Alan Macfarlane

Alan Macfarlane a reader in historical anthropology at Cambridge, is the author of The Origins of English Individualism and The Justice and the Mare’s Ale.

The current political revolution in Nepal marks a further stage in the rapid integration of that country into the Western capitalist world. From a standing start in 1950, when the Ranas were overthrown and Nepal began to be transformed from a medieval oriental despotism into a modern nation-state, a great deal has been done. Between 1950 and 1980 the cumulative growth in various sectors has been estimated as follows: ‘70 times in power generation, 13 times in irrigation facility, 134 times in school enrolment, 12 times in number of hospital beds’. A literacy rate of 2 per cent in 1951 had been increased to over 40 per cent in the late Eighties. There are now more than a hundred and fifty university campuses. Epidemic disease has been almost eliminated. Infant mortality rates have been halved. Piped water has been brought to most villages. An international airline has been started. Nepal now exports goods worth more than twenty-five million dollars a year. A large tourist industry has been created, with over 300,000 tourists (other than Indians) a year. Kathmandu and other towns have grown remarkably and now have many facilities, including television, computers and many modern goods and services.

English Violence

Alan Macfarlane, 24 July 1986

This is in many ways a fine study. In over six hundred pages of lucid and carefully presented material Professor Beattie has provided an exemplary analysis of the Surrey Assize and Quarter Sessions records between 1660 and 1800, as well as parallel records from the Sussex courts. It is done with subtlety and care. Concentrating on robbery, burglary, larceny, homicide, infanticide and rape, the author shows the patterns of prosecution and punishment. He is well aware of the great difficulty of using such prosecutions as a mirror of actual offences, but is able to show that such records can indeed be seen as reflecting the incidence of crime. By comparing the prosecution rates to food prices, by showing how rates correlated with periods of war and peace, by noting the similarities between Surrey and Sussex, he proves that prosecuting levels did not merely reflect anxiety and prosecuting zeal. His account of the role of the magistrates, the nature of the juries and trials, the changing nature of sentencing and pardons, the penalties and reprieves, will be of great use to all future historians of this period.

Death in Cumbria

Alan Macfarlane, 19 May 1983

England in the 19th century presented the enquiring foreigner with a series of strange paradoxes. It was the most urbanised country in the world, yet the one where the yearning for the countryside was the most developed. Its anti-urban bias was shown in the prevalence of parks, the ubiquity of flower gardens, the country holiday industry, the dreams of retirement to a honeysuckle cottage, and the emphasis on rural values in the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite movements. England was the most industrialised country in the world, the one where animal power was least used and where animals were consequently no longer central to production. Yet it was the country where the concern for animals was most developed, expressed in creative literature and art, in concern for animal welfare and in the widespread prevalence of pets. England was still almost the most carnivorous of all societies: yet it was the most concerned with arguments for vegetarianism. England was a country in which man and animal had become separated, nature had been subdued and distanced. Yet it was in England that Darwin finally linked man and nature through the theory of the evolution of species. In sum, England was the most developed capitalistic society, where man lived in a largely artificial landscape, yet it was in England that respect and love for the wild, the wet and the non-artificial was most developed. Part of the achievement of Keith Thomas’s delightful new book is to explain these paradoxes. His central argument is that these are not real oppositions, but are linked as cause and effect. It was because of the urbanism, the industrialism and the general distancing and control of nature that many of the peculiarities of the English came about.

Long before I’d had any thoughts about the importance of ceremony, I understood the nature of a cup of tea. As a child in a very small flat with two argumentative parents, a cup of tea...

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Brutish Babies: witchcraft

David Wootton, 11 November 1999

There are people who believe themselves to be witches. One can find them without difficulty on the Internet, and on a recent canal trip I was surprised to pass a whole series of narrow-boats (

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Published two hundred years ago this year, An Essay on the Principle of Population made the Rev. Thomas Robert malthus into the man of the moment. Malthus’s principle – that...

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English Individualism Revisited

Alan Ryan, 21 January 1988

Alan Macfarlane’s little book on The Origins of English Individualism came out in 1978. It argued that England had been in crucial respects a ‘modern’ society ever since the...

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Man and Wife

Rosalind Mitchison, 22 May 1986

Marriage is still, despite evasive strategies by some of the young, the central decision of most people’s lives, and of the three events which structure population, the only one completely...

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Casual Offenders

J.S. Morrill, 7 May 1981

Alan Macfarlane likes to shock historians out of their complacency and out of a narrow preoccupation with their own period or their own mode of historical study. He is a professionally-trained...

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