-whitening in Japan, family structures in Singapore, religion in Sarawak, social change in Vietnam, identity in Malaysia, shamanism in Nepal, hunter-gatherers in India, development in South America, tourism in Greece, politics in Spain, nationalism in Germany, manufacturing in France, kinship in England, and farming in Ireland.

About a quarter of my time during term was absorbed in administration. I sat on numerous College, Departmental, Faculty and National committees. I was Fellow of a number of Societies as well as the British Academy and on many Boards and Trusts, both University and National. I gave lectures around the world. These included the named lectures : Frazer, Burrows, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Marrett, Maruyama Masao, Li Ka Sheng, Wang Gouwei, Huxley and Goody lectures.

After retirement in 2009

This brief account of what use I made of my twenty-five years of education to 1966 takes the story to my retirement in 2009 when I became an Emeritus Professor and Life Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. Free from teaching and administration, which tends to absorb at least half of one's year and energy, I have in the nine years since retirement been able to write and publish as much as in the last twenty years of my full-time Professorship, including nine small books for young Chinese and a draft of seven volumes of my educational autobiography. I have also been deeply engaged in projects with China and have given a number of lectures there including the Wang Gouwei lectures at Tsinghua University, Beijing. I also gave the Huxley Lecture in London and the Goody Lecture in Malta.

Now I can look back and see better how the small seeds planted in those first twenty-five years have grown into several dozen books, four large research projects with small groups of colleagues, explorations and friendships over much of the world and a large amount of highly rewarding teaching. I have been extraordinarily fortunate, above all in the love and support of my close family and friends.