Ruth Mather, ‘The Home-Making of the English Working Class’

[This is the second piece in ‘The Future of History from Below’ online symposium (#historyfrombelow). Ruth Mather is a doctoral candidate at Queen Mary, University of London, studying the links between working-class political identities and the home in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She also blogs about her adventures in research.]

I became interested in ‘history from below’ as an undergraduate through the encouragement of Professor Robert Poole, who introduced me to E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. Thompson’s book, which reaches its half-century this year, showed me a new way of doing history, one which didn’t patronise working people, or subsume them in a narrative of progress, but instead constructed a story about thinking, feeling people with their own ideas about their lives and their own strategies for living them. It’s important that our histories show the humanity of our subjects  – in my case the English labouring classes in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century. This is not about glorifying poverty or writing hero narratives, but simply attempting to understand the messy, complicated details of the real lives of ordinary people.

I’m not alone in thinking this is particularly crucial at the moment, when a new history curriculum threatens to take us back to stories of great men and Whiggish progress and welfare recipients are demonised for political gain. However, other participants in this symposium will be discussing the continued relevance of ‘history from (and for) below’ in much more detail over the coming weeks, and it is not difficult to find excellent explanations of why ‘history matters’ more generally. So, having outlined why ‘history from below’ is important to me, I’d like to focus on the question of how we can find sources that can help to uncover the domestic lives of ordinary people as part of this wider project of uncovering voices that have been underprivileged in the historical record. Continue reading

Carnivalesque 94: No bishop, no king

Brodie Waddell

Welcome to the 94th edition of Carnivaleque! Today we will be introducing you to a wonderfully motley menagerie of historical blogs and bloggers.

Finding any overall unifying theme is impossible with a collection of this sort, but there are a few key subjects that emerged from the nominations, each of which receives a section below:

  • The historian as detective
  • Bodily functions
  • A venerable criminal enterprise
  • Places, spaces and sites
  • Thinking about the historian’s craft

I think it is particularly interesting what’s not in the links below, namely kings and queens and ‘great battles’, the traditional material for popular histories. Not that political history and military history are entirely absent, just that they are approached from a different direction than usual. Although there are a few of gentlemen and noblewomen as well as a famous scientist, the vast majority of the nominated posts are focused on people who would have been largely excluded from textbooks written fifty years ago. What should we make of this? Is old-fashioned ‘top down’ history dying off? Or is it just that the type of people who read this blog and pay attention to Carnivaleque are predisposed against reading yet another story about Henry VIII and his wives or Charles I and his parliaments? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

However, before wandering into the carnival below, take a look at this truly heart-warming short animation that tells the tale of ‘the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, 1590’, a German werewolf. For more details, see the two posts at LOLManuscripts, but in the meantime, watch the video and be amazed.

Now, on with the show…

Continue reading

Norwich Entertainments – Part II: Pieces of plays and the spatial turn

Brodie Waddell

On October 17th, 1677, a month before Bartholomew Laskey arrived with his monstrous hairy child, the Norwich Mayor’s Court licenced Mr Robert Parker ‘to act pieces out of Playes &c for 14 daies at the Redd lion’ and John Argent ‘to make shew of such tricks as are mentioned in his patent at the Angell’.¹

Norwich Mayor’s Court Book, 17 Oct. 1677

Norwich Mayor’s Court Book, 17 Oct. 1677: Norfolk Record Office, NCR Case 16a/25, f. 9 (Sorry about the poor reproduction. The documents were only available on microfilm.)

These are exactly the sort of tantalisingly vague references to popular entertainments that one expects to find in early modern legal records. The ‘pieces of plays’ and unspecified ‘tricks’ surely amused their audiences, and the title ‘Mr’ suggests that at least Parker earned a decent livelihood, so they probably represent typical examples of provincial urban popular culture in the late seventeenth century. Continue reading