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Alun Howkins 1947-2018: author of some of the ‘missing chapters of the Making of the English Working Class

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2018 by kmflett

Alun Howkins 1947-2018: Author of some of the missing chapters of the Making of the English Working Class

I was sorry to learn of the death of the socialist historian, author and broadcaster Alun Howkins on 12th July.

An official obituary is here:

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/45473

I knew Howkins only in passing but that over a very lengthy period. I heard him speak at History Workshop conferences and indeed sing at various HW gatherings. He had a distinctive voice clearly indicating his background as someone who had come to academia via Ruskin College and indeed the events of 1968 and History Workshop itself.

Howkins posted an interesting paragraph on the History Workshop site on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the hardback of E P Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class in 2013:

I read the ‘Making’ in 1968 in Harlow in Essex where I was working before going to Ruskin. Thompson’s name meant very little (if anything) but it was the 1000th Pelican. Like many self educated men and women in those (better?) days that imprint – along with Penguin guaranteed a serious book and I was about to go to college to study Politics and Economics. I read it like a novel ( albeit a difficult one) and loved it…but even then I felt, as I still do, it did scant justice to my own ‘past’ the rural areas – a failing Thompson accepts in the Pelican edition. I took the book (same copy) to Yugoslavia in 1970 and gave it to a young railway worker as thanks for a lift and room in his crowded caravan on a workers holiday camp in Rovinj. Who knows what he and his socialist family made of it.​

It seems to me that one way of understanding Howkins’ work is as an attempt to write some of the missing chapters of the Making of the English Working Class and it must be said he did so brilliantly.

Howkins memories of Thompson are at this audio link (the first 7 minutes or so)

https://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Oral-historians/021M-C1149X0010XX-0017V0

Howkins again underlines that he didn’t feel the Making dealt adequately with rural workers, but also notes his friendly relations with Thompson, the impact he made on him as a speaker and his relationship with History Workshop. In particular he notes that Thompson did research and speak on rural issues such as enclosure, but this research came after the Making was published. Hence Howkins finds more of specific interest in the later collection, Customs in Common.

It is to be hoped that Howkins work inspires a new generation of historians, since his efforts notwithstanding, there are always more things to research and to understand, as indeed Howkins commentary on EP Thompson’s research methods and his revisions of work he had done underlines.

There are important commentaries on Alun Howkins at the SHS site by Katrina Navickas & Helen Rogers:

https://socialhistory.org.uk/2018/07/28/alun-howkins/

 

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