Summer! That wonderful, studentless, seminar-free oasis of uninterrupted relaxation, when we can all settle down to some quality time with those alluring new acquisitions on our bookshelves—and maybe even tackle some of the glowering doorstops that have remained there unread for all too long. Yes, we know it’s a complete fantasy, but it’s a pleasant one to indulge in while the last few exam scripts are being marked and three months of self-direction are stretching in front of you (and while we wait for Zara Anishanslin and Alan Taylor‘s books to come out!). In that spirit, I thought I’d share the handful of books I’ve been fantasising about reading this summer . We’d love you to pitch in with your own lists in the comments.
1) First up for me are two recent, hefty, and much lauded volumes: Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale, 2016), and Kathleen DuVal’s Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (Random House, 2015). As reviewers in The Atlantic and the New York Times point out, The Slave’s Cause is distinctive not only in its chronological scope and transnational reach, but also in placing black anti-slavery activists at the centre of its story. Independence Lost (reviewed last summer by our own Chris Minty) likewise reconstitutes a well-trodden topic—this time the Revolution—by emphasising different agents—this time the Native and European peoples of the Gulf coast.
2) Next on my list is Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu’s How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism (Pluto, 2015). No big prizes for guessing why I’m interested in this new interpretation of capitalist transition by two young UK-based scholars, which aims to take on Eurocentric scholarship in search of a genuinely global perspective. Rather than grand historical narrative, I’m expecting pointed critique of existing theory, plus synthetic coverage of Mongols and Mughals. It’s only 282 pages, but I’ve got an inkling this may be a Big Important Book.
3) Even shorter, and potentially even more outrageous, is Francesco Boldizzoni’s polemic, The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History (Princeton, 2011). The flap-copy lays out Boldizzoni’s demand for “the reconstrution of economic history,” and promises “a better alternative to new institutional economics and the rational choice approach.” Or as Princeton historian Harold James puts it on the back cover, “The theme, simply stated, is the erroneous and irrelevant character of most economic history writing.” I’m looking forward to it, especially as I begin to attempt more economically-oriented work myself.
4) Meanwhile, I’m still learning to let go of my first project, on “gentlemen revolutionaries” and the challenge of republican politics in the 1780s. Because that book deals as much with continuity across the Revolution as it does with disjunction, especially among bourgeois elites, I’ve been planning for some time to read Arno Mayer’s classic, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (Verso, 2010; first published 1981). A narrative of liberalism and bourgeois triumph in the nineteenth-century is the counterpart to the Eurocentric story of capitalism challenged by Anievas and Nişancıoğlu. I’m not sure I’m ready to jettison that narrative entirely, but I’d like to see the argument against.
5) Aside from all this reading, I’ve also got a ton of lectures to write on colonial and revolutionary North America. I expect that’ll mean raiding my entire bookshelf, but to start out there are two recent books I plan to read for inspiration: Trevor Burnard’s Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820 (Chicago, 2015) and Dan Richter’s Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America (Penn, 2013). Both promise commanding interpretations, by deeply experienced senior scholars, in fields with which I don’t spend that much of my time. What better way to spend a rainy English summer indoors?