James Vernon


Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor


Late modern Europe/Britain: imperialism, decolonization, neoliberalism


If you are interested in taking my class on the global history of soccer, which I'll teach for the last time in Spring 2025, here's a short interview with me talking about it.

I moved to Berkeley in 2000 having previously studied and taught at the University of Manchester since 1984. I am a historian of modern Britain with broad comparative and theoretical interests in the relationship between local, national, imperial and global histories.

Trained as a political historian of nineteenth century Britain, my first publications — Politics and the People (1993) and an edited collection of essays Re-Reading the Constitution (1996) — helped to 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 that had to be addressed 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.

My next book, Distant Strangers. How Britain Became Modern (2014), sought to develop an account of modernity rooted in singular social conditions rather than the logic of capitalism. In 2017 I published the fourth and final volume of a Cambridge History of Britain series of textbooks, Modern Britain, 1750 to the Present. A new and revised edition will be published in 2024. It outlines how Britain arrived at its nasty neoliberal, post-Brexit, present by tracing the rise, fall and reinvention of liberal political economy since the eighteenth century.  It also seeks to show how the history of modern Britain was indelibly shaped by slavery and imperialism as well as by global processes beyond its control.  I am now finishing up a new book about the transformation of Britain and its place in the world since the 1940s told through Heathrow Airport.  I may next write a global history of soccer/football/fútbol based on a class I love teaching. 

A big believer in the collective and collabortive nature of scholarship I have also edited and co-edited a number of volumes: Rereading the Constitution (1996), (with Simon Gunn) of The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain (2011), and (with Colleen Lye and Christopher Newfield) “The Humanities and the Crisis of the Public University” in Representations (2011).

I am editor of the Berkeley Series in British Studies published by the University of California Press but have resigned from other editorial roles to allow a new generation of scholars to shape the fields I work in.  I am no longer looking to admit graduate students but am happy to advise prospective students not do do it or where else to study! 

Although I have not won nearly enough prestigious fellowships or prizes, my research has been supported by the British Academy, the ESRC, the ACLS, the NEH and the Guggenheim Foundation.

I co-chair the Berkeley Faculty Association, the closest thing we have to a faculty union, and am broadly interested in the neoliberal transformation of higher education and its consequences for us all.

Other Publications

"Should British Studies survive?" NACBS Blog, 23 January 2024

"Burnout at UC Berkeley" Berkeley Faculty Association Blog, 23 April 2023

"People's Park and the future of the public university" Verso Blog, 22 August 2022

"Heathrow and the making of neoliberal Britain"  Past and Present, 252, (August 2021), 1-35.

(with Tehila Sasson) “Britain and the World. A New Field?” Journal of British Studies, 57, 3 (2018), 1-4.

“The worlding of Britain”, Journal of British Studies, 57, 3 (2018):10-17.

The making of the neoliberal university in BritainCritical Historical Studies, 7, 2 (2018):

“Writing and teaching the history of modern Britain” NACBS Blog, 23 February 2018

"When Stuart Hall was White"  Public Books 1.23.2017

"More secondary modern than post-modern: Patrick Joyce and the peculiarities of liberal modernity in Britain" Journal of Social and Cultural History 14 (September 2016)

"The history of Britain is dead; long live a global history of Britain"  History Australia, 13, 1 (2016).

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

"On being modern and other things"  Victorian 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, 1770–1985" European History Review — Revue europeenne d'histoire (2015), 1-15

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

Distant Strangers. How Britain Became Modern (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2014), 184pp

"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

(edited with Simon Gunn) The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain (University of California: Berkeley, 2011), 286 pp

"Canary in the coalmine"  The Times Higher Education, 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'"  OpenDemocracy.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.


History 103 - Black British Histories of the Twentieth Century

History 151C — Maker of the Modern World? Imperial Britain, 1750 to the Present

History 190 — Soccer: A Global History

History 280B — After Empire

History 280U — Britain and the World since 1750

Hitory 280B/285B — The Stuart Hall Project

History 283 — Becoming a Historian?

Additional Links

UC Berkeley Library

The British Library

The Institute of Historical Research, London

North American Conference on British Studies

The Archives Hub

Britain's National Archives

British Online Archives

Parliamentary Papers Online


Old Bailey Online

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Making of the Modern World – Economic Literature

Mass Observation Online

Empire Online

British Library Nineteenth Century Newspapers Online

City and Trade Directories 1750-1919

British War Diaries

Nineteenth Century Digital Index

British Cartoon Archive

Science and Society Picture Archive

The Women's Library

Wellcome Library

LSE Pamphlet Collection


The Guardian

British Pathe Films

Marion Kaplan's photos of decolonizing British Africa

British Documents on the End of Empire

London Lives 1690 to 1800

Measuring Worth since 1209

UK Public Spending Data

British Newspaper Archive

Portrait of James Vernon


2214 Dwinelle Hall


Office Hours