Holding out for a…Thompson

I read the assigned excerpt from E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class before doing any other of our readings for Historical Methods this week. As I worked my way through, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be reading for, exactly. Surely the details of English weavers’ lives didn’t have anything to teach me about historical methodology, right? When I started the other readings, though, I immediately realized why Thompson had been assigned: his work was a classic and extremely influential text, coming on the cusp of the wave of social history, a way of looking at “history from below” that exploded in the 1960s and 70s.

display

both British…both cutting edge

File:Thompsons into the gap.jpg

Most interesting to me was the reading assigned in Geoff Eley’s A Crooked Line, which describes the author’s experiences of the changing nature of historical study from the 1960s on. Of course he talks about Thompson’s Making of; in fact, it is this work that “allowed me,” as he says, “to reconstruct my sense of history’s importance” (54). I was immediately reminded of some of my classmates’ recent blog posts, especially

http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/collodionista/2013/09/07/we-are-important-too/

and

http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/lkelley/2013/08/29/what-is-the-point-of-history/ .

Both of these posts address the doubt students of history inevitably have when starting out. My colleagues have been heartened by reading Tosh, Weinberger, and Cronon. As I read Eley, I couldn’t help but wonder—will I read a book this semester that will completely change my views on history, completely validate my choice to pursue this field? It’s hard when I have to read so much that reading for pure content is no longer viable—but I hope I do come across a work that will inspire me as work as The Making of the English Working Class inspired Geoff Eley.

On a different tack:

Eley begins his first chapter this way: “When I was deciding to become a historian, interdisciplinarity had yet to haunt the corridors of history departments” (1). As I read through his first two chapters and thought back to what we have been talking about in class for several weeks now, I wondered to myself whether a grad student studying today might start an account of his early years with a quote like, “When I was deciding to become a historian, historians were still required to publish books, blogs were seen as fringe scholarship, and digital history had yet to overwhelm the profession.”

Certainly a lot has changed since Eley was reading the Venerable Bede. What changes will the next forty or fifty years bring? Is it optimistic to hope that future readers will be struck by the contrast in my statement if I start a book, “When I was deciding to become a historian, most people did not read or enjoy historical scholarship?”

Eley’s conclusion brings Thompson even more clearly into the conversation of what history could be if done right. Eley describes Thompson as holding “a place for a certain kind of eloquent, troublemaking, disobedient, and creative disrespect for the rules and decorums that hierarchies of power and prestige require us to perform” (60). Isn’t this exactly what we’ve been talking about? Looks like the field needs another Thompson…and it could be one of us.

For anyone interested in other blogs talking about Thompson and the New Left, here are two that came up when I did a quick search for “EP Thompson blog:”

http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2008/12/blog-post_17.html

http://emotionsblog.history.qmul.ac.uk/?p=1412

And, a link to the class motherblog for those who may wish to explore the wonderful musings of my classmates:

http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/gradhistf13/

 

image from http://leftunity.org/e-p-thompson-ideas-education-culture/display/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thompsons_into_the_gap.jpg

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