5 celebrations of the Making of the English Working Class and counting...

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the first edition of E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1963).

As far as I am aware, there are at least half a dozen events/workshops/colloquia/conferences celebrating the anniversary. I keep getting invited to them, and at this point, I have to start declining them as
a) no one wants to hear me talk five or six times, and
b) I don't want to end up saying the same thing five or six times.

The continual stream of invitations and notifications makes me wonder whether it would better serve the purpose if there was just one giant conference.

But on the other hand, having lots of little regional events, each with its own theme and its own local as well as academic audience, is perhaps more appropriate. All the different events are testimony to the type of influence Thompson had. His work had such a sense of place, and much of The Making is rooted in a regional approach, especially focusing on the Spen and Calder valleys in which he spent much of his time teaching for the WEA [see my review of Luke Fowler's film in an earlier post]. Many of the commemoration events are open to the general public, whom I am sure will attend in their droves.

I first caught sight of a tattered Penguin copy of The Making (the revised 1968 edition) on the desk of my history teacher at secondary school. It was always at his right hand, like a bible [indeed, probably instead of the Bible]. We studied radicalism and the Luddites and the industrial revolution for A-level, and he encouraged us to pick up the book and immerse ourselves in its stories as well as its polemic. And now, when teaching and researching, I continue the tradition of my history teacher, with a battered Penguin copy, the front cover with that striking image from Walker's Costume of Yorkshire hanging off its spine, at my right hand.

my 1968 edition

on the Luddites. A Penguin paperback that deserves annotation and marginalia

the key bit about class as a cultural process as much as an economic structure

I will do some more pondering about why The Making retains its influence and standing in a way that no other book from that era has done. But in the meantime, here's the list of (confirmed) events (with more to come):

  • People's History Museum, Manchester, Sat 13 April, 10am-4.30pm
  • Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, 11 May, Labour History Research Unit and Victorian Studies Centre, Saffron Walden
  • University of Burgundy, Dijon, session at the International Association for Strikes and Social Conflicts conference, 16-18 May 
  • Harvard University, Cambridge MA, 3-5 Oct, 'The Global E. P. Thompson: Reflections on the Making of the English Working Class after Fifty Years'
  • Square Chapel, Halifax, Society for the Study of Labour History, Sat 16 November
with more to be confirmed...

and there'll most likely be much discussion of Thompson at workshop 3 of my New Approaches to the History of Protest series, Sat 2 March, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham. For more details, see the website: http://protesthistory.org.uk/
Thompson will no doubt be mentioned at some point at the Radical York commemorations of the execution of the Yorkshire Luddites this Saturday at York Guild Hall and Castle.

Postscript: Taking these photos has underscored the materiality of the book for me.

In my research I use google.co.uk/books a lot - it's so much easier to find that reference I remembered from a book I read a few years back, and to discover a cross-reference to a new book I haven't seen yet. Using digitised books makes it so much easier than the physical pile of books on the library desk, not having to wait for them to come from the stacks. Yet, despite my 'digital humanism', I still need those yellowed and annotated pages of the Penguin paperback to really get to the heart of Thompson's writing. A copy on a screen, though much easier to search, still misses something, and indeed I miss the important contextual and descriptive elements of it, if I key word search for a particular term.


  1. Wonderful to hear about all the events going on this year. Manchester and Halifax are pleasingly appropriate; Dijon is a nice surprise.

    Thanks too for sharing a bit about your copy of EPT's MEWC. As I said in a post over at the Monster, I think I probably find myself reaching for Thompson’s Customs in Common (1991) more often than MEWC, yet I’m still strangely comforted to have a decent edition of the latter nearby.

    - Brodie


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