Oral History Center Releases Documentary on Famed Yale Social Scientist James C. Scott

In A Field All His Own: The Life and Career of James C. Scott

 “James C. Scott is regarded by many as one of the most influential thinkers of our time.” 

The Oral History Center at UC Berkeley is proud to release, In A Field All His Own: The Life and Career of James C. Scott, a documentary that offers an unprecedented look at the famed Yale political scientist. Created and produced by UC Berkeley Oral History Center (OHC) historian Todd Holmes, the film draws from nearly thirty hours of oral history interviews with Scott and affiliated scholars at Yale and UC Berkeley to trace the intellectual journey of the award-winning social scientist from his childhood in New Jersey through each of the ground-breaking works he produced throughout his accomplished career. Overall, the film presents an intellectual biography of one of the world’s preeminent academics, a feature that will serve as a treasured resource for students and scholars around the globe.

Graphic of James C. Scott and his books

While intellectual biographies may not be a typical genre, Scott is far from a typical academic. Over the last fifty years, few scholars have achieved such prominence within the American academy as James C. Scott. The Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, with appointments in anthropology and the school of forestry and environmental studies, he is regarded by many as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. Throughout his career, his scholarship became a series of major interventions that impacted dozens of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. From the strategic rhythms of peasant life to notions of resistance and the functioning of the modern state, his work continually shaped and reshaped research agendas and discourses in the academy. By his retirement in 2022, Scott stood as one the most widely read social scientists in the world – an influence and distinction that placed him, as the film title suggests, “in a field all his own.”

The idea for the documentary developed out of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project, which Holmes conducted between 2018 and 2020. The focus of that project was to document the career of James C. Scott, as well as the thirty-year history of the renowned Yale Agrarian Studies Program he founded. Those oral history interviews, which the OHC released in 2021, served as the basis for the film. Holmes had worked for both Scott and the Agrarian Studies Program during his graduate studies at Yale. His motivation for both the project and documentary was to capture Scott’s story—in his own words—for future generations. As Holmes recalls, “I had the privilege of meeting and working with Jim Scott before ever reading Jim Scott, a unique vantage point that allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for the brilliant scholar behind the books—his limitless curiosity, his wit and humor, and the welcoming nature of his intellect. I wanted to capture these qualities in telling his story. His books will be read for generations to come; it was my hope that this film could serve as a companion and allow students and scholars to get to know James C. Scott and the inspiration behind his work.” 

The film was made possible through the generous support of Yale University’s Program in Agrarian Studies, InterAsia Initiative, and Council on Southeast Asia Studies. It was produced by Todd Holmes in association with the UC Berkeley Oral History Center and Teidi Productions, a digital creations label he operates with his partner Heidi Holmes. The film is available to the public via YouTube.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter  featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.