About Roy Porter
An Interview with Roy Porter
More About Roy Porter
Roy Porter was until his retirement Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London. His books include London: A Social History, English Society in the Eighteenth Century and Enlightenment, which was the winner of a 2001 Wolfson Prize. He died on 3 March 2002.
Who or what has most inspired your
I had a wonderful pair of teachers as an undergraduate in
Cambridge. Jack Plumb fired me with the conviction that history was interesting
to everyone and needed to be expressed and conveyed in ways which would gratify
people's hunger to know bout the past. Quentin Skinner taught me the importance
of studying intellectual history with clarity and subtlety.
What is the first book on history that you
I clearly remember reading Trevelyan's Social history of
England, which I received as a school prize. I found it evocative and was
impressed by Trevelyan's ability to convey complex changes through simple
Is there a history book which everyone should read,
and which contemporary historians do you most admire?
mind, E. H. Carr's What is History? remains the most thoughtful book about
history, while Gibbon's Decline and Fall has never surpassed as a work of
historical research which stands as a work of literature too. I would place the
late E. P. Thompson in the same class.
What excites you most about studying and writing
The lives of individual people in social contexts, over
time, never ceases to excite my curiosity.
What made you choose Medical
Lives on the line: the study of people faced with
disease and death is life on the raw.
What made you write about the
A kind of empathy. I see myself as a practical
kind of person, a doer rather than a dreamer; the origin and history of that
cultural type fascinated me.
What is it most about the Enlightenment which
I find it particularly fascinating to trace
how people came to embrace the values of a better future (wealth, progress,
happiness, freedom) and then to analyse how such goals did not in the end solve
society' problems but created new ones.
Who is your favourite Enlightenment
I find Gibbon a touching mixture of certainty and
What are your future plans?
Find Books by Roy Porter
I am in
the thick of writing a book about body and soul in the eighteenth century. Then
I shall quit my study, an, I hope, do all sorts of things I haven't done at
all, or not one for a long while, such as learn to play a musical instrument,
act, and grow vegetables.
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