I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.
I was a very shy girl who led an insulated life; it was only when I came to Oxford, and to Harvard before that, that suddenly I saw the power of people. I didn’t know such a power existed, I saw people criticising their own president; you couldn’t do that in Pakistan – you’d be thrown in prison.
It was 1988, and I was just finishing a D.Phil at Oxford University on the topic of ‘Nietzsche and German Idealism.’
As a financial historian, I was quite isolated in Oxford – British historians are supposed to write about kings – so the quality of intellectual life in my field is much higher at Harvard. The students work harder there.
When I arrived to study at Oxford in October 1963, the bohemian style was black plastic or leather jackets for women and black leather or navy donkey jackets for men. I stuck to cavalry twills and a duffle coat, at least for a few months.
When I finished my initial year at Oxford, I flew home to marry Kirby, who had been my girlfriend in college. We had met on a blind date.
The notion of ‘history from below’ hit the history profession in England very hard around the time I came to Oxford in the early 1960s.
As a graduate student at Oxford in 1963, I began writing about books in revolutionary France, helping to found the discipline of book history. I was in my academic corner writing about Enlightenment ideals when the Internet exploded the world of academic communication in the 1990s.
For my Oxford degree, I had to translate French and German philosophy (as it turned out, Descartes and Kant) at sight without a dictionary. That meant Germany for my first summer vacation, to learn the thorny language on my own.