Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New study of EP Thompson

I have just finished reading The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics a highly readable new study by Scott Hamilton of Reading the Maps fame. I can happily and heartily recommend it to readers of Histomat as a fine companion volume to Thompson's The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (1978). Hamilton's work comes with what now reads as a rather poignant recommendation from the late socialist historian and EP Thompson's partner, Dorothy Thompson, and overall I found it a fascinating introduction to Thompson the thinker and writer - someone who I didn't know before now was given cricket lessons by Nehru while a boy. Personally would have liked a little more on Thompson the great Marxist historian, but I am aware that would have probably meant a different book - and in any case, myself and Hamilton had a little debate about Thompson and Marxist historiography about five years ago - a debate I am not sure either of us feel the compulsion to return to just now. Many congratulations anyway to Scott on the publication of his homage to EPT.

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At 8:56 am, Blogger maps said...

Thanks Snowball. You're quite right about the book's relatively brief treatments of Thompson's historical work - in a way, a lot hinges on the proposition that there is a unity to his work, whether it is political, literary, or historical. Most writers on Thompson have neglected the political and literary stuff in favour of the historical, reasoning that the histories are the works which are most valuable. If the Thompson oeuvre is unified by some key ideas and preoccupations, though, the seemingly ephemeral political stuff and the apparently lightweight poems might provide insights into masterpieces like The Making of the English Working Class.

There's certainly a good deal more which could be written about Thompson, despite the embargo on his papers at the Bodleian library. A group of Thompson's former colleagues at the University of Leeds want to produce a book him: I hope they are able to bring it off, because he left quite a few documents, including a 10,000 word polemic, in the archives at Leeds!

At 3:37 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Thanks Scott - and for clarifying more what your work aims to do - I agree with you about seeing EPT in toto rather than simply as a 'historian', and think your work effectively demonstrates the unity underlying his life and work.

Have emailed you btw...

At 9:37 am, Blogger maps said...

My apologies for not replying to that e mail: the forces of technology have launched a sustained revolt against me, and are currently preventing me from using either my e mail or my blog properly. My instinctive primitivism is only being reinforced by this naked display of robo-chauvinism. You might enjoy hearing your old mate Carey Davies talking about the good old days in Leeds circa 2003 in this somewhat drunken interview:

At 8:16 pm, Anonymous Scott said...

Gave your own site and work a plug on RTM last week, Christian. You might be interested - well, I would certainly be interested - in any parallels that can be located between the experiences of the most wretched bounded labourers - those bounded labourers who are, too all intents and purposes, slaves - in the Carribean and in the Pacific during the second half of the nineteenth century:

At 1:21 am, Anonymous David McInerney said...

I've recently finished reading the book in preparation to write a review article on it for Historical Materialism journal and agree with the comments regarding the value of the book and its focus. Personally I would have liked to have seen some more investigation of the debates around Whigs and Hunters as that directly preceded, and seems to have had considerable impact upon Thompson's subsequent interventions on theory. There is some discussion of it - notably some perceptive comments on the response from Perry Anderson and the ways in which The Poverty of Theory reframed the section on the rule of law in W&H - but I would have liked a little more on that. That said, clearly a case could be made for the inclusion of more on a number of topics, for example the papers on Raymond Williams, but overall the book is an excellent read and will no doubt provide the basis for a reassessment of Thompson's interventions in Marxist theory and their relation to what seems to have been a retreat from that terrain in the 1980s.


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