Those of us who think that historical research ought to consist of more than the study of kings, ministers and generals owe a great debt to the pioneers of ‘history from below’ . Foremost amongst them must be E.P. Thompson, who published his epic The Making of the English Working Class exactly half a century ago. The impressive wave of work that followed will be well-known to many of you and, if nothing else, I think most historians would agree that historical scholarship would be poorer if not for the intervention of these spirited men and women.
But what about the next fifty years? Has ‘history from below’, and perhaps social history more generally, outlived its usefulness? What, if anything, can it contribute to contemporary scholarship and the wider world? How should it be adapted or reoriented in the coming years? What new tools or techniques could strengthen it? Where will it fit in the wider academic and social landscape?
On 16 April 2013, eighteen of us gathered for a workshop at Birkbeck to try to figure out some answers to these questions. As is usually the case with these events, the discussion carried on in the pub afterwards and, although we certainly didn’t come up with any conclusive answers, we all agreed this was a conversation that needed to continue.
To that end, Mark and I invited the participants to contribute to an online symposium on the future of ‘history from below’. So, over the next few weeks we will be posting a series of short pieces by historians early in their academic careers that attempt to offer some possible answers to these questions. We hope that this will spur further discussion and open up the conversation to the rest of the world. Please leap in with your comments, suggestions and critiques. We welcome comments not only from ‘fellow travellers’ but also – perhaps especially – from sceptics and critics of ‘history from below’.
The first post will be published here on Monday, July 8th, with further posts following every two or three days. Links to each piece will be added here and join the conversation on twitter via #historyfrombelow.
- Richard Blakemore, ‘Finding fragments: the past and the future’ (July 8)
- Ruth Mather, ‘The home-making of the English working class’ (July 10)
- Nicola Whyte, ‘Landscape history from below’ (July 12)
- William Farrell, ‘Global history from below?’ (July 15)
- Matt Jackson, ‘Relocating history from below: places, spaces, databases’ (July 17)
- Mark Hailwood, ‘Who is below?’ (July 19)
- David Hitchcock, ‘Why history from below matters more than ever’ (July 22)
- Simon Sandall, ‘History lessons from below?’ (July 24)
- Samantha Shave, ‘History for below’ (July 26)
- Brodie Waddell, ‘History from below: today and tomorrow’ (July 29)
- Concluding remarks (July 31)