James Vernon

2214 Dwinelle Hall
(510) 642-2362
Extended Faculty Field: 
Modern British history, history of the British empire, history and theory

Like things used to be, I was made in Manchester - or at least the academic me was. I arrived there in the middle of the Miners' Stike in 1984 to study as an undergraduate and stayed there to do a PhD, hold a postdoctoral fellowship, and eventually get a job. I moved to Berkeley in 2000.  Here I teach modern British history through broad comparative and theoretical interests in questions about the nature of power, modernity and imperialism. 

Syllabi of some of my recent courses are available below:

History 39Z: Hunger. An Unnatural or Modern History?

History 101: Anything on Imperial Britain

History 151C: Maker of the Modern World? Imperial Britain, 1714 to the present. Podcast available on ITunes U and Youtube. 

History 280UNeoliberalism and its Histories 

History 280: Histories of the British Empire

History 280: Britain and the World

History 280C: Imperial Britain: Maker of the Modern World?

History 285: Modern Imperial Britain

Those interested in scholarly events relating to Britain should check out the Center for British Studies.

Trained as a political historian of nineteenth century Britain, my first publications - Politics and the People ([1993] splendidly reissued in paperback in 2009 ) and an edited collection of essays Re-Reading the Constitution (1996) - helped outline an agenda for what a cultural history of British politics might look like. In particular, they addressed the cultural practices and forms of subjectivity upon which the British version of democracy relied during the nineteenth century. My next book Hunger. A Modern History (2007) explored how and why hunger came to be understood as a problem and the changing ways in which it was addressed by civil society and the state in imperial Britain. It was also an attempt to imagine what social history and histories of welfare might look like after the cultural and imperial turns.

A collection of essays The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain, co-edited with Simon Gunn in honor of our graduate adviser Patrick Joyce, was published in  2011.  It is the first book in the Berkeley Series in British Studies published by the University of California Press edited by myself and Mark Bevir.  

My most recent book Distant Strangers. How Britain Became Modern seeks to develop an account of modernity rooted in singular social conditions rather than the logic of capitalism. I am currently writing the  Cambridge History of Britain from 1750 to the present and beginning a new NEH funded project on the making of homo economicus and the nature of neoliberalism in late twentieth century Britain. 

Although I have not won nearly enough prestigious fellowships or prizes my research has been supported by the British Academy, the ESRC, the ACLS and the NEH. I am on the editorial boards of Social History, Twentieth Century British History, History Compass and the Journal of British Studies.

I am a board member of the Berkeley Faculty Association and am broadly interested in the neoliberal transformation of our universities and its consequences for us all, but especially for undergraduate and graduate students.  

Representative Publications: 

Recent Articles

“More secondary modern than post-modern: Patrick Joyce and the peculiarities of liberal modernity in Britain” Journal of Social and Cultural History (forthcoming 2016)

“The history of Britain is dead; long live a global history of Britain” Australian Journal of History, (forthcoming, 2016).

"Proposed pension limits will lead to UC'd decline" Sacramento Bee, 18 February 2016

On being modern and other thingsVictorian Studies, 57, 3 (Winter, 2015): 515-522 - part of a forum on Distant Strangers

(with Tehila Sasson) “Practising the British way of famine: technologies of relief, 1770–1985European History Review -Revue europeenne d’histoire (2015), 1-15

"UC tuition is no 'Robin Hood' scheme", The Daily Cal,3 March 2015

Who will pay for the University of California?” Sacramento Bee, 16 November 2014.

(with Colleen Lye) "The Erosion of Faculty Rights" The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 May 2014

(with Colleen Lye) "Paying more yet getting even less" The Daily Cal, 4 March 2014

(with Collen Lye) "School first, sports second" The Daily Cal, 24 September 2013

(with Chris Rosen) "Fixing the UC retirement system time bomb" The Daily Cal, 20 August 2013

"Open online courses - an avalanche that might just get stopped" The Guardian, 30 April 2013

"Canary in the coalmine" The Times Higher, 1 December 2011

co-ed (with Colleen Lye and Chris Newfield), "The Humanities and the Crisis of The Public University" Representations, 116,1 (Fall 2011)

"What was liberalism and who was its subject? Or, will the real liberal subject please stand up?" Victorian Studies, Volume 53, Number 2, Winter 2011, pp. 303-310

‘The state they are in: History and public education in the UK’, AHA Perspectives, 49, 3 (March, 2011)

‘Hunger, the social and states of welfare in imperial Britain’ Occasions: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanties, 2 (2011)

‘Facts on fees and the fallacies of ‘fairness’’, Open Democracy.net, 19 December 2010

‘School history gets the TV treatment’, The Guardian, 16 November 2010

‘The End of the Public University in England’, Inside Higher Education, Blog, 27 October 2010.

‘The Local, the Imperial and the Global: Repositioning Twentieth-century Britain and the Brief Life of its Social Democracy’ Twentieth Century British History, 21, 3 (2010), 404-418.

‘The Social and its Forms’, Representations, , 104 (2008), 154-8.

Historians and the Victorian Studies Question’ Victorian Studies 47, 2 (Winter 2005): 274-81.