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 email@example.com
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 Love, Woman’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
The Dignity of Chartism
Paperback ISBN 9781781688496
Hardback ISBN 9781781688489
Dorothy Thompson,The Dignity of Chartism, Verso, June 2015
It is reasonably well known that a key reason EP Thompson wrote on the English Working Class in the first and third quarters of the nineteenth century but said very little about the period from the mid-1830s to 1860s 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 or more difficult to access pieces on Chartism together in a new book, The Dignity of Chartism.
It is a book which deserves to be read not least by the considerable worldwide group of those who work in the traditions of EP Thompson, though the research of Dorothy Thompson stands as a related but distinct contribution to our knowledge of working class history.
It does demonstrate 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, revised from an earlier piece, notes that Edward Thompson mined Dorothy Thompson’s research notes for some parts of The Making of the English Working Class
While the hard to find pieces by Dorothy Thompson which the book contains will nevertheless probably be familiar to some historians and researchers, 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.
It is the long piece (even with footnotes edited down) however that provides a guide to Dorothy Thompson’s research methods and the kind of history she wrote. It is led not by a pre-set framework but by historical evidence found in archives, documents, papers and books. It is also densely detailed with examples of what, in this case, Halifax Chartists were thinking and doing
An interesting web published piece on women and Chartism shows Dorothy Thompson while taking a feminist perspective defending Chartism as a class based movement and explaining again on a research based basis 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 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, April 2015. Revised and Updated May 2015