Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Writing Reconsidering Chartism




When I retired it was my intention to write a book on Chartism…one volume that distilled much of my teaching of the subject into a narrative history of the movement. That was ten years ago and it’s only now that I have managed to complete what started as one volume into a series of six books.  The reason for the delay was that I side-tracked myself into other projects that were to inform my later volumes on Chartism.  So a book that looked at rebellions in Canada, South Wales and Australia, my Three Rebellions grew into the Rebellion Trilogy with the addition of Famine, Fenians and Freedom 1840-1882 and Resistance and Rebellion in the British Empire, 1600-1980 that were finished by 2011 though the final volume was not published until early 2013.  These books in turn were in 2012 and 2013 expanded into Rebellion in Canada 1837-1885, ‘A Peaceable Kingdom’: Essays on Nineteenth Century Canada and Settler Australia, 1780-1880. Parallel to this I had been working on six Kindle books on Nineteenth Century British Society and a synoptic volume Coping with Change: British Society, 1780-1914 and Sex, Work and Politics: Women in Britain, 1830-1914 and a second edition covering 1780-1945, on translations and commentaries of some medieval texts and Breaking the Habit: A Life of History, a book combining some autobiographical musing with essays on history in education.  Never one to use one word when I can use a paragraph—according to one of my students—these are substantial pieces of work;  Coping with Change, for instance, comes in at over 700 pages.   Some of this work represented a break from Chartism, an interlude in a project that lasted nearly four years from beginning to end. 

The delay in getting down to the Chartism series actually proved to be advantageous.  Researching and writing the other series meant that I allowed myself time to think about how best to approach the movement.  My conclusion was that it needed four volumes.  One of my major concerns about existing books on Chartism was that its context was, at best, condensed into an opening, often short, chapter.  So, yes there needed to be a contextual volume.  Since I had been involved in the early 1970s in the Local History Classroom project, an innovative and very early project on using computers in the classroom, I had developed a view of history as a continuum from local to national to global—what I called ‘a micro-macro approach’ and this view called for three volumes on Chartism from local, national and global perspectives.  That was the plan which, for a variety of reasons, was modified as the research and writing progressed.  Four volumes became six and 850,000 words.

31 December 2013:
100,339 words
22 May 2014: 177,875 words
9 July 2015: 141,158 words
13 December 2015: 143,452 words
10 January 2016: 241,015 words
1 July 2016: 134,879 words

Having worked out what I planned to do, the next step was to make decisions about research approaches.  Getting to research libraries and archives proved an impossibility as I was the sole carer 24/7 for my wife.  This meant that I had to rely on material on the Internet that I could access at home such as the British Newspaper Archives, the National Archives online, EthOS, Google Books and so on.  Fortunately, I have an extensive collection of material on Chartism that I have accumulated over several decades. 

I started writing the first volume in May 2013 so it has taken just over three years to complete.  There was little problem with the first two volumes but it was the volume on Chartism from a local perspective that proved most challenging.  My decision to include discussion of the nature of radical politics in the decades before Chartism was established in each chapter meant that a single volume would have been too long.  So I divided the subject into two--the first dealing with London and the South; the second on The North, Scotland, Wales and Ireland—and then produced an abridged version The Chartists, Regions and Economies.  The final volume effectively examines the global impact of Chartism and also considers some of the themes than run through the remainder of the series—the historiography of the movement, Chartist leadership, women, radicalism and Chartism, the state and Chartism and how Chartism has been memorialised. 

This volume completes the Reconsidering Chartism series. What began as a plan for four books—context, national narrative, local narrative and global history—expanded into six volumes . While these books, in their printed and Kindle manifestations, form my most considered examination of Chartism, whether they are my last word on the subject is possible but I suspect unlikely. I keep being drawn back to the issues raised by O’Connor, Lovett and the like and by the political challenges faced by the working-classes in the decades round the mid-nineteenth century.

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