On the Spot: Clare Jackson

‘A rising generation of ‘new diplomatic historians’ are reimagining diplomatic history.’

Detail from the exterior of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Katie Chan/Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of 17th-century Britain?

As an undergraduate, I became fascinated by the experiments in union and disunion attempted in these islands during the 17th century.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?


Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

The arrival of William of Orange’s Dutch troops into London in December 1688.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Mark Goldie – my husband; long ago, my PhD supervisor.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Elizabeth Pepys – to hear her side of the story.

How many languages do you have?

Not enough.

What is the most common misconception about your field? 

That the ‘early modern’ period is an unsatisfying, incomplete precursor of ‘modernity’.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Witchcraft. Stuart Clark’s Thinking with Demons convinced me of its key importance for historians of politics, ideas and the law, as well as of gender and society. 

Which genre of history do you like least?

Jargon-ridden, overly theorised history that is more concerned to ‘problematise’ abstruse debates than to understand the past.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

A rising generation of ‘new diplomatic historians’ are reimagining diplomatic history.

Is there an important historical text you have not read? 

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

What’s your favourite archive?

Private archives, where I’ve been welcomed by knowledgeable staff into busy rural estate offices.

What’s the best museum?

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. 

What technology has changed the world the most? 

The printing press.

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?


Historical drama or documentary?


The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Ever-deepening levels of inequality within society (back to Rousseau’s influence). 


Clare Jackson is Senior Tutor of Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, and the author of Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 (Allen Lane, 2021).