Dr James Fisher

Lecturer in History (E&S)


01392 727438

I am a historian of early modern Britain, with a focus on economic culture. My research focuses on the relation between knowledge, power and agrarian capitalism. I am currently preparing my first book for publication, provisionally titled Pen Over Plough: Books, Knowledge and Agrarian Capitalism in Britain 1660-1800.

Before joining Exeter, I taught at King's College London, Royal Holloway, and the University of East London.


Research interests

My research sits at the intersection of histories of knowledge, books, labour and agriculture, centred on the early modern period, including:
  • Social history of agricultural knowledge
  • Early modern 'how-to' books and almanacs
  • Agricultural literature
  • Rise of agrarian capitalism
  • Division of mental and manual labour
  • Circulation of farming books & knowledge in the Atlantic World
  • Georgic as a literary mode
My first research project studied the contribution of agricultural books to the development of agrarian capitalism in Britiain from 1660 to 1800. The history of agrarian capitalism is usually understood in terms of markets, land, and wages. My research reveals that it is equally about knowledge, expertise, and books. It highlights a hidden dimension of early modern British rural history: the social struggles over knowledge as gentlemen landowners sought greater control over cultivation. I show that alongside the slow expropriation of land there was an appropriation of knowledge from common husbandmen, housewives, servants and labourers. This opens up a new agenda for research on the social history of agricultural knowledge.
My next major project will be based on a systematic study into the art of husbandry as contained in English almanacs published from 1550 to 1750. This project will contribute to our understanding of the history of popular print, the confrontations between scientific and folk beliefs, and the social transformation in the English countryside. This project will reconstruct the conflict between customary husbandry and enlightened agriculture as part of a wider disruption as new systems of labour gave rise to new systems of knowledge in the rise of agrarian capitalism.
  • 'The Master Should Know More: Book-Farming and the Conflict over Agricultural Knowledge’, Cultural and Social History, 15:3 (2018), 315-331.
Book Reviews
  • ‘Servants in Rural Europe 1400-1900. Edited by Jane Whittle. Boydell. 2017’, History, 103:358 (2018), 867-70.
  • 'Making a Living, Making a Difference: Gender and Work in Early Modern European Society. Ed. Maria Ågren. Oxford University Press. 2017', History, 103:354 (2018), 141-3.



I completed my PhD in History at King's College London in 2018, supervised by Prof. Arthur Burns and Dr. Alexandra Sapoznik.

I am trained in disciplines across the humanities and sciences. I have an MA in Modern History (King's College London, 2014), an MA in Political Philosophy (University of York, 2008) and a BSc in Physics (2006).