Amazon.co.uk Trade-In Store
Did you know you can trade in your unwanted old books for an Amazon.co.uk Gift Card? This offer is available on thousands of titles--visit the Books Trade-In Store for more details. Learn more.
In the foreword to Histories of Labour Eric Hobsbawm, a founding members of the Society for the Study of Labour History and one of Britain's most eminent historians, describes how British labour history was, for a time, the most globally influential in its field. According to Hobsbawm, Labour history was a product of the intellectual ferment of the 1950s when older forms of Marxism were questioned. As such labour history was essentially an attempt to use historical reflection as a means of finding `a way forward in left politics'. Labour history chimed with the times, it was hip during the heady days of the 1960s when the working class novels, drama and music were similarly lauded. During the 1960s and 1970s history from the perspective of the people not the ruling classes was fashionable both inside and outside the academy. So much so that British Labour history produced innovative contributions to social and labour history that were globally significant. Many of the most influential historians of the period (Asa Briggs, John Saville, Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, Royden Harrison etc) and the most interesting historical debates were in the arena of labour and social history. To take the most famous example, E. P. Thompson's The making of the English working class (1963) raised the poor handloom weaver from the condescension of history and in doing so won over a generation of historians to the perspective of `history from below'. In all this, as John McIlroy's chapter demonstrates, the Society for the Study of Labour History played an important role.
Histories of Labour, which was commissioned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Society, considers the impact of labour history since the 1960s to the present day. It is the first comprehensive book to consider labour history in a global framework detailing what has been achieved to date and scoping out future directions for study. There are chapters on Britain, Ireland, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Germany, India and Japan. Its contributors are experts in the labour history of particular countries and number amongst their rank leading academics in the field. Each country is treated as a case study with overviews of key trends, thinkers and books along with an analysis of the key debates there. Besides the more traditional remit of labour historiography new conceptions of class, gender, ethnicity, culture, community and power are also considered. The discipline of labour history is also analyzed through both the institutional context of labour history societies, historical associations and journals and via links with the contemporary labour movement.
I would recommend this book for postgraduate students searching for a theoretical framework for their thesis or grappling with the key historiography of labour history. Indeed many influential debates within academic history in recent years began in the field of labour history (notably the post-modernist `linguistic turn' and the challenges to a class-based analysis of history) For this reason Histories of Labour should be considered for adoption as a key text for undergraduate and postgraduate modules dealing with historiography generally as well as on courses more specifically concerned with labour and social history. I certainly would have liked to have read Malcolm Chase and Joan Allen's clear explanation of the `linguistic turn' (pp. 72-5) when I started my doctorate. This book will also be relevant to those interested in working-class political parties and organisations, to students of trade unionism, industrial conflict and to social scientists interested in social and political protest, the relations between employers and the state and post-structuralism. Ironically, a book which by its very nature is historiographical (and thus at times theoretical) will have perhaps less appeal to the lay reader interested in the labour movement. This is a problem increasingly faced by the discipline as, in Britain at least, there is a danger that labour history is becoming more of the academy and less of the people. Yet this is a book that is worthy of a wide readership. Indeed to their credit the editors flag up this issue in the introductory chapter and promise to avoid the `dogmatic explication of the laws of social development and the dour adumbration of historical inevitability' (p. 9). The contributors certainly fulfil this promise indeed one of the strengths of this book is its lively, topical style and avoidance of dogmatism.Read more ›