Dorothy Thompson,The Dignity of Chartism. Launch event & review

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2015 by kmflett

Launch event and review of Dorothy Thompson’s The Dignity of Chartism


June 05, 2015

Marx Memorial Library

The Dignity of Chartism celebrating the life and work of Dorothy Thompson

Join Sheila Rowbotham and Malcolm Chase to launch the new collection of Dorothy’s groundbreaking essays

Dorothy Thompson dedicated her life to the study of Chartism, reclaiming it as a full-blown working class movement. Thompson’s ground-breaking research intertwined a penetrating analysis of class with fresh archival research to uncover the role played by women in the movement. Through this, her work radically transformed the way that Chartism is understood and has influenced generations of scholars of the working class movement.

To mark the release of this major collection of Dorothy’s essay, The Dignity of Chartism (Verso, 2015), historian and leading figure in the women’s movementSheila Rowbotham and labour historian and chartist scholar Malcolm Chase will discuss Dorothy’s life and work, and the influence it has played on the study of 19th century history. The event will be introduced by Meirian Jump from the Marx Memorial Library who will give a short presentation on the library and its Chartist-related collections.

This event is free to attend. For all enquiries please email
Sheila Rowbotham was one of the leading figures behind the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain. She is an Honorary Research Fellow in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences within the Faculty of Humanities at Manchester University and Visiting Fellow in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Her many books include the James Tait Black–shortlisted Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and LoveWoman’s Conciousness, Man’s World, A Century of Women: The History of Women in Britain and the United States in the Twentieth Century, Promise Of A Dream: Remembering the Sixties, and Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century. She has written for, among other newspapers, the Guardian, The Times, The Independent, New Statesman, and The New York Times. 

Malcolm Chase is Professor of Social History at the University of Leeds. He is Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Labour History and a past Chair of the Social History Society. His work includes Chartism: A New History, Early Trade Unionism: Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour, The People’s Farm, English Radical Agrarianism 1775-1840, and most recently 1820: Disorder and Stability in the United Kingdom. 

6.30pm – 8.00pm

Marx Memorial Library

37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU
United Kingdom




The Dignity of Chartism
Dorothy Thompson 
Verso 2015 
Paperback ISBN 9781781688496 
Hardback ISBN 9781781688489

It is reasonably well known that the key reason E.P. Thompson wrote on the English working class in the first and third quarters of the nineteenth century but said very little about the second quarter was that his long time partner Dorothy Thompson was working on the Chartists. She published a series of well regarded and in some cases definitive volumes on Chartism. Yet until now there has been no collection of Dorothy Thompson’s writings in the area beyond the books.

Verso and the book’s editor, Chartist historian Stephen Roberts, have done a considerable service in bringing some at least of Dorothy Thompson’s lesser known work on Chartism together in a new book, The Dignity of Chartism. It is a book which deserves to be read at the very least by the considerable worldwide group of those who work in the traditions of E.P. Thompson. It demonstrates some of the ways that the two historians worked together, sharing ideas and sources, which may have been previously less than clear.  Roberts in a useful introduction, for example, notes that Edward Thompson mined Dorothy Thompson’s research notes for some parts of The Making of the English Working Class.

The book contains a number of hard to find pieces by Dorothy Thompson which will nevertheless probably be familiar to some historians and researchers. However the longest piece here is an unpublished essay written jointly by Dorothy and Edward Thompson on Halifax Chartism. It was commissioned for Asa Briggs’ 1959 volume Chartist Studies but was never published. There is also an interesting web published piece on women and Chartism where Dorothy Thompson while taking a feminist perspective defends Chartism as a class based movement and the way in which women were active in it. The final piece in the book Reflections on Marxist Teleology reflects a speech Dorothy Thompson gave at the launch of the memoirs of John Saville and reviews what in her view is relevant and not relevant in the relationship between Marxism and historical research.

If there is one criticism it is that it would have been useful to have had a bibliography of Dorothy Thompson’s published work. I didn’t know for example that Dorothy Thompson wrote some reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. Some extracts are included here but I’m not clear if there are others.

However the key point remains. The Dignity of Chartism reminds us of Dorothy Thompson’s place as a major post-1945 socialist and feminist historian. It also provides some fascinating insights into her collaboration with EP Thompson and suggests that her reputation should be regarded in the same perspective as his.

Keith Flett


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