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Dr James Fisher

Postdoctoral Research Fellow


01392 727438

I am a historian of early modern Britain, exploring the histories of work, knowledge, freedom, and capitalism.

I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (started Aug 2020) on the project FORMSofLABOUR, led by Prof Jane Whittle and funded by the European Research Council. I am researching work, poverty and freedom in early modern England, with particular reference to pauper/parish apprenticeships (c.1572-1700), examining how poor law provisions interacted with various forms of labour and the labour laws.

I am also preparing my first book for publication, provisionally titled Pen Over Plough: Books, Knowledge and Agrarian Capitalism in Britain 1660-1800, based on previous research into the contrbution of early modern agricultural books to the social division of knowledge and labour.

I was previously Lecturer in Early Modern British Economic and Social History here at Exeter. Before joining Exeter, I taught at King's College London, Royal Holloway, and the University of East London.

Research interests

My current research on pauper apprenticeships is a study of freedom at the intersection of work, poverty and youth in early modern England. I am investigating pauper apprenticeships as a form of coerced labour as well as a device of poor relief. Major themes include freedom and power, training and socialisation, and labour discipline. See FORMSofLABOUR.
My broader 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.
  • '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).