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Professor David Vincent

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Profile summary

Professional biography

David Vincent was an undergraduate at the University of York and gained a PhD at Sidney Sussex College Cambridge.  He became Lecturer in History at Keele University in 1974, leaving as Professor of Social History and Deputy Vice Chancellor in 2003 to take up the post of Pro Vice Chancellor (Strategy and External Affairs) at the Open University.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Arts.  Now Emeritus Professor in History, he was a full-time member of the History Department between 2010 and 2014. He was a Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford 2004-11, and of Wolfson College, Cambridge, Michaelmas Term 2015.  He was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge, 2015-2017.  He is an Honorary Professor of History, Keele University, 2015-.

Research interests

David Vincent’s research interests cover working-class autobiography, British and European Literacy, and the cultural and political histories of secrecy, privacy and solitude.  He is the author or editor of seventeen books including, Bread Knowledge and Freedom. A Study of Nineteenth Century Working Class Autobiography (Europa 1979, Methuen 1982);The Autobiography of the Working Class [with John Burnet and David Mayall], 3 vols (Harvester 1984, 1987, 1989); Literacy and Popular Culture.  England 1750-1914(Cambridge University Press 1989, 1993); The Culture of Secrecy: Britain 1832-1998 (Oxford University Press 1998); The Rise of Mass Literacy. Reading and Writing in Modern Europe (Polity Press, 2000). 

His most recent books are: I hope I Don’t Intrude. Privacy and its Dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Privacy. A Short History (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2016).   His chapter on ‘Working Class Autobiography’ was published in Adam Smyth (ed.) A History of English Autobiography (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and a chapter on ‘Social Reform’ was published in The Oxford Handbook of Charles Dickens (Oxford University Press, 2018). He has in press ‘The Modern History of Literacy’ in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Education, edited by John L. Rury and Eileen H. Tamura (Oxford University Press) He has written on the historical context of the current controversies over government surveillance, including ‘Surveillance, Privacy and History’, History and Policy October 2013. Read this online, and has recently given papers on ‘Privacy and the Liberal State’ and on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill for the Technology and Democracy Project at CRASSH, Cambridge. 

His next major book, Solitude. A History will be published by Polity Press in 2019. 

Teaching interests

He has written two units for the third-level module on twentieth-century history, A327, Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity.  These cover the media in the Second World War, and cold-war cultures.  

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
British and Irish History GroupGroupFaculty of Arts


[Book Review] The Littlehampton Libels: A Miscarriage of Justice and a Mystery about Words in 1920s England, by Christopher Hilliard (2018-12-31)
Vincent, David
The English Historical Review, 133(565) (pp. 1647-1649)

‘The invention of counting: the statistical measurement of literacy in nineteenth-century England’ (2014-08)
Vincent, David
Comparative Education, 50(3) (pp. 266-281)

Literacy Literacy (2003-12)
Vincent, David
Interchange, 34(2-3) (pp. 341-357)

The Progress of Literacy (2003-04)
Vincent, D.M.
Victorian Studies, 45(3) (pp. 405-431)

A History of Solitude (2020-07)
Vincent, David
ISBN : 978-1-5095-3658-0 | Publisher : Polity Press | Published : Cambridge

Privacy: A Short History (2016-01)
Vincent, David
ISBN : 978-0-745-67113-0 | Publisher : Polity Press | Published : Cambridge

I Hope I Don’t Intrude. Privacy and its Dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2015)
Vincent, David
ISBN : 978-0-19-872503-9 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford

‘The Modern History of Literacy' (2019)
Vincent, David
In: Rury, John L. and Tamura, Eileen eds. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Education (pp. 507-522)
ISBN : 978-0-19-934003-3 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford

‘Social Reform’ (2018)
Vincent, David
In: Patten, Robert L.; Jordan, John O. and Waters, Catherine eds. The Oxford Handbook of Charles Dickens (pp. 420-435)
ISBN : 978-0-19-874341-5 | Publisher : Oxford University Press

Working-class autobiography in the nineteenth century (2016)
Vincent, David
In: Smyth, Adam ed. A History of English Autobiography (pp. 165-178)
ISBN : 978-1-107-07841-3. | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge

The end of literacy: the growth and measurement of British public education since the early nineteenth century (2011-08-01)
Vincent, David
In: Bayly, C. A.; Rao, Vijayendra; Szreter, Simon and Woolcock, Michael eds. History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue (pp. 177-192)
ISBN : 978-07190-8576-5 | Publisher : Manchester University Press | Published : Manchester

Government and the management of information 1844-2009 (2011-05)
Vincent, David
In: Gunn, Simon and Vernon, James eds. The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain. Berkeley Series in British Studies (pp. 165-181)
ISBN : 9780984590957 | Publisher : University of California Press | Published : Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, USA and London, UK

“History must be written imperfectly”: closure and disclosure in British Public Records 1838-2006 (2009)
Vincent, David
In: Flynn, Andrew and Jones, Harriet eds. Freedom of Information. Open Access, Empty Archives? (pp. 9-22)
ISBN : 978-1-85743-420-0 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London and New York

Reading (2009)
Colclough, Stephen and Vincent, David
In: McKitterick, David ed. The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain Vol. VI (pp. 281-323)
ISBN : 978-1-906518-66-0 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge

Dickens's reading public (2006)
Vincent, David
In: Pattern, Robert L. and Bowden, John eds. Palgrave advances in Charles Dickens studies (pp. 176-197)
ISBN : 1 4039 1286 6 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London, UK

The Post (2005)
Vincent, David
In: Graff, Harvey J.; Moch, Leslie P. and McMichael, Philip eds. Looking backward and looking forward: perspectives on social science history (pp. 168-175)
ISBN : 0-299-20344-1 | Publisher : University of Wisconsin Press | Published : Madison, USA

Language, print and electoral politics, 1790-1832 (2001-04)
Barker, Hannah and Vincent, David eds.
Parlimentary History Record Series
ISBN : 0 85115 810 2 | Publisher : The Boydell Press/The Parlimentary History Yearbook Trust | Published : UK