MBS Album Playlist

To fit with the desert island theme, we asked everyone to list their favorite album.  Some continued with the Modern British theme whilst others gave much more personal responses, relating to memories of their adolescence or their time as undergraduates. Some refused to admit their choices in public; rather wisely perhaps as one member admitted to listening to grindcore remixes of Jedward’s entry for the eurovision song contest. We have stuck some links in case anyone wants to listen to a track….

Here is the MBS album list:


The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street (1972)


Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks (1975)


Gil Scot Heron & Brian Jackson, The First Minute of a New Day (1975)


Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Armed Forces (1979)


The Clash, London Calling (1979)


Robert Wyatt’s version of Shipbuilding (1982) – a single, we know, but one that fits in with our modern British history theme.


Peter Maxwell Davies, Black Pentecost (1993)

(We could not find a clip of this – Sorry!)



The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (1994)


Tricky, Maxinquaye (1995)


Mogwai, Young Team (1997)


Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997)


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, I see a Darkness (1999)


Hefner, The Fidelity Wars (1999)


Toumani Diabate, Symmetric Orchestra’s Boulevard de l’Independence (2006)


‘Allo Darlin by ‘Allo Darlin (2010)


And, after choosing an ‘irritatingly obscure album’ (we’ll let you decide which one that is), one member of MBS stated that their favorite album ‘would (obviously) be Melt Banana’s, 13 Hedgehogs (2005)…’


Still not entirely sure whether there are hints of sarcasm here, but in the name of academic freedom, we list it here but leave the passing of any judgment to the reader. That said, at least two members of MBS have seen Melt Banana live…..


5. Favourite Article

Yes, we know this isn’t a book, but articles are so important in forming our thoughts and arguments that it seemed like a waste to leave it out. That and our director really wanted to include one…

Laura Beers: Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Rethinking Chartism’ (1982)

I actually think that, in the final section, GSJ proves the opposite of his thesis, but I still love it.

Matthew Francis: E.P. Thompson, ‘Rough Music’ in his Customs in Common (1993) 

Like a lot of undergraduates I was sent away to read ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd…’ in the first year of my degree, and as far as I can remember I read ‘Rough Music’ entirely for the fun of it after finishing my assigned reading. And it was fun.

David Gange: Michael Saler, ‘’Clap if you Believe in Sherlock Holmes’: Mass Culture and the Re-Enchantment of Modernity, c. 1890-c. 1940’, The Historical Journal (2003)

Fun and powerful, and Sherlock Holmes.

Vanessa Heggie: Peter Hansen’s “Tenzing’s Two Wrist-Watches: The Conquest of Everest and Late Imperial Culture in Britain 1921-1953” Past & Present 157 (1997)

I find a pretty thoughtful and useful piece, and it stretches the borders of ‘British’ history somewhat.

Matthew Hilton: Peter Bailey’, ‘Will the real Bill Banks please stand up?  Towards a role analysis of Victorian respectability’, Journal of Social History (1978)

This is my old favourite, but more recently I think the following is a really accomplished piece of research and writing: Steve Smith, ‘Bones of contention: Bolsheviks and the struggle against relics, 1918–1930’, Past and Present, 204, (2009)

Matt Houlbrook: E.P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Customs in Common (1993)

The Making of the English Working Class gets all the attention, but I think it has dated massively and lost much of its intellectual and historical (if not its political) force. Everything in Customs in Common still feels as fresh as when I first read it as an undergraduate twenty years ago.

Chris Moores: Stephen Brooke – “A New World For Women”? Abortion Law Reform in Britain during the 1930s’, American Historical Review

I love reading Stephen’s work – and I think this article is his best. Important, but also modest and subtle.

Sadiah Qureshi: Maya Jasanoff, ‘Collectors of empire: Objects, conquests and imperial self-fashioning’, Past and Present (2004), pp.109-135

Using this as a stand-in for her book Edge of Empire (2005). Her work helped me clarify many of my thoughts about collecting people in an imperial context as I started to turn my PhD into a book.

Jonathan Reinarz: E.P.Thompson, ‘Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’, Past and Present (1967)

Thompson’s writing lured me to England to begin my graduate work in 1993, the year he died (bad timing), so it has to be this one.

Kate Smith: Constance Classen, ‘Foundations for an Anthropology of the Senses’ International Social Science Journal, 99:153 (1997), pp. 401-412

This made me think very differently about history.         

More MBS ‘Desert Island’ posts:

  • Book you have referred to most
  • Most thought provoking book
  • Most Controversial Book
  • Book you wish you had written

4. Book you wish you had written

Laura Beers:  Charles S. Maier, Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany and Italy in the Decade after World War I (1975)

Matthew Francis: Jenny Andersson, The Library and the Workshop: Social Democracy and Capitalism in the Knowledge Age (2009)

Among the most subtle and insightful works yet produced on New Labour and contemporary social democracy, which challenges the idea that ‘the Third Way’ was simply a neoliberal phenomenon.  This is also a miracle of brevity: barely one hundred and fifty pages of often beautiful prose.

David Gange: Matthew Kneale’s novel ‘English Passengers’ (2000)

Tempted to just think about the REF, and say my next book even if it’s rubbish – that would make life easier. But the real answer to this can’t be a history monograph can it? It’ll have to be either a freakishly ambitious theoretical work or, more desirable still, some actual ‘litrichur’ like this one.

Vanessa Heggie:

I wish I had written Higher, Further, Colder: a History of Extreme Physiology and Exploration, but I haven’t and I should get on with it.

Matthew Hilton: James Ferguson’s The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development”, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (1990)

Matt Houlbrook: Seth Koven, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (2004)

This is the best piece of British social and cultural history I’ve ever read. It’s a beautifully written demonstration of the historian’s craft that somehow manages to combine theoretical sophistication, meticulous research, and compelling emotional power. It’s the kind of book I’ll never be able to write.

Chris Moores:

I find this a really difficult question. Like David – it probably would not be a history book. But if I had to choose one of those I might be tempted to say one of Peter Bailey’s. They read like he enjoyed writing and researching them.

Sadiah Qureshi: Matthew Kneale, English Passengers (2000)

David pipped me to the post in many ways, but this is the literary equivalent to what I want to do for my book on human endangerment. The research that went into the book is truly remarkable.

Jonathan Reinarz: Roy Porter, English Society in the Eighteenth Century (1982)

Bold, sweeping synthesis of eighteenth-century society, written by a young Porter, who managed to weave every existing study, the best anecdotes and bon mots into a narrative that appealed to both academics and general readers.

Kate Smith: Carolyn Steedman’s, Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age (2007), particularly chapter ten.

For more MBS ‘Desert Island’ posts:

  • Book you have referred to most
  • Most thought provoking book
  • Most Controversial Book
  • Favourite Article

3. Most Controversial Book

Laura Beers: Robert Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974)

How appropriate is it to compare American slaves to English poor law orphans?

Matthew Francis: David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005)

Am tempted to put Corelli Barnett’s The Audit of War, a book that was loved by many Thatcherites in spite of the fact that it was not very good, but surely nobody takes him seriously now anyway? I am going to choose A Brief History of Neoliberalism on the basis that people do take that book far more seriously than they ought to…

David Gange: Martin Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1901 (1981)

The 1980s seemed to be a decade that specialized in very bad, very influential books on British history. This was a particularly unhelpful one, beloved by Thatcher’s advisers and therefore woven into the political history of the 80s in ways that make it a great case study for historians of that decade as well as for historians of what Wiener’s actually trying, very badly, to make sense of.

Vanessa Heggie:  Thomas Mckeown, The Modern Rise of Population (1976)

Controversial in that it caused (on-going) controversy?

Matthew Hilton:  

I honestly can’t answer this – are there any truly controversial history books anymore?

Matt Houlbrook:  Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s The History Manifesto (2014)

It has to be this at the moment: controversial or just plain wrong…

Chris Moores: Niall Ferguson, Empire (2008)

It came out when I was an UG in history and seemed to be accompanied by a load of media hype and hullabaloo.

Sadiah Qureshi: Niall Ferguson’s Empire (2008)

Agree with Chris, I’m still driven mad by how students use his work to write glowing essays about the Brits abroad taking progress wherever they went. The erasure of imperial violence is just extraordinary and makes me and a lot of others very, very angry.

Jonathan Reinarz:  Anything by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Kate Smith: Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (1992)

This is slightly different reading of the ‘controversial’ category, but this seminal work is something that aroused many important discussions and remains an incredibly important book.

More MBS ‘Desert Island’ posts:

  • Book you have referred to most
  • Most thought provoking book
  • Book you wish you had written
  • Favourite Article

2. Most thought provoking book

Laura Beers: Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (1987)

Matthew Francis: Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (2004)

I first came across Koselleck through reading around conceptual history but there is so much else besides in this collection of essays: historical time, war memorials, the Third Reich in dreams…

David Gange: Adam Kuper, Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England (2009)

This is an anthropology of the role incest (well, cousin marriage) played in sustaining the elite (Wedgewoods & Darwins).

Vanessa Heggie: Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (1987)

Not discovered through work, this was given to me by my mum.

Matthew Hilton: Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice (1980)

Not necessarily a book but a sentence I keep returning to more than anything: ‘systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures’

Matt Houlbrook: Vic Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770-1868 (1986)

This was the book that made me want to be a historian. It’s impassioned, angry, and humane. It shows how it is possible to interweave social, cultural, and political histories, and to move between the minutiae of everyday life and far-reaching processes of historical change.

Chris Moores: Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (1987)

I would also like to add a non-history book: Stuart Hall, Chas Chritcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke & Brian Roberts’, Policing the Crisis (1978).  I don’t agree with everything in it but I still keep coming back to its analysis as a way of thinking through late 20th century Britain. It is also a great example of collaborative work in practice.

Sadiah Qureshi: Alison Winter’s Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian England (1998)

It changed my outlook on how science is demarcated from other disciplines in the nineteenth century and helped lay the ground for some of the most important claims I wanted to make about exhibitions as spaces for the production of anthropological knowledge.

Jonathan Reinarz: James Huzel, The Popularization of Malthus in Early Nineteenth Century England (2006)

Written by the then unusually democratic undergraduate History tutor at UBC who introduced me to British History and whose stimulating lectures and encouraging comments echo in its pages.

Kate Smith: Dorothy Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding (2005)

Not Modern British Studies I’m afraid but this remains one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. Not only because of its findings but also for the way it plays with structure and method.

More MBS Desert Island posts:

  • Book you have referred to most
  • Most Controversial Book
  • Book you wish you had written
  • Favourite Article

1. Book you have referred to most

Laura Beers:  Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951 (1998)

The political historian’s cultural history.

Matthew Francis: Michael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach (1996)

My copy is falling apart from overuse. Aside from the fact that his work provided the theoretical underpinnings of my thesis, Freeden also seems to have an almost endless knowledge of political thought and political thinkers.

David Gange: Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (2004)

I love this book – in treating some extremely eccentric occultists it conjures the richest treatment of 1890s culture I know of. A brilliant example of how the apparently marginal can address the big themes of a period.

Vanessa Heggie:  Christopher Lawrence, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (1994)

Often used on my syllabus, so regularly referred to. For research-only, it’s probably a toss-up between the PhD’s most used book, which is Richard Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth Century Britain (1995) and the first post-doc’s use of JA Mangan’s Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School (1981)

Matthew Hilton: Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Trilogy, 1996-1998)

This was really useful in helping me connect a whole variety of people, institutions and ideas when I was working on global/transnational history.

Matt Houlbrook: Stephanie Newell, The Forger’s Tale: In Search of Odeziaku (2006)

This book is a great example of how writing about an individual life can be a way of exploring broader historical issues — the relationship between metropole and colony and inequalities of race, class, and sexuality, for example.

Chris Moores: Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (2002)

Sadiah Qureshi: George Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (1987)

It has yet to be replaced by a more up to date survey of the entire century.

Jonathan Reinarz: Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: Temperance Question in England, 1815-1872 (1971)

I started my graduate studies with drink, reluctantly left it when I began my post-doc, continued with it as a medical historian, and look forward to it, with at least one conference presentation on alcohol on the cards in 2015.

Kate Smith: John Brewer and Roy Porter’s Consumption and the World of Goods (1993)

More MBS ‘Desert Island’ posts:

  • 2. Most thought provoking book
  • 3.Most Controversial Book
  • 4. Book you wish you had written
  • 5. Favourite Article

MBS ‘Desert Island’ Books

Laura Sefton

Laura Sefton

My last blog post discussed the difficulties I have when reading academic texts. These anxieties seem to have resonated with others and I’m grateful to those who have offered advice or tips on how they deal with it, alongside others who have simply said they feel the same.  Regardless of discipline, I guess we all have to grapple with literature.

Working on modern British history poses its own challenges though. The fragmentation of the field, much lamented in Working Paper 1, has ensured that we read very specific bodies of work, related only to our own field. Clearly this is necessary, but by encouraging us to work within sub-disciplines, it can be difficult to place our work in wider contexts. Collaborative working practices remain an exception rather than the norm. And whilst these standards exist we not only miss out on imaginative and creative ways of thinking through our own work, but we will fail to encapsulate the complexity and vibrancy of modern British history.

Participating in a postgraduate-led reading group is not only an important step in challenging the anxieties I have about reading, but I also hope it will become a space in which we can read wider and think bigger.  A space where we can read works outside of our own areas of research, where discussion will not be limited to what we already understand, but stimulated by what we do not know. A space where we can begin to enjoy books.

Practicalities first, we need books to read. Inspired by these History Workshop posts, we asked MBS staff to participate in a desert island type task to get our list of books started. Being an unruly lot though, we asked them to suggest titles within categories and to explain their choices if they felt it necessary.

The titles suggested are not only a great list of books to read for our reading group, but are suggestive in their own right. Many of the titles are not British history books, indicating that just as Britain did not develop in isolation; neither does the writing of its history. The influences on our work may not be tangible; the connections between texts are not always obvious.

When we write the history of modern Britain, we choose the chronological and temporal limits of our project. We must always question the reasons why we set our boundaries and recognize that the books we read play just as important a role as the sources we painstakingly research.

We must also understand the role books play in our working practices. What we read not only influences the way we conceive of our discipline, but affects the way we imagine ourselves in relation to that discipline. There are very prescriptive bodies of literature that you must engage with before you are considered, or even consider yourself, a historian with a certain methodological approach (e.g. gender, cultural, social, etc.).

This task was designed to work outside of those boundaries, to allow staff to consider the broader influences on their work. We expected titles that related very closely to their work, and the ‘most referred to’ category invited such responses, but have been pleasantly surprised by their willingness to think beyond their immediate research and engage with the wider influences on their careers and lives.

Given these answers, our reading group will be starting with Carolyn Steedman’s A Landscape for a Good Woman.

I’ve agonized over how to present these responses but have decided to simply present the answers as they were given to me, albeit edited slightly (we all know how much historians can write…)

  1. Book you have referred to most
  2. Most thought provoking book
  3. Most Controversial Book
  4. Book you wish you had written
  5. Favourite Article