Back in 1978, a Swedish author-activist named Sven Lindqvist published a book called Dig Where You Stand. With the subtitle “How To Research A Job”, the book was an intricately detailed step by step guide to the mechanics of researching forgotten histories of manufacturing. But it was also a manifesto, a clarion call for a worker-centred, worker generated history, for working people to take control of their own history-making, wresting historical research out of the hands of “experts” – or more accurately, redefining what counts as expertise to begin with. The book’s call to “dig where you stand”, research your own immediate environment, the impact of your job on your life, on your body, had a pivotal impact across the globe on the burgeoning movement for community and workers’ histories, including the History Workshop movement. The latter impact was all the more remarkable given that the book was available in an English translation. The closest English-language readers could come to it was a summary Lindqvist published in the journal Oral History in 1979.
Now, 45 years on from its original publication, Dig Where You Stand has been published in English. It remains timely even now. As Catharina Thorn from the University of Gothenburg puts it in her blurb on the back cover: “Do not mistake this for an ordinary handbook or a dated analysis of working-class conditions. Lindqvist’s book shows with vivid clarity how capitalism permeates society, our homes, lungs, and children’s future. And yet, at the end, there is not despair and hopelessness but an empowering sense that things can and will be changed.”
In this episode we sat down in conversation with the two editors who brought the translated volume to life: Astrid von Rosen and Andrew Flinn. We discuss Sven Lindqvist and his remarkable history, the emergence of the book from the Swedish “dig” movement, its impact on workers’ history movements worldwide, and its continuing relevance even – perhaps especially – in the digital age.