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Professor of Social History, The Open University

David Vincent’s research interests cover working-class autobiography, British and European Literacy, and the cultural and political histories of secrecy and privacy. He is the author or editor of sixteen 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 publications are: Japanese Translation of The Rise of Mass Literacy (Shinyosha, Tokyo, 2011); ‘The end of literacy: the growth and measurement of British public education since the early nineteenth century’, in C.A, Bayly, Michael Woolcock, Simon Szretzer, Vijayendra Rao (eds.), History and development policy (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2011); ‘Government and the Management of Information 1844-2009’, in Gunn, Simon and Vernon, James (eds.), The Peculiarities of Liberal Modernity in Imperial Britain (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2011).

His new book, I hope I don’t intrude. Privacy and its dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain will be published by Oxford University Press on May 14, 2015. This explores the origins of modern debates about privacy through the prism of a fictional character, the eponymous hero of Paul Pry, a play first performed in 1825. It examines the interplay between the stage and the consumer culture of the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and the ways in which the themes of the play were embodied in issues including the technology of communication from the post to the telephone, the nature of gossip, blackmail, sensational journalism, political caricatures, official data collection, home visiting and domestic privacy and postal espionage. He is now writing Privacy. A Short History (Polity) and preparing contributions to A History of English Autobiography (CUP) and for The Oxford Handbook of the History of Education (OUP). 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.

David Vincent is a member of the British and Irish History Research Group and the Localising Emotions Research Group, and Emeritus Professor of Social History at The Open University.


  • –present
    Emeritus Professor of Social History, The Open University