Brodie Waddell, ‘History from below: today and tomorrow’

[This is the tenth piece in ‘The Future of History from Below’ online symposium (#historyfrombelow). Brodie Waddell is a historian of early modern England and one of the founders of the many-headed monster.]

We’ve won.

At least on one battlefield, ‘history from below’ has been totally victorious. The men and women who pioneered this approach had to fight hard to gain academic recognition. But today, their work is part of mainstream historical research and their subjects – poor stockingers, radical shoemakers, East End gangsters, peasant women – are warmly welcomed into the pages of academic journals. Indeed, two of the most influential journals in the profession, Past & Present (1952) and History Workshop Journal (1976), were actually founded by these once marginalised historians.

Yet winning the battle is not the same as winning the war. As other contributors have shown, many crucial struggles are still on-going. For example, female scholars continue to experience a level of discrimination in academia that limits their personal options and professional advancement. Although feminists have succeeded in making universities much less unbalanced than they were a generation ago, women are still systematically underrepresented amongst academic decision-makers. In addition, other fronts that had once seen steady progress have turned into partial reversals or outright routs. Access to higher education in Britain and North America expanded dramatically through much of the twentieth century, but the recent spike in tuition fees in England and the long-term rise in the US has made university much less affordable for students from working-class families. Worse still, this has hit part-time students especially hard, leading to a 40% fall in part-time applications since 2010 in the UK. These and other setbacks, discussed in more detail by Samantha Shave, mean that today’s advocates of a truly democratic ‘history from below’ cannot simply welcome our triumphs in research and quietly get on with our own work. We must do more.

We need more people writing history, more people studying history, and more people reading history. We need, in other words, more people doing history. This is the only way we can hope to build more than a mere ‘history of below’ and instead create ‘histories from below’ and indeed ‘histories for below’.

Fortunately, more democratic ways of doing history are not difficult to find. There are already vast numbers of people building histories ‘from below’, but most academics tend not to pay much attention to them. This piece is thus an attempt to highlight what I see as a few of the most promising routes forward, even if at first glance some might seem a bit ‘backward’. Of course this is merely a brief selection from a wide range and I’d love to hear suggestions from readers of other possibilities.

Local history

My first real engagement with local history came in 2009-10 when I spent at a year at the Borthwick Institute in York. My own inexperience and the somewhat eccentric external funding source made for an inauspicious beginning, but Chris Webb and Bill Sheils turned it into something with more potential by encouraging me to start by researching and writing a village history of the chosen settlement for the Victoria County History project. For those who are not familiar with the VCH, it is essentially a comprehensive attempt to publish a history of every parish in England, more than 10,000 in all. What makes it stand out from most local history is not only its all-embracing remit but also its combination of often sophisticated research and diverse readership. All its histories are expected to meet a very high academic standard and are based on extensive archival research. Many of its researchers also use unconventional methods such as archaeology, landscape history and oral history. Much of the research is done by local volunteers and community groups, but it is curated and edited by professionally trained historians. Finally, the VCH publishes its histories in ways that allow it to reach a remarkably broad audience of scholars, students and amateurs. Its famed ‘Big Red Books’ are valuable to both professional researchers and people doing local history, while the ‘England’s Past for Everyone’ paperback series addresses subjects such as the long history of ethnic minorities in Bristol. And, their new VCH Explore site offers geographically linked documents and images for free online. The project isn’t without weaknesses – for example, most of the older volumes neglect social history and research has currently slowed due to a lack of funding – but it nonetheless represents a remarkable achievement. In terms of its production, distribution and consumption, the VCH is a clear victory for a more democratic way of doing history.


Cutting-edge history from below?

The field of local history as a whole, moreover, is huge and healthy. For instance there are university-based projects and institutions such as the Warwick Network for Parish Research, Beat Kumin’s and the Leicester Centre for English Local History. More importantly, practically every town and village in the country has some sort of local history society, ranging from the unapologically antiquarian to the Bristol Radical History Group, which claims the support of ‘a much wider network of footballers, artists, techies, drunks, rioters, publicans, ranters, ravers, academics, Cancan dancers, anarchists, stoners and other ne’r do wells’. It is often these groups that fight to protect and promote important local historical sites which, because they aren’t pretty country houses, might otherwise be forgotten or destroyed. As Simon Sandall knows so well in the case of the Forest of Dean, the links between local memory and social activism stretch from the middle ages to today.

Local history, then, is an opportunity for academics, students and amateurs to work together to do history from below in a way that will be relevant far beyond the university.

Family history

Here too is a rapidly growing field. Lecturers may chuckle, but it is impossible to ignore the popularity of genealogy and family history. Turn on the television in Britain and you’re likely to see ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, ‘Heir Hunters’ or perhaps, even more pertinently for a social historian, ‘The Secrets of the Workhouse’. Head into a county record office and you’ll probably find yourself sitting next to an old couple loudly debating the birthdate of some long-dead ancestor. Although this form of history may appear to have little appeal to academics, proponents of ‘history from below’ should embrace it.

My family tree

Democratic history in action?

After all, most genealogists are unlikely to find many famous politicians or generals in their family trees. Instead, they will probably find themselves investigating the lives of factory workers, sailors, criminals, paupers, housewives and maybe even poor stockingers. If historians can help amateur researchers understand the context within which such men and women lived and worked, they can meaningfully contribute to the larger project of ‘placing the lives and agency of people most in danger of being forgotten in the centre of our regard’. What’s more, the energy and commitment of genealogists is part of the reason why social historians have access to ever more sources essential to their work. Many of the tools created by or for family history are now important to academic research and will become even more vital in the future. We should thank genealogists (and the Mormons) for providing a strong constituency for funding record offices and spurring the creation of innumerable microfilms of parish registers and other local archival sources that have proven invaluable for historians of demography, poverty, welfare and crime. Today, many of these are moving online through companies like with its huge database of ordinary people, which despite being a subscription service is easily available to most non-academics via public libraries and archives. Although these sorts of databases frequently contain inaccuracies, they are a good starting point for tracking down obscure individuals who would otherwise be lost to the ‘condescension of posterity’. Nor should we forget that more rigorous online resources like the Old Bailey Online and London Lives derive much of their audience from people initially merely trying to fill out their family tree.

So, family history, with its millions of practitioners, wealth of resources, and thoroughly democratic focus on the ‘common people’ of the past, will be another fruitful field to cultivate the future of history from below.

Accessible education

History need not always be taught to a lecture theatre or seminar room full of young people. In fact, the pioneers of ‘history from below’ spent much of their time teaching quite different types of students: E.P. Thompson wrote The Making whilst working for the Workers’ Educational Association in Yorkshire’s industrial towns; Eric Hobsbawm spent his entire academic career teaching evening classes at Birkbeck College; Raphael Samuel founded the History Workshop movement amongst the trade unionists of Ruskin College. So, whilst it would be a mistake to discount the value of educating each new cohort of teenagers that arrive in our universities every autumn, it would be even more of a mistake to ignore the importance of ensuring that older students, working students and poorer students also have the opportunity to study history.

Happily, the institutions in which Thompson, Hobsbawm and Samuel taught are still carrying on this work. I feel privileged to work at a place like Birkbeck, founded in 1823 as the London Mechanics’ Institute, and still offering entirely evening classes primarily to part-time students with other work or family commitments. Despite the dangerous impact of the fee increases mentioned above, I believe that these long-established institutions – alongside others such as the Open University – will be a key part of the future of this approach to history. Even historians in traditional universities can broaden the range of students they reach by participating in their institutions’ Access Programmes and the like. Yet, this may soon be only a small part in a much larger educational landscape thanks to the explosion of online open education options in recent years. This should not be endorsed uncritically. As noted by Dave Hitchcock and many others, some of the most popular models are serious flawed. However, I’m convinced that this form of teaching has much offer both to potential students who would otherwise lack access to the academic study of history and to those of us trying to pass on scholarly knowledge to a wider range of people. There’s no doubt that Massive Online Open Courses aren’t as good as the real thing, but they still can be valuable to huge numbers of people. Many are offered freely or cheaply, and they fit well with the many other educational resources that are now available, including an outstanding series of lectures on the social history of early modern England by Keith Wrightson.

Open-access publishing

As with online education, this is something that I think the progenitors of ‘history from below’ would ultimately welcome. By publishing historical material online and making it freely available, we can instantly radically widen our audience of possible readers and users. This begins with primary sources. Whereas previously academics might publish an edited volume of sources that could reach the few people able and willing to search for it in a university library, it is now possible to ‘publish’ collections that can be discovered with a quick google search and then be easily explored through browsing or keyword queries. Those most frequently mentioned on this blog – the Old Bailey Online, London Lives, the Text-Creation Partnership, the English Broadside Ballad Archive, etc. – are only a tiny proportion of the total. Indeed, one of the most important current tasks for those involved is to come up with ways to integrate and index all of this material, something that Sharon Howard has been doing informally for years at Early Modern Resources and recently as part of a team at Connected Histories. Alongside well-known paid services, these open-access primary sources make it possible for students, scholars and interested amateurs to directly engage with the history of the poor, the criminal and the disenfranchised.

Primary sources are now being joined online by an enormous wealth of secondary sources in the form of working papers, doctoral theses, out-of-copyright books and open-access journals. This too is expanding the reach of research, allowing practically anyone to benefit from the scholarly work that previously would have been available to only a tiny minority. Historians who believe in the value of a more democratic readership thus ought to actively participate in open-access publishing where possible. This doesn’t mean recklessly uploading everything you produce and endangering your career. What it does mean is, for example, submitting to journals with relatively ‘green’ open-access policies and then taking advantage of them to make your work available through online repositories. If your research into ‘history from below’ can only ever be read by people with an expensive subscription to a major academic journal, you are probably not doing justice to your subject.

Finally, blogging is one of the quickest and easiest ways to disseminate historical research in a genuinely ‘open-access’ format. This is a topic that deserves much more discussion than I can provide here – see, for example, Sharon Howard’s recent thoughts – but we must acknowledge that this is one of the few forums where academics and non-academics meet on a relatively equal footing. Many of my favourite early modern bloggers are not based in universities and I’m almost certain that most of this blog’s readers – as well as many its commenters – are not professional historians. So, by ‘publishing’ this way, we can create opportunities for scholars, enthusiastic laypeople and the wider public to read, discuss, create, collaborate and share across vast distances in a way that was never possible when Thompson was writing his masterpiece.

* * *

This suggests that the future of history from below is all around us. It is going on today in meetings of village historical societies, in family history workshops, in online course chatrooms, and in the comments sections of amateur history blogs. It is also going on in many places that I haven’t talked about, and I’m keen to hear from you about all of the possibilities that I’ve missed. What they have in common is their role in empowering people who wouldn’t normally have a voice in history to learn and think and speak about the past. In short, they are all part of a more democratic way of doing history, the very essence of history from below.

26 thoughts on “Brodie Waddell, ‘History from below: today and tomorrow’

  1. Pingback: The future of ‘history from below’: an online symposium | the many-headed monster

  2. This is a very positive comment piece on the present and future of ‘history from below’, tempered with some realism about some of the hurdles that are yet to be overcome.

    My perspective is perhaps slightly more negative. Although, as Brodie so rightly says, there are many fantastic initiatives to research and promote local histories and more accessible history the battle is far from being won.

    There still seems to be a problem accepting local histories in academic circles and (some) journals which see case studies and local histories as the poor cousin of more ‘serious’ national and/or political studies. Local and family histories are frequently tarred considered ‘popular’ history and thus of less value. The stigma of popular history is one that still appears inescapable, despite the recent emphasis on public engagement.

    Looking slightly outside the box, although ‘history from below’ has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, it is really only in the West. I now teach history in Southeast Asia and here the emphasis is quite definitely not ‘from below’. Social history is still very much an emerging field and academic engagement with sub-fields, such as gender history, very limited in scope. There are many excellent social historians in Southeast Asia – Barbara Andaya Watson on various themes in gender history or James F. Warren on the history of Singaporean rickshaw coolies spring to mind – but their influence has not fully reached mainstream academic teaching. In a global world of international conferences, internet resources and blogs, this has surprised me greatly.

    • I agree completely, Fiona, that the battle for local and, even more so, family history has yet to be won. It is very easy for professional historians, including me, to fall into the trap of dismissing local and family history as ‘antiquarian’ or ‘insufficiently rigorous’ or simply unimportant. It happens far too often today and this attitude may actually be more common now than fifty years ago when historical research was less professionalised. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to agree that the stigma is ‘inescapable’. Instead, I believe that a shift in attitudes amongst historians could come about with enough effort. I hope the historians who read this piece will take the time to examine their own prejudices about local, family and ‘popular’ history as well as speaking up for these approaches amongst our colleagues. By going out into the field and actually doing these sorts of histories alongside non-professionals, I’m confident that we can show their wider value.

      On the issue of social history outside the West, all I can say is thank you for bringing it to my attention as it’s not something I know anything about. I hope that your work, along with those of the historians you mentioned, will start to change things. Perhaps a dose of James C. Scott will help persuade them of the value of social history?

  3. I think the most important thing you haven’t mentioned is crowdsourced transcription. At its best, this not only makes more sources freely available but also gives people experience of transcription and editing, helps them to understand sources better and builds communities of people with similar interests (although at its worst it can potentially be exploitative drudgery – it has to be done in the right way). The best place to keep up with this field is Ben Brumfield’s blog.

    Maybe it’s hypocritical of academic historians to look down on genealogy when many of us use its methods, or rely on reference works that do. The Oxford DNB and History of Parliament are obvious examples, although they don’t include the people that history from below is about. Nick Poyntz’s work on Henry Walker is a great example of how the genealogy of someone relatively obscure can give some new insights that are relevant outside family history. There are some problems with genealogy, though. Some people approach it more like trainspotting: making a list of ancestors without trying to get a deeper understanding of their lives. Some genealogists aren’t very rigorous: their record linkage can be full of mistakes. The challenge is to help people outside academia broaden their horizons and use evidence more rigorously without making them defensive.

    • Thanks for the reminder about crowdsourcing, Gavin. It’s definitely a great way to get the wider public involved whilst also creating valuable resources for future research. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but another important project doing this right now is MarineLives (, for which Richard Blakemore is an advisor. They are working their way through two decades of 17th-century Admiralty records which, as their recent post on a case of cannibalism indicates, will be a gold mine for social historians.

      And, yes, Nick’s fantastic work on Henry Walker is a brilliant demonstration of the wider value of a thorough reconstruction of a particular individual’s genealogy. The fact that Nick’s not a professional historian illustrates my point beautifully.

      • I think your and Gavin’s points about “family history” are well made. I use inverted commas there because I think describing it as such can pigeon-hole it: proper genealogical research doesn’t have to be limited to completing a family tree, it can involve social history, economic history, political history, gender history, and so on. But there is definitely a certain sniffiness about it from some parts of academia. I remember submitting an article to a journal and getting very paranoid about citing the International Genealogical Index. “It’s not a proper source”, I initially thought. But it’s no less a proper source than a calendared version of a manuscript. If you aren’t able to get access to the actual source, then a crowd-sourced transcript is still fine to cite, albeit that you have to recognise potential limitations. Anyway I got over myself in the end and cited it, and the world didn’t collapse as a result. Personally I’ve learned a huge amount from family researchers online, and as Gavin says I couldn’t have found out much about Henry Walker’s early years without their help.

        It’s interesting that you point to the need for historians to open up their research to a wider audience. I would add to that the need for the profession, and the structures that support it, to open up primary sources to a wider audience. It costs a fortune as an independent researcher to get access to anything. To get borrowing rights at Senate House library as an alumnus of the University of London costs £190 a year. This includes access to a pathetically small range of electronic resources (basically JSTOR and ODNB, ie no primary sources). It used to include EEBO but they stopped that for some reason. So if I want to access EEBO I have to go and do it at the library’s computers. That is one reason why my research has basically ground to a halt in recent months: I haven’t got the income to pay lots more than that to get access to these kinds of databases, and haven’t got the time to make constant trips to Bloomsbury (my spare time is basically when my family have gone to bed which doesn’t really coincide with any library hours).

        Apologies for the rant – but it does make me cross that there is a small but definite contribution I can make to historical research, but there are huge structural and financial barriers to me actually doing so. If there were some means of libraries granting time-limited access to databases like EEBO for alumni who could demonstrate it was part of a research project – and link that somehow to the university, so they get credit for it in assessments etc – that would be a brilliant start, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

      • Nick Poyntz should go to The Institute of Historical Research instead. It is changing its terms of admission from September 1st but he will be able to get annual membership for £45 or for £6 a day. This will give him access to a much wider range of on-line resources and, I believe, meet his scholarly needs.

      • Thanks for bringing up this issue, Nick. I alluded to ‘open’ primary sources briefly in my first paragraph about open-access publishing, but it deserves reemphasis. At this point, I think it would be a real mistake for scholars involved in digitisation projects to take the ‘easy route’ and team up with a for-profit company to get the work done at the cost of putting it behind a pay-wall. When I compare the success and reach of free primary sources (e.g. OBO, LL, TCP, EBBA) to those available on subscription, it seems like the extra effort needed to make them truly ‘public’ is worth it. Tim Hichcock, talking about the OBO, puts it this way:

        ‘Professional historians have always known what powerful voices the Proceedings contain, but putting them online in a form that is easy to use and free has meant that millions of people who would not otherwise have been minded to read this stuff, have done. They have used what they found in the Proceedings in novels and on television, in endless undergraduate dissertations and in more books than I want to read; and I take neither credit nor blame for their work. But, I believe that the decision to make freely available a source that prior to 2003 could only be read by a small and privileged group of academics, was an unproblematic good thing.’

        Also, Christopher Thompson offered some thoughts about the failure of the profession to support independent scholars that I think I can endorse:

  4. I really like this relatively upbeat assessment of where we are, and where we can go in the near term. I personally think that while we may have won the battle in the academy, the bigger fight for wider social relevance is ongoing, perhaps even a Heinlein style Forever War that history from below will always need to participate in.

    To risk the groans of my colleagues, I want to ask about how the early modernists long us can translate the directions outlined by Brodie into authentic ‘impact’, of a kind that actually doesn’t ring false in communities. A People’s VCH anyone?

    • Of course the wider fight for the social relevance of history will never be conclusively won and I’m sure they’ll be many reversals along the way. I’m no whiggish Pollyanna. But I suppose I’m optimistic that we may be starting to move the right direction, perhaps even aided by the UK government’s latest insistence on ‘impact’. Although the policy may be half-baked and poorly executed, I think we should take advantage of it to push our colleagues (and ourselves) to embrace a more democratic history.

      On the issue of a ‘People’s VCH’, I guess I think the VCH is already largely a project for and by ‘the people’. All it needs is more money and more participants. Actually, this may be a rather important point: there is a real danger in trying vainly to reinvent the wheel. Real ‘history from below’ is already going on all over world under a multitude of guises – these projects and approaches just need more support from academics and their institutions.

  5. I read this piece with great interest. It is fine as a summary of where students of ‘history from below’ now are and on the problems of funding higher education in the U.K. and the U.S.A. But it is very short on what the potential remedies might be. I should like to challenge the contributors to this blog to devise new means of harnessing widespread interest in the subject. If established universities can run seminars between their staff on-line, if Youtube can show Keith Wrightson’s lectures from Yale, if there are a myriad of on-line resources, websites, blogs and the like for those interested in pursuing their research and enquiries, so can the advocates of free universities, of internet academies and institutes. Chris Grayling has addressed this issue in one way. Other solutions must be possible and practicable.

    • Thanks for your confidence, Christopher. I agree that I didn’t present a vision of a single unified or even coherent strategy for harnessing these disparate modes of history from below. I suppose the anarchist in me is a hesitant to offer any such grand vision. I’d prefer, as I said to Dave above, to embrace the diversity of the existing ecosystem and simply try to nurture as many of these different ‘histories’ as possible. That said, I’m not inherently opposed to the idea of also building new institutions from the ground up and I can see the appeal of the possibility of a bunch of like-minded scholars getting together to create some sort of online community of learning. If nothing else, it’d be bound to be better than Grayling’s.

      PS: As I said in the comment on your Early Modern History blog, thanks again for linking and commenting on the symposium. Your support has been a real blessing.

  6. I agree with your optimism Brodie, but would like to add something to think about. Birkbeck and the Open University have been very successful, but their model has not been widely copied. Why doesn’t Birmingham or Manchester have a Birkbeck? Or in the US case why are CUNY and the New School only in New York [and no Open there at all]?

    No government in the last 25 years seems that interested in learning from these experiences, even though they would offer some immediate solutions to current problems e.g. reducing the cost of doing a degree. I think we all know the real answer to that question; I suppose I’m just re-stating Samantha’s point about relating to a wider progressive educational politics/policy.

    • That’s sadly true I think. My piece is rather light on politics, but we can’t forget about the huge inequalities of power in the world. As Samantha, Simon and Dave all noted in their pieces last week, the strength of those who have money (and who want to make more of it) can make democratising scholarship very difficult indeed. We need to be not just teachers and researchers but also activists, campaigners and – at the very least – voters.

  7. For those with an interest in the Open Access angle that I raise in the final section, you should check out Richard Blakemore’s new post which I read too late to include. He provides some very sharp analysis of the latest debate about OA and what it means for early career scholars. He also links to an extremely interesting piece by Tim Hitchcock and Jason M. Kelly on the possibility of a cheaper, faster, opener form of peer-reviewed publishing. Not coincidently, they published it on the History Workshop Online blog, an unstinting supporter of history from below.

  8. A note of caution – I don’t want to detract from the momentum building here in the discussion of ways to ‘democratise’ history and forge greater links between professional history and the world outside of the academy, but I don’t think we should be too complacent that the battle within the academy has been ‘won’.

    It is one thing to say that all historians now appreciate the importance of social history approaches, but that is not the same as saying that appointing social historians is currently a priority for history departments in what is a very competitive job market. We can’t forge greater links between ‘history from below’ inside and outside of the academy if there are not healthy numbers of its supporters and practitioners within the academy, and to ensure this we need to guard against a creeping tendency for our historian colleagues to see ‘history from below’ as old-fashioned, or out-of-date, stuck making the same points Thompson did fifty years ago. History as an academic discipline is very much governed by ‘trends’ – much more so than popular or public history reflects – and establishing the legitimacy of a certain type of approach such as ‘history from below’ does not guarantee that it will not as some point be swept aside as out-of-fashion. A conscious effort is needed to constantly restate it’s relevance and value to our fellow professional historians.

    • Yes, there’s no doubt that we can’t be complaisant about the legitimacy of ‘history from below’ within the profession. Certainly, social history is not at the peak of its popularity within the academy, when compared to, say, the 1970s. I suppose I’m partly insulated from this by the fact that my research to date probably doesn’t come across as ‘social history’ to, e.g., hiring committees. It may look more like ‘economic’ and/or ‘cultural’ history.

      Still, I think part of the reason why many people doing this sort of research don’t call themselves ‘social historians’ is because it has become so integrated into mainstream historiography that it is no longer really a separate subfield. Compare that to, say, ‘diplomatic’ or ‘military’ history, which remain fairly distinct but really do have an image problem. So, although we need to strongly assert (and prove) that ‘history from below’ is still lively and relevant, I don’t think we’re likely to face the same direct challenges to our academic legitimacy that our predecessors did.

  9. Pingback: The future of ‘history from below’ symposium: concluding remarks | the many-headed monster

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  11. I recently posted a revised version of this piece on the Birkbeck Comments blog:

    And I gave an extended version as a talk at an event for the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities on 24 January 2014, alongside Jane Humphries (Oxford) and Sander Gilman (Emory). Recordings of all of these talks are now available as podcasts:

  12. I am really sorry not to have been able to attend your event last Friday – I would have been interested because I have a somewhat loose connection with E P Thompson – and an amendment to make to your blog! I worked at the University of Leeds for many years in the School of Continuing Education, which had previously been the Department of Adult Education and Extramural Studies, where E P Thompson was based. My understanding is that he was employed as one of the academic staff within the Department. The University was a ‘Responsible Body’, alongside others like Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham, providing part-time university-level courses for adults, some of which were run in partnership with the WEA (amongst others) – like the ones on which E P Thompson taught. My colleagues Richard Taylor and Roger Fieldhouse have just published a book on E P Thompson and English Radicalism which has some of this history detailed within in.

    I was really pleased that you drew out the relevance and made the strong connection with Eric. Did you know that Raymond Williams was another of those adult educators? I’m no historian, but because I grew up, as it were, within university adult education, I am keen to make sure that we don’t forget its significance and intellectual contribution – to history, cultural studies and – for that matter – women’s studies.

    • Thanks for all the information, Miriam. To be honest my knowledge of Thompson’s pre-Warwick teaching could fit on a postcard: I just knew that he was involved in adult education in the West Riding in the 1950s and early 60s. So your details are really helpful. I’ll need to take a look at the new biography you mention.

      I also hadn’t realized that Williams, another of the ‘greats’ of the historically-minded academic left, was involved in adult education too, apparently as a tutor in Oxford c. 1946-51. His ‘Keywords’ remains both insightful and a weirdly fun book to read.

      In this light, Christopher Hill – who was another star in the CPHG – seems decidedly ‘ivory tower’, given that he spent almost the whole of his academic career (1945-78) at Balliol, Oxford. That said, apparently even Hill spent a couple of teaching with the Open University before retiring.

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