Suggested Reading and Listening

What follows is a list of material that incoming students might want to explore before commencing – we hope! – their History degrees in the autumn.

In our recent conversations with prospective students many of you have been asking for reading recommendations to help you prepare for studying History at university. So, here you go! This reading list is organised chronologically, beginning with Ancient History and ending with a section on historians’ responses to Coronavirus and other contemporary events. It is emphatically NOT a list of things that you are expected to read; there is absolutely no required reading to be done over the summer. Instead, the aim in compiling it has been to identify a range of things that anyone who is interested in doing some reading (or listening) might want to explore and tackle.

As a list, this is emphatically idiosyncratic. It certainly doesn’t claim to offer a comprehensive guide to the most important works that a budding undergraduate should master; rather it is a selection of books, podcasts, blogs, and other public history projects that various colleagues in the department identified as works which they like and admire. Some of the books are classics, while others are pretty new; some of them are fairly broad in scope, while others are more specialised and deal with quite precise things. Some of them are hefty, but others are fairly short, and a few of them are pretty quirky. Every item listed has been chosen because it is in some way important and interesting, and perhaps even controversial.

In compiling the list we have endeavoured to identify things that are more or less accessible, in terms of both how they are written and how they might be found. You will be able to read extracts from many of these items on Google Books, and more recent works may be discussed accessibly in blogs and podcasts such as ‘New Books Network’ or the ‘Ask Historians’ podcast. Some of the books and articles listed below (look out for the hyperlinked titles) are available in full online for free, and reviews of many books will be available here. Physical copies of some of the older books can be found cheaply online via sites like Abebooks (and  it’s amazing what can be found for very little money – perhaps even as little as 1p – on Amazon marketplace!). Beyond this list, it is also worth exploring the quite extensive catalogue of History books, some authored by our own academics, which are available to download for free from UCL Press.

Have a browse, and perhaps pick something that grabs you. Don’t take notes, whatever you do; just enjoy the amazing variety of topics and approaches that History has to offer!

General - approaches to history and broad-sweep histories
Ancient History
  • Z. Bahrani, Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Ancient Mesopotamia (2001) 
  • M. Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015)
  • E.H. Cline, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2014)
  • L. de Blois and R. van der Spek, An Introduction to the Ancient World, 2nd ed. (2008)
  • B.H. Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (2004)
  • G.E.R. Lloyd, The Ideals of Inquiry: An Ancient History (2014) N. Morley, Writing Ancient History (1999)
  • A. Podany, The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction (2014)
  • E. Robson, Ancient Knowledge Networks (2019)
  • P. Thonemann and S. Price, The Birth of Classical Europe (2011)
  • D. Wengrow, What Makes Civilization? 2nd ed. (2018)
  • For a recent list of Ancient History podcasts click here
Medieval History
  • R. Bartlett, The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages (2008)
  • J. Berkey, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800 (2003)
  • D. Carpenter, Magna Carta (2015)
  • G. Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (2018)
  • J. Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (2007)
  • J. Le Goff, The Medieval Imagination (1985)
  • H. Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live in (2007) 
  • M. Rubin, ‘A Short Introduction to Anti-Judaism For Our Times’ (2019)
  • R. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (1953)
  • C. Tyerman, God’s War: A New History of the Crusades (2006)
  • C. Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (2001)
  • C. Wickham, Medieval Europe (2016)
  • For a recent list of Medieval History podcasts click here
 Early Modern History
  • N. Akkerman, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (2018)
  • T. Blanning, The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture. Old Regime Europe, 1660-1789 (2002) 
  • R. Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984)
  • N. Z. Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (1983)
  • E. Duffy, The Voices of Morebath. Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (2001)
  • J. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830 (2006)
  • T. Green, A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (2019) 
  • C. Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (1980)
  • P. Hazard, The Crisis of the European Mind, 1680-1715 (1952)
  • M. Kaufmann, Black Tudors (2017)
  • E. Maglaque and T. Jones, ‘Four Hundred Years of Quarantine’ (podcast)
  • P. Parthasarathi, Why Europe grew rich and Asia did not: global economic divergence, 1600-1850, (2011) 
  • P. Seaver, Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth Century London (1985)
  • R. Sprang, ‘The Revolution is Under Way Already’ (2020)
  • S. Subrahmanyam, Three Ways to Be Alien: Travails and Encounters in the Early Modern World, (2011) 
  • K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic. Studies in Popular Beliefs in 16th and 17th Century England (1971). 
  • E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters (1975)
  • D. Underdown, Fire from Heaven. The Life of an English Town in the Seventeenth Century (1992)
  • For a recent list of Early Modern History podcasts click here
Modern History
Coronavirus in Historical Perspective

T. Barker, ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be a War’ (2020)
D. Edgerton, ‘Why the Coronavirus Crisis Should Not be Compared to The Second World War’ (2020)
D. Greenberg, ‘What Trump Can Learn from Woodrow Wilson’ (2020)
Anton Jäger, ‘It Might Take A While Before History Starts Again’ (2020)
J. Martin, ‘This Is Not the Time to Let the Market Decide’ (2020)
H. McCarthy, ‘Working from Home Has a Troubled History. Coronavirus is Exposing its Flaws Again’ (2020)
E. Maglaque and T. Jones, ‘Four Hundred Years of Quarantine’ (podcast)
W. Moss, ‘New Deal or Nazism? Historical Comparisons to Trump’s Performance as A Leader in Crisis’ (2020)
R. Sprang, ‘The Revolution is Under Way Already’ (2020)
M. Wilson, ‘The Five WWII Lessons That Could Help the Government Fight Coronavirus’ (2020)

For further reading suggestions see #coronavirussyllabus, a crowd-sourced and continually updated reading list including much work by historians. 

Other sites where historians place contemporary events into historical context include Cambridge University’s The History of Now podcast,  The Washington Post’s ‘Made by History’ blog and NPR’s ‘Throughline’ podcast