I was born in England, and educated in Amsterdam, York, and Oxford. Most of my family lives in India. My historical interests have been similarly varied - for a while I was gripped by the political history of the early twentieth century, then by the religious and social history of medieval peasants. My published work has often developed out of serendipitous discoveries and insights: doing in-depth historical research on an overlooked subject (and spotting that subject in the first place) is not unlike the thrill of being an investigative journalist, or a detective on the trail of a major case.
I am also strongly committed to public engagement and the communication of historical scholarship to as wide an audience as possible, through writing for the press, broadcasting, and public speaking. All historians are fascinated by the differences and similarities between past human societies and our own. I am equally interested in exploring the past to elucidate the present. Understanding how the world is today requires historical consciousness. Without that, we’re all at the mercy of dubious, ahistorical presumptions and pronouncements by politicians, social scientists, and pseudo-scientists.
Writing big books takes time and congenial intellectual surroundings, and I have been extremely lucky to have these. Before joining the Princeton History Department I spent many years on the faculty at Oxford, where I am now a life fellow of All Souls College and of Exeter College.