Saturday, 30 September 2017

Coming Soon

From the introduction:

The golden age of research into the Chartist Movement began in the late 1950s and came to an end in the mid-1980s. The publication of A.R. Schoyen’s The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney (1958) and Asa Briggs ed. Chartist Studies (1959) ushered in this highly productive period. Schoyen set the template for writing the biography of a Chartist. Briggs’ collection set in motion a process of bringing out local studies which within a decade-and-half had left virtually no town or region unexamined. The debate about nature of the movement begun by Gareth Stedman Jones’ lead essay in James Epstein and Dorothy Thompson’s The Chartist Experience (1982) and the appearance of Thompson’s own long-awaited single volume study The Chartists (1984) brought an effective end to this golden era. That is not to say that over the last thirty years interesting and important books and articles on Chartism have not appeared. Undeniably they have; but they have tended to complete long-recognised needs – a thorough and reliable narrative history or biographies of such leading figures as Ernest Jones and Bronterre O’Brien – rather than set out new approaches as earlier work had.

The Chartist Legacy (1999) exemplified the fragmentation of Chartist studies. Whereas the earlier volumes edited by Briggs and Epstein and Thompson had originated in, respectively, a shared intention to explore the localities or address a set of questions formulated at two weekend seminars at Thompson’s country house, the editors of this volume gave contributors a free hand to write about whatever they wanted and did not even ask them to consider the implications of the book’s title. The years after the mid-1980s might have seen scholars setting off to explore the small caverns of Chartism, but enough was being produced to merit a follow-up to the bibliography of the movement that appeared in 1978. This second volume, which I co-edited with Owen Ashton and Robert Fyson in 1995, not only listed all these new publications but also collected together a vast array of the manuscript sources to be found in the archives. The publication was celebrated with the largest spread of cream cakes at any gathering of Chartists or Chartist scholars, courtesy of Staffordshire University.

The present volume is intended as a supplement to The Chartist Movement: A New Annotated Bibliography. There is no overlap and it lists only material located or published since 1995. It will be seen that only a small amount of new manuscript material has been unearthed in the last two decades – of which the petitions on behalf of the leaders of the Newport rising in the Home Office papers in the National Archives are the most important. Similarly, most of the pamphlet and periodical literature is listed in the earlier biographies – though, after the disappointment of concluding that a copy of the much sought-after Shakespearean Chartist Hymn Book of the Leicester Chartists had not survived, the discovery of a Chartist hymn book from a few years later has proved to be an exciting substitute.

The number of postgraduate theses relating to Chartism produced in the last twenty years is instructive. Whereas, we were able to list 132 theses presented between 1978 and 1995, this book lists only 36 theses presented between 1995 and 2018. If Chartism is not exerting the magnetic pull on postgraduate students that it once did, those who have got the bug have continued to be extremely productive. Local studies have not entirely disappeared, with the Chartists of Ashton-under-Lyne, in a series of essays by Robert Hall, revealing much of interest about the movement. Literary scholars continue to analyse the poetry and fiction of the Chartists, and have shown signs of moving away from such favoured writers as Ernest Jones and Gerald Massey. There have also been early steps in new directions – including a growing interest in how satirical magazines presented the Chartists and in the mapping of Chartist meetings. The Chartist Movement may not feature as prominently as it once did in sixth form and undergraduate courses, but, in the twenty-first century, this impressive expression of the defiance and optimism of working people in the second quarter of the nineteenth century continues to fascinate.

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