The Future of History from Below: An Online Symposium
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?
Across two workshops in the spring and summer of 2013 – one held at Birkbeck in April, one held at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in July – we brought together a total of almost fifty historians to try to figure out some answers to these questions. As is usually the case with these events, the discussions carried on in the pub afterwards and, although we certainly didn’t come up with any conclusive answers, participants at both events agreed this was a conversation that needed to continue.
To that end, we invited the participants to contribute to an online symposium on the future of ‘history from below’. So, throughout July and August 2013 we published a series of short pieces by historians – some early in their academic careers, others well established – that attempt to offer some possible answers to these questions. We hope that this spurs further discussion and opens 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’.
Authors will be notified of any comments that their pieces receive, so please add your thoughts any time or join the conversation on twitter via #historyfrombelow.
Table of Contents
Part I – Birkbeck Event Participants
- Richard Blakemore, ‘Finding fragments: the past and the future’
- Ruth Mather, ‘The home-making of the English working class’
- Nicola Whyte, ‘Landscape history from below’
- William Farrell, ‘Global history from below?’
- Matt Jackson, ‘Relocating history from below: places, spaces, databases’
- Mark Hailwood, ‘Who is below?’
- David Hitchcock, ‘Why history from below matters more than ever’
- Simon Sandall, ‘History lessons from below?’
- Samantha Shave, ‘History for below’
- Brodie Waddell, ‘History from below: today and tomorrow’
Part II – Cambridge Event Participants
- John Arnold, ‘History from below – some medievalist perspectives’
- Andy Wood, ‘History from below and early modern social history’
- Emma Griffin, ‘Working class autobiography in the industrial revolution’
- Selina Todd, ‘History from below: modern British scholarship’
- Chris Briggs, ‘Household possessions of the 14th and 15th century peasantry’
- Julie-Marie Strange, ‘Historicising the comfort of “things” in late-Victorian and Edwardian working-class culture’
- Claire Langhamer, ‘Everyday love and emotions in the 20th century’
If referencing pieces published here, we suggest the following citation:
Author, ‘Title’, in Mark Hailwood and Brodie Waddell (eds), The Future of History from Below: An Online Symposium (2013) [https://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/history-from-below/]
**Readers might also be interested in the following blog post on ‘A New History from Below’ by one of our commentators from the Cambridge event, Tim Hitchcock: http://historyonics.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/new-history-from-below.html