School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Staff Profile

Professor Keith Wrightson

Visiting Professor


Keith Wrightson is arguably the leading living social historian of early modern Britain.  In a career spanning four decades, he has transformed the study of social and economic history.  A native of Co. Durham, he frequently uses case studies from North-East England.  His work has brought global attention to the historical significance of Newcastle and the North. 

Prof. Wrightson’s classic textbook 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) kick-started a new ‘microhistorical’ approach to English local history which previously had been adopted mostly by historians of Continental Europe, and which has been imitated but not bettered since.  His collaboration with David Levine produced a further seminal book on the Durham parish of Whickham The Making of an Industrial Society (1991).  Wrightson’s second textbook, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (2000) was presented with the John Ben Snow Prize at the North American Conference on British Studies (2001).  His most recent book, Ralph Tailor’s Summer (Yale, 2011) charts the history of the 1636 plague in Newcastle from the unique perspective of a seventeenth-century clerk appointed to write the wills of plague sufferers confined to their houses.  It derives from research conducted while Prof. Wrightson made successive annual visits to Newcastle as a Visiting Fellow (2006-2009) and Visiting Professor (2010- ) in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Keith Wrightson was originally educated at Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle.  He holds great affection for the City. His Raleigh lecture as a Fellow of the British Academy took place at the NE Mining Institute.  He has been a regular participant at NEEHI (North East England History Institute) events.  In addition to public lectures, postgraduate workshops and training days with NEEHI, Professor Wrightson presents an annual poster prize at our School postgraduate conference which is named in his honour.

Before his appointment as the Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History at Yale, Prof. Wrightson was formerly Professor of Social History at Cambridge.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and in 1996 was made a Fellow of the British Academy.  He has contributed to the prestigious James Ford special lecture series at Oxford; is an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge; has been a Visiting Professor at the universities of Toronto, Alberta, and Northumbria, and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Durham.

Keith Wrightson at Yale