Keith Wrightson

Keith Wrightson's picture
Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History
Office: 
JE L11
Phone: 
203-432-7248
Field(s) of interest: 
Europe: British history 1500-1750, especially social & cultural issues; History of the family; Local community studies; Class & social structure


Keith Wrightson is an historian of ‘early modern’ England (c.1450-1750), specializing in social, economic and cultural history.  He was educated in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and at the University of Cambridge, where he received his BA (1970), and PhD (1974).  He has taught at the University of St Andrews, at Cambridge (where he was Professor of Social History), and since 1999 at Yale.  He has held Visiting Professorships at the Universities of Toronto, Alberta, Northumbria, and Newcastle upon Tyne, and served as James Ford Special Lecturer at Oxford (1993) and as the British Academy’s Raleigh Lecturer in History (2005). He is a Fellow of the British Academy (1996) and of the Royal Historical Society (1986), an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge (2008), and an Honorary Professor of the University of Durham (2008). In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary D.Litt by the University of Durham. He is Vice-President of the North American Conference on British Studies, and will serve as President in 2013-15.  A volume of essays in his honour by former students, Remaking English Society: Social Relations and Social Change in Early Modern England will be published in 2013.

Prof. Wrightson’s innovative survey English Society, 1580-1680 has been in continuous print since 1982.  His work with David Levine on the Essex village of Terling, Poverty and Piety in an English Village (1979) introduced to English social history the ‘microhistorical’ approach which had previously been adopted mostly by historians of Continental Europe.  His collaboration with David Levine produced a further seminal book on the coal-mining parish of Whickham, The Making of an Industrial Society (1991).  Wrightson’s survey of British economic history, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (2000) was awarded the John Ben Snow Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies (2001), and is currently being translated into Chinese.  His most recent book, Ralph Tailor’s Summer (2011) charts the history of a plague outbreak in 1636 from the perspective of a young scrivener appointed to write the wills of plague victims. In 2012 it was short-listed for the Portico Prize in Literature. He is a member of the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of British Studies, Social History, Histoire Sociale/Social History, The Seventeenth Century, and Rural History, and was formerly an editor of the Cambridge University Press series Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time and Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories.  He is currently editing the Cambridge Social History of England, c. 1500-c.1760.

At Yale, he has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies and as Senior Essay Director for the Department of History, has chaired the Renaissance Studies Program and is currently co-director of the interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Representative Institutions. He serves on the advisory board of the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre (London).  He regularly offers a survey course on early modern Britain, and seminar courses in social, economic and cultural themes. In 2008, he was awarded Yale’s Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.

His principal recreation is listening to modern jazz .