The Making of the English Working Class Fifty Years On

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Next year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, which was first published by Victor Gollancz in 1963. Undoubtedly one of the most influential historical books of the twentieth century, The Making set much of the agenda for the ‘new social history’ of the 1960s and 1970s, influencing generations of historians and other scholars. In a few pages in the book’s Preface, Thompson laid out some of the ideas that would guide several generations of historians: class as a relationship rather than a structure or category; the working class being ‘present at its own making’; the revolutionary potentials of working-class politics; and, perhaps most memorably, the responsibility of historians to ‘rescue’ ordinary people of the past, especially those whose struggles were defeated, from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’—a phrase that currently generates more than 33,000 google hits.

The Making of the English Working Class has also been subject to extensive critique and commentary, not least in the pages of History Workshop Journal. Among other flaws, critics have focused on its gendering of its subject as male (the Preface describes the book’s project as a ‘biography of the English working class from its adolescence to its early manhood’); its failure to consider the significance of Empire, race, or the world beyond England’s shores; and its hostile approach to Methodism as ‘the chiliasm of despair’. Despite or because of these critiques, readers often return again and again to their battered and much-annotated copies of the book, which continues to provoke and inspire, not least because of the extraordinary power of Thompson’s prose.

A conference at the People’s History Museum in Manchester is already planned. History Workshop Journal plans to publish a forum on The Making at Fifty, including contributions by historians on their experience of reading and re-reading the book. In anticipation of that forum, we invite readers of the journal and this website to contribute their own reflections on and memories of reading, teaching and studying The Making of the English Working Class. When and why did you first read it? Do you re-read it, and under what circumstances? What aspects of it do you remember most vividly? What about it inspires, what provokes? If you teach, do you ask students to read it, and how do they respond? How has your reading of Thompson changed since you first read The Making? Please add your recollections below.

38 Responses to “The Making of the English Working Class Fifty Years On”

  1. Rebecca
    May 2, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I was assigned it as an undergrad in the 1980s and have to admit that I was so overwhelmed by its bulk that I got comparatively little out of it–though I remembered the bits about Methodism, Joanna Southcott, etc.  And then I was assigned it in grad school in a seminar on “Representations of Work” (in hindsight, I see this was an effort to combine cultural and labor history) where, once again, I never felt that I “got” it. I have several times since then moved it to my bedside table, meaning to read it as I did _War and Peace_ (i.e., slowly and deliberately, but with growing enthusiasm and fondness) but it still hasn’t happened. Perhaps next year is the year to do it.

  2. Andrew
    May 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Yes, the bulk was a bit unsettling. And I’m still not sure I’ve read every bit of it. But the energy and excitement in the writing – the focus on those who have borne the enormous condescension of posterity (was that phrase an E.P. original?) – was hugely stimulating. I came across the book as an undergraduate doing a very old fashioned history degree course. It propelled me towards heading to Warwick, and indeed to E.P. Thompson’s Centre for the Study of Social History, as a postgraduate – tho by the time I got there, Thompson had lit the blue touch paper of writing ‘Warwick University Limited’ and left.

  3. Diana
    May 3, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    I first encountered Thompson’s work as a YCND member in the 1980s–I think Writing by Candlelight was the first thing of his I read. I can’t remember when it was that I read The Making of the English Working Class, but I do remember the experience of reading it, or at least most of it, as being both mind-blowing and frustrating. Frustrating because there was a lot of knowledge assumed that I simply didn’t have, but also mind-blowing because, even though it must have been the early 90s by the time I was reading it, it still seemed so different from so much of the history that I read, in its partisanship, its scope, and its language. Since then, I’ve dipped in and out for specific purposes, but never tackled it again all the way through. Maybe, like Rebecca, next year I will return to it.

  4. Felix
    May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Thompson’s book was influential well beyond academic history – it was a key text for many other disciplines and other readers beyond the universities. In fact my impression is that mainstream UK university history curricula were relatively slow to absorb its significance, or indeed that of the social history being taught and written from the 60s. I read the book much later as a geography undergraduate in the early 1980s, which coincided with Thompson’s prominent role in the popular movement for European nuclear disarmament. The book and debates surrounding it in the late 70s/early 80s – especially about agency, politics and the historical imagination – still had a potency then. Thompson gave you a sense that history mattered, vitally, in the present – he wrote like no other historian. 

  5. Alun Howkins
    May 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    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 eductaed men and women in those (better?) days that imprint – along with Penguin guarnteed a serious book and I was about to go to college to study Poltics 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 Yugolslavia 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 sopcialist family made of it.

  6. Desperado
    May 4, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    I remember borrowing it from my dad’s house when I was an undergrad and after a few weeks I got a sharp reminder to bring it back, which was unusual – usually I could permanently ‘borrow’ all sorts of interesting things. It had a strange, almost family-bible like status. Did anyone really read it cover to cover? I salute you.

  7. Anna Davin
    May 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    I read it in early 1964, in Algiers. Algeria was newly independent and we spent a year there in solidarity. My then husband, Luke Hodgkin, was teaching maths at the university. My days were spent with our children, then aged 1, 3 and 5, in our flat, which fortunately had a small garden. I read what and when I could. I must have spent weeks getting through The Making of the English Working Class, frustrated by interruptions and by gaps in my knowledge, but absorbed and exhilarated by its fire and breadth. Luke’s next post was at the new University of Warwickand we soon met Edward and Dorothy. Both encouraged me in my decision to become an undergraduate and to do history. When I told Dorothy that I feared I’d forgotten how to stuydy or write in the eight years since I’d left school she got me to write her an essay and the n discussed it with me.Edward welcomed me into his graduate seminar. As a history student I did his industrialization course (in  which imperialism, race and gender all figured) and my passion for history grew and grew. If I hadn’t read his book I’d probably have studied English or languages. So my whole life and work were shaped by that book, by being taught by the man who wrote it, by the political and intellectual culture of Warwick in the late sixties, of which the Thompson household was one important locus and by the friends I made in those years at Warwick, in the early Women’s Liberation Movement, and in the burgeoning History Workshop movement.

  8. Christos
    May 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I read the whole book as a research student at Birkbeck in
    2006. My supervisor described it as the book that changed our understanding of ‘class’.
    He was right. Even if I am not totally convinced by its main argument (the
    making of the English working class in the early nineteenth century), the idea
    of class as a ‘happening’ altered the historical discourse. It is a book that
    challenges many widely supported theories of class. It is also a book that
    inspires. As long as there are people that sympathise with the ‘poor stockinger’
    and the ‘deluded follower of Joanna Southcott’, the book will speak to them. It
    is a book that can change someone’s life. It changed mine.

  9. NLS
    May 6, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I borrowed my mother’s copy but didn’t get round to reading it until after she died. Because it’s entirely outside my field I read it as if it were a novel, and indeed it did engage me after a while and I wanted to know how the story turned out. My mother had used highlighter pen in it which normally I hate, but in this case I felt it as a connection with her. She had become progressively more liberal as she got older (or perhaps was returning to her working-class roots), especially after she went back to uni as a mature student. Somehow her story seemed to follow on from the one Thompson was telling.

  10. Daryl
    May 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I first encountered it as a 17-year-old sixth-former when searching for “real” history books to read in the little sixth-form history library that the head of department ran in the space between classrooms. Nestled between browning, dusty copies of Ensor and AJP Taylor was the unmistakeable blue spine of “The Making”. I duly signed it out and read it. Until that point history had ever been about kings and queens, about the Nazis, and about nineteenth-century political reform (thanks be to the National Curriculum).  After that point, history became more about working-class people like me and I’ve never looked back. I came across it again as an undergraduate at Oxford when, bored of doing high-political history, I asked my tutor for something social. Up he sprang from the chair and over to the bookshelf to lift down that blue spined paperback. And, with a wry smile, he said “you’ll never guess who signed this” before opening it up to reveal Edward Thompson written in red ink on the flyleaf. Since then “The Making” has gained shelf-comrades in Gwyn Alf’s “When Was Wales” and Dai Smith’s “Wales! Wales?” but it alone turned me from the dryness of the high politics on offer in school and at Oxford to the excitement and reality of social history and the fun of knowning where people like me came from.

  11. Jamie Bronstein
    May 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    I first read “The Making of the English Working Class” when I was on my junior year study-abroad at Pembroke College, Oxford. I had read some social history before, but nothing that gripped me like this. I felt immersed in a culture that was both completely strange and totally captivating. Later that year, E.P. Thompson himself came to lecture at Oxford–about an Indian tribe trying to get their land back. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that he had history groupies. On a later visit to England, I got to spend the night at Wick Episcopi and prowl around in the Thompsons’ library. It was like making a pilgrimage.

    Exposure to the English working classes through Thompson’s pen pushed my life off what felt like a predestined track (to become a lawyer or maybe a journalist). I went on to get a Ph.D. in British History and to take up the cudgels in the fight to rescue working people from the vast condescension of posterity myself.

  12. Caffeinag
    May 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

     I read it during my undergrad in Italy. It has been one of the most influential books I read in my life – and one of the reasons why I decided to move to the UK.

  13. Jesse Lemisch
    May 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Amidst the desert of US history, replete with attacks on Charles Beard as a stand-in for Marx, I was just wowed when I read MEWC in 1964, Later on, this was reflected in my “Jack Tar in the Streets” William and Mary Quarterly, July 1968 and in “The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up.”. In the spring of 1965, headed for research on impressment at the Public Record Office, I wrote to Edward. No response. I went to London and had arranged a courtesy visit to my University of Chicago colleague, the right-wing US historian Daniel Boorstin, who was playing the don at Cambridge that year. In a phone conversation with my wife Naomi Weisstein back in Chicago, she reported that Edward has sent me a warm letter and hoped to get together. I cancelled my visit to Boorstin  and called Edward, who invited me up to Bradford for the weekend. I asked how he would recognize me, and he said, “don’t worry.” He told the story at a session (with Christopher Hill) at the 1973 Anglo-American Labor History Conference at Rutgers which I was chairing, reporting that he had seen at the Bradford station in 1965 one solitary person, “a scruffy littlie man “ who was sitting on an attaché case to which was attached a sticker that said, “Let’s Get Out of Vietnam.” At Rutgers eight years later, as Edward described the scene to the audience, I waved the same attaché case above my head as people cheered this high moment in Anglo-American solidarity.
     
    In 1966 I was fired from the University of Chicago for writing history that spoke of class and for having participated in an anti-war sit-in. Boorstin was one of the key figures in this firing. I have never regretted canceling my visit with him and visiting Edward instead. For me, it’s almost a moment out of Bunyan.

  14. Angela Vergara
    May 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    May dad gave me his copy when I started college in Chile in 1989. It was the English language edition, and at that time my English was very limited. I read it with the help of a big spanish-english dictorionary, and I probably missed half of it!. Despite that, I fell in love with the book. Since then, everytime I need to remember why I’m a historian or what I love about labor history , I go back to The Making of the English Working Class, that very same edition that my dad gave me 22 years ago and that I have taken with me around the world.

  15. Jz Wilson
    May 22, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    It’s still a fabulous book. I read it with enthusiasm as an undergraduate at a new university that was located not far from the tough housing commission estate I’d lived in as a child. Thompson helped me make sense of history in a way that others couldn’t.Thank you.

  16. Richard Schellhammer
    May 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    I first read The
    Making of the English Working Class sometime around 1986 at the start of
    PhD program.  The book is a model of how
    to write labor history, weaving together narrative, theory, and data.  Thompson’s passion for the subject, reflected
    in this work (particularly his call to rescue the workers from “enormous
    condescension of posterity”), is why I became a labor historian.  I have read this book several times over the
    years.  Today, I use this book in my
    course, “Nineteenth-Century Europe.”  As
    I tell my undergraduate students, I’m not asking them to know all the names
    Thompson mentions, but focus on the grand ideas, particularly Thompson’s ideas
    of class.  Most Americans believe we
    there are no class distinctions; by the end of The Making, they have enough information to reassess their assumptions.
    There may be other works that could accomplish the same goal as teaching not
    only grand ideas, but also how to write grand ideas, but I don’t know of any
    that do it so well as The Making. I’ve
    been told by my students who go on to grad school that their fellow students
    are in awe that they’ve read “that big book.”

  17. Jordan Sly
    May 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    I had written a draft of this comment wherein is described in detail the process of my becoming interested in devoting my life to social history. The long and short of it is this, E.P. Thompson’s work changed my life. It made me look at all events in history differently and forced me to see contemporary life from the point of view of those under represented and under served. The work opened my eyes to the complexities of life and disallowed me to ever think of any issue as simplistic. 

  18. Stephen Heathorn
    May 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I first read MEWC in 1987 in Elliot Rose’s Fourth-year seminar on the history of protest at the University of Toronto. I was so taken with the text I spent the next two years reading everything I could find that was written by Thompson (and his critics), and even published some of the work I conducted on him.  I had wanted to become a professional historian since I began my undergraduate degree a few years before, but Thompson’s work confirmed for me that it should be in British History.  While I have come to disagree with some of the perspective in MEWC it is
    still one of the richest pieces of historical scholarship published in
    the past 50 years, and well worth arguing with. I still assign portions of it to my PhD students and to MAs is my historiography seminar. I narrowly missed meeting Thompson twice, and those two ‘almosts’ are among the biggest regrets in my professional life.  

  19. Caleb Richardson
    May 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Leaving
    aside the considerable virtues of The
    Making’s main text for a moment, can I propose its opening as the least
    under-rated preface in British historiography? Like many others, I assign it in
    an undergraduate historiography course. Very few of the students in this course
    have a background in British history—I teach at a large state university in the
    American Southwest—but all are captivated by those first paragraphs. “Enormous
    condescension of posterity” rightly gets all the play, but what about “The
    working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at
    its own making?” “Class is a relationship, not a thing?” “The finest-meshed
    sociological net cannot give us a pure specimen of class, any more than it can
    give us one of deference or of love?” I could go on, but I run the risk of
    undermining another key virtue of the preface—its brevity. Thompson provides an
    outline of the following 800 pages of his book in a short paragraph, then a
    devastating critique of the previous writers on the subject in a paragraph of
    medium length (“writing against the weight of prevailing orthodoxies” is
    another phrase that sticks in the heads of my students.) He acknowledges the limitations
    of his study (“I have neglected [Scottish, Welsh and by extension Irish]
    histories, not out of chauvinism, but out of respect”) and mildly proposes its
    larger significance (“causes which were lost in England might, in Asia or
    Africa, yet be won.”) In the acknowledgements, Thompson keeps the name-dropping
    to a minimum, with the emphasis correctly placed on Dorothy’s contributions: gratitude
    is expressed with humor (Dorothy is “an historian to whom I am related by the
    accident of marriage”) and a sense of genuine intellectual companionship (“her collaboration is to be
    found, not in this or that particular, but in the way the whole problem is seen.”)

                The most striking aspects of The Making are its size and its scope, but
    its Preface remains a model of the virtues of clarity and focus in
    history-writing.

    • Diana Paton
      June 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

       Absolutely agree–it is a hugely powerful piece of writing.

  20. Stansky
    May 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    It may be of interest to mention the packed session (I may not remember all the details correctly) that I helped organize and chaired at the AHA annual meeting in San Francisco to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the book. There were three fine papers–Herb Gutman, Joan Scott with an early version of what became her well known criticism of the book, and the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo.  Edward himself couldn’t come but sent a letter which I read in which he talked about his deep involvement with CND. At a later point I organized what I think was Edward’s first visit to California which I believe he liked more than he expected. I asked him to sign my copy of the Making which he did reluctantly. (The copy had special significance to me as it had belonged to my mentor, David Owen.)  He charmingly make mock of my request by taking the paw of my dog who was with us, dipping it in the remnants of the ice cream we had just consumed, nad placing his paw print in the book as well.

    Peter Stansky.

  21. Norman Markowitz
    May 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    I had the privilege of meeting and in a limited way getting to know Edward and Dorothy Thompson during the times they came to Rutgers University.  I came to like and respect them very much and I think they felt the same about me–although we didn’t agree on important things.
    My views were and are much closer to Maurice Dobb, John Eaton and others of the was called here the “old left”  When I first read The Making of the English Working Class I was thrilled by the sweep, the insights and also a bit put off by the lack of clear categorization of economics and politics.
     I thought cynically that this was the “new social history,” the new “labor history”  which would too academic careers and careerism, institutes rather than work that would aid in the organization and coordination of working class struggles. 
    I wouldn’t say I was completely wrong about that  but I was completely wrong about Edward and Dorothy Thompson. 
      Edward and Dorothy were never careerists or opportunists and in the British system they paid a price for that.   Edward’s commitment to the working class in his own country and internationally was unconditional.
     In the future, I both believe and hope that his work will go beyond academia , that fictitious country as I like to call it in which there remain lords, rentiers,  vassels find each other in footnotes  and in the U.S. and now in the increasingly the UK the students the lower echelons are paid to teach are  crushed by debt the way American sharecroppers were,
    Norman Markowitz

  22. Goe White
    May 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    First read The Making in the mid 1970s as a student teacher attending Newcastle Poly.History was my main subject and I was active in The Labour Party.It was not recommended on my course but I was involved in a process of intense self education(still at it now – no end in sight!)particularly in Social History and Historiography. It resonated with my class and geographical background(born in Huddersfield and my father worked in the woollen mills)and helped me locate my self in social/historical terms.Second time was in the early 1990s.By this time I was older, possibly wiser(highly debatable)and had devoured Thompson’s other works plus those of his comrades in arms such as Hobsbawm. Second time round it resonated with my awareness of the unravelling or unmaking of the working class(Hobsbawm’s Forward March of Labour Halted captured the mood well)and was a reminder of how the Labour movement had developed against fearsome odds. On giving it to my father to read he devoured it from cover to cover and exclaimed ‘He’s writing about us – this our story!’And so it is.I passed it to my eldest daughter and she was impressed.Age shall not wither it!

  23. Brian Cowan
    May 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    I first read MEWC cover to
    cover after graduating from Reed College in 1992. I finally had time to read the
    whole thing, although I had delved into bits of it over the preceding
    years, particularly its famous preface.

    I’ve only taught the book once, and just the ‘chiliasm of despair’
    chapter on Methodism for my first survey course on 18th-century Britain
    at Yale. The students found it disturbing. I haven’t read it again in quite
    awhile, although I
    plunder bits and pieces from it ruthlessly in my lectures, so it clearly
    had a formative influence on my thinking.

  24. HowardS
    June 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    I first got a copy of the book for my 16th birthday from my social worker aunt. Irene. I dipped into it now and then but finally read the whole book when I was working for British Telecom in Holborn. I’d landed a cushy job as an admin assistant and in those days I’d have finished what I had to do by Tuesday!  It was an old style office with booth-type desks, so for the rest of the week I remember reading and taking notes on this classic book more or less undisturbed and unhassled by my line manager who was steering an easy course to retirement. Of course this situation didn’t last long (long enough to read the book though!) as the redundancy notices came floating down. It was the late 80s, early 90s.

  25. Bernard Canavan
    June 10, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    I  wish to rescue The Making of the English Working Class from merely being another text on the university syllabus  and see it instead as a subversive tract, indeed the last scholarly  history book that  was disseminated  through an  informal network of self-educated ‘radicals’ who  could have stepped out of the pages  of the book itself.  
    At least that was how I first encountered it.  I was in my late teens when I first read it.  I was in the process of exchanging employments  in a sawmill, and a variety of other  unpromising  jobs and life in lodging houses and caravan parks  in the Cotswolds for the infinitely more attractive prospect of  a bedsit in  ‘Swinging London’.  I had been part of that great post-WWII labour wave from the Celtic periphery that helped fuel  Harold Wilson’s   ’white-hot technological revolution’ (though my contribution was both slight and short).  The chap who introduced me to the book  impressed me by the volumes  of  Marx, Morton, Postgate and Cole he had gotten through;  and I think that the volume he let me have was  possibly  ‘liberated’ from Foyles, which probably explains his generosity,  but that just   lent an extra whiff of the  subversive to it.
    What affected me most about its argument were the two chapters on the Irish contribution to the creation of the working class  -  and not just to an abstract working class, but to  the much more  politically charged  ‘English working class’. This was an absolutely arresting thought to me, and the other  Irish friends I discussed it with.  We had all grown up in Ireland steeped in  the anti-Labour, anti-socialist, rhetoric of  Catholicism and the anti-English attitudes of the lingering  Land-League traditions that were still the staple of rural Ireland.  The nearly a million Irish-born who came to Britain in the first two decades after WWII with such baggage  were not that surprised  by the often  mixed reception we encountered in Britain (that was much more the complaint of the next generation of  English-born Irish who were able to forget,  or ignore,  the bitterness of a people who had been cast out of their own historical narrative.  E.P. Thompson’s rediscovery of a lost world of nineteen century Irish urban radicalism that none of us ever heard of was transforming  –  the world of the Chartists, of O’Brien and O’Connor  and John Doherty, which Dorothy Thompson also played an important role in retrieving .  And in exploring  this new image of ourselves among  these dense pages of detail, we discovered an England of the oppressed and excluded that we had never heard of before either.  The Irish community began to see a commonality in their condition that freed them  from the legacy  of self-obsession and  ‘exceptionalism’  that had been central to Irish nationalism.  It had opened up  the concept of Englishness and made it into a more inclusive to that first generation of immigrants (and I suspect later generations of immigrants from other places too) . The book  was more than a  narrative of the  past; it was a kind of therapy  to a traumatised  community who had  not yet found a place in British life except as hewers of wood and drawers of water.  It lent  historical substance to the tentative  friendships that were then being  forged between newcomers and natives  at the edge of English life,  a process  not without deep irony for any student of Irish history.  This healing process was to be sorely tried during the ‘Troubles’ of the 70s, and it is a testament to the importance of its argument that  the rhetoric of victimhood in Northern  Ireland found so little purchase in the’ Kilburns’ and ‘Camden towns’ throughout Britain, and that the British generation who had come through WWII alone, were willing to forget Ireland’s recent  past of indifference during that struggle  in E.P’s archaeology of older solidarities. In that sense, the book was ‘subversive’,  challenging old dead rhetoric  that had trapped people and making new beginnings possible.  

    • Andrew
      June 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

      Hi Bernard,

      What a hugely interesting take on ‘The Making of the English Working Class’. I hadn’t really appreciated the extent to which EPT had given attention to the Irish contribution to England-based radicalism, and I wonder whether he was in part encouraged to do so by Dorothy Thompson’s enduring interest in the links between English and Irish radicalisms.

  26. Tapio Bergholm
    August 3, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    I started to read The Making of the English Working Class first time in summer 1990. I read about 160 pages. It was quite difficult English for a Finnish reader and I managed not to read any longer. After staying academic year 1990-1991 at University of Warwick Industrial Relations Research Unit as a Visiting Fellow I was more successful, when I started all over again. I found important idea that also intimidation (of employers, scabs and non-members) was important part of trade union practice.   

  27. Terry McCarthy
    January 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Surely it’s about time we moved away from the Anglo Marxist view of history the title of Thompson’s book. The making of the English working class says it all, surely it should be The Working Classes That Made England, Thompson did not give slavery, and the pillaging  of the workers in the British Empire the role that they deserved, of course he is not alone in that so-called Labour historians still write about the new union movement without understanding the role that the Irish and Jewish workers played in bringing it to life. There are of course exceptions Louise Raws brilliant book Striking a Light which for the first time gives a true account of the strike and the matchwomen themselves, and the importance of their Irish heritage which lit the flame of new unionism, which owed so much to the Irish and Anglo Irish community in London’s Docklands
    Terry McCarthy

  28. Steve Poole
    January 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Together with the almost equally ancient moral economy essay, I have set the Preface to ‘The Making’ as an undergraduate reading every year for as long as I can remember. No other texts I can think of have withstood scrutiny for so long or continuously produced such varied, lively and consistently creative seminar discussion. Students seem less receptive to the idea of class (or at least, to the idea that it has any modern relevance) with every passing year, and yet whenever we discuss crowd dynamics, popular resistance, and histories of protest and reform, the Preface remains the one reading guaranteed to generate furrowed brows and unpredictable responses. The simple idea that class is not a thing but a relationship, that it cannot be materially inspected and that it is not invariably present has perhaps never subsequently been expressed with such wit and eloquence, nor in such accessible and jargon-free language. The fact that students are as often frustrated and mystified by the apparent substitution of ‘experience’ for Theory (with a capital T, of course) may perhaps expose flaws, but it also provokes broad conceptual thinking – and usually gets us into a productive debate about collective identity, group dynamics, and the mechanics of social ‘becoming’ or making. One year we got no further in 50 minutes than Joanna Southcott. Unsurprisingly, not one of them had the slightest idea who she was but, once enlightened, they were quickly animated first by the suggestion that class and millenarianism might be associated through female agency and then by the irony that her followers were to be rescued from condescension by a man who has just saddled them with delusion. The Preface works so well, I suspect, because its own argument is only partly explained and it offers a series of helpful springboards for ‘yes, but…’ classroom contributions!

    • qingyi lan
      April 6, 2014 at 1:57 am #

      Sorry to trouble you ~~~I read The making of English working class twice.I am preparing my undergraduate thesis about this book.I don`t know why I can`t download this thesis.Would you mind to help me ? My Gmail is
      lanqingyi517@gmail.com.

  29. David McInerney
    March 13, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    It is one of those books that I had been meaning to read properly for years.  I had read several of Thompson’s essays, and the odd chapter out of  this book, but it was only the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary that prompted me to read the whole book cover-to-cover, together with several of Thompson’s other books that I had previously only dipped into here and there, including The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, Whigs and Hunters, Albion’s Fatal Tree, and Customs in Common. Much of what I thought I knew about this texts from commentaries on them was overturned in the process.  I strongly recommend that everyone from the Marxist tradition take the time this year to read these books carefully.

  30. Tony Simpson
    June 8, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    I re-read in 2012 in preparation for a visit to Athens to mark the 200th anniversary of Byron’s one and only speech in the House of Lords, in defence of the framework knitters of Nottinghamshire, where he lived. They broke selected frames in an attempt to defend their livelihoods, assisted by one ‘Ned Ludd’, and the government of the day proposed to make such actions chargeable as capital offences. Byron spoke out against this, but lost the vote. Edward tells the framework knitters story with great empathy, even managing one small reference to the good Lord of Newstead Abbey. This was much appreciated by the Byron League in Vyronos, that part of Athens named after George Gordon. My first reading was in the 1970s.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. E.P. Thompson y La formación de la clase obrera, cincuenta años después | Historia Global Online - May 16, 2012

    [...] artículo fue publicado como: The Making of the English Working Class Fifty Years On en History Workshop Online (Mayo 2, [...]

  2. Självskapad arbetarklass | Svensson - December 29, 2012

    [...] UMich, Counterfire, Understanding Society, THE, Z-space, Resolute Reader, NYT, Goodreads1, 2, 3, 4, HWO, MbT, Socialist [...]

  3. EP Thompson: the unconventional historian | Book Reviews and Ideas - March 7, 2013

    [...] towering above it all remains The Making, with its preface so memorably declaring the book’s intention “to rescue the poor [...]

  4. E.P. Thompson: La Formación… cumple cincuenta años | Clionauta: Blog de Historia - April 11, 2013

    [...] del congreso que coordina Antoinette Burton en Illinois para noviembre y del volumen especial que prepara la History Workshop Journal sobre “The Making at Fifty”. Dicho lo cual, así se expresa [...]

  5. History Workshop Journal Issue 76 | History Workshop - October 25, 2013

    […] This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, first published by Victor Gollancz in 1963. Inspirational for some, provocative and controversial for others, the book was a wellspring for social historians. The conversation about The Making of the English Working Class was started on History Workshop Online and it has generated many wonderful comments. The online debate is still open at http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/the-making-of-the-english-working-class-fifty-years-on/ […]

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