Between 2003 and 2007 I took ‘leave’ from French rural history in order to work on a project in the field of the cultural history of science and technology. This project has now been written up and delivered in the form of a book entitled Industrial Enlightenment: Science, Technology and Culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands. It was published by Manchester University Press in 2009. The book was awarded the Wadsworth Prize in 2010 for an outstanding contribution to the study of British business history.
In 2009 I was also involved in the preparations to mark the bicentenary of the death of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) whose career as the entrepreneur and savant who founded the Soho Manufactory epitomised the coming together of Industry and Enlightenment in the West Midlands. Together with colleagues in the Department of History, the Department of the History of Art, Birmingham City University and the Birmingham Assay Office, I organised the bicentenary conference on Matthew Boulton. It took place on the campus of the University of Birmingham in July 2009 and a selection of the papers delivered on that occasion is being prepared for publication by Ashgate.
Now that the science and technology project is complete, I divide my time between research into the French Revolution and research into knowledge transfer in eighteenth-century Europe. The current focus of my investigations is the circulation of industrial and agricultural ‘know how’ between Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavia.
In 1976 I completed a doctorate on ‘The Revolutionary Committees of the Department of the Aveyron’, in other words a case-study of the French Revolutionary Terror. This study led me in the direction of more wide-ranging research into the ways in which traditional rural societies become politicised. A distillation of that research can be found in my monograph Politics and Rural Society: the Southern Massif Central, c. 1750-1880 published by Cambridge University Press in 1985. The political engagement of country dwellers has been the abiding theme of my research activity over many years. It has resulted in a series of articles and books, the best known of which are two text books The Peasantry in the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1988) and The French Revolution, 1787-1804 (Longman Seminar Studies, 2003, revised and expanded edition 2009).
More recently, concern about the interpretive capacity of synthetic history-writing has prompted me to explore the methodology of comparative micro-history as a way of capturing the rich texture of country dwellers’ lives. This attempt to view the ordinary inhabitants of France from a fresh perspective resulted in a book entitled Liberty and Locality in Revolutionary France, 1760-1820: Six Villages Compared which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2003.