Finding modernity in England's past: Social anthropology and the remaking of social history in Britain, 1959–77*

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British historians drew on anthropological exemplars to remake social history between 1959 and 1977. Eric Hobsbawm's ‘primitive rebels’, Peter Laslett's World We Have Lost, Keith Thomas’s studies of witchcraft, and E. P. Thompson's ‘moral economy’ were all inspired by contemporary social anthropology, and they transformed historians’ understanding of the past. Reconstructing this moment of cross-disciplinary research contributes to our understanding of broader changes in the mid-century human sciences. This was a moment of grand theorizing about ‘modernization’, capitalism, and industrialization. Social historians responded to these concerns by drawing analogies between the past and the ethnographic present. The result was a number of hugely influential studies of social change that posed new questions to those seeking to create abstract models of modernization out of the English past.




Foks, F. (2024). Finding modernity in England’s past: Social anthropology and the remaking of social history in Britain, 1959–77*. History of the Human Sciences.

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