In 1970 I was a new graduate student at Oxford. I made my way to CREES to meet Mischa Lewin whose book, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power, was still relatively new, and a bit of a sensation, and had figured on my undergraduate reading list. I told him I was interested in the peasant commune. (After all, we were only just out of the sixties.) He told me two things I never forgot. One was that if you want to understand a phenomenon deeply you must look either at its beginning or at its end. The other was always to carry index cards and make all my notes on them. My entire PhD research went into a small shoebox of index cards.
Today I no longer use them, but I have never found a better system. Later I met Bob Davies, whose influence on me was more subtle but no less irresistible. He taught me the value of the small fact: If the small facts don’t fit the big message, it is the message that has to give way. Although I never worked at the Centre I met many others there in the years that followed, including Bacon, Barber, Berry, Cooper, Davis, Filtzer, Hanson, Ilic, Lampert, Nuti, Rees, Westwood, and Wheatcroft. Together they made a wonderful epistemic community and I was privileged to be on its margin.