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50 years of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class

50 years of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class

24 April 2013

Maxine Peake and Christopher Eccleston reading extracts

The People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library held a special event to commemorate fifty years of continuous print of the historian EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class on Saturday 13 April 2013.

Held at the museum in Manchester, we opted for a mix of speakers to draw in as wide a range of people as we could.  The idea was to, first, try to account for the longevity of the event, and here Alex Hutton of Darwin College, Cambridge, and retired Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) tutor Julian Harber talked about the book and the man.  After this the broadcaster, and, according to the Times, ‘national treasure’ Stuart Maconie gave his take on how to define class in our modern times.  We were then blessed to be able to welcome Maxine Peake who read the first of several short extracts from the book.  It had not been announced that Maxine would be attending because we could not be sure she would be able to fit us in to her filming schedule.  Back to short academic papers, and retired lecturer John Halstead, and Sian Moore from the University of Western England talked respectively on class and gender.  The union grandee Rodney Bickerstaffe then talked about how the book had reinforced his ideas about class and society.  Before lunch we were blessed even further to be able to welcome Christopher Eccleston for another reading from the text.  Christopher had travelled up from London that morning just for us, and was to travel back again but not before having a quick cup of tea with his mum!

Maxine and Christopher read again from the text in the afternoon.  After lunch, Professor Adrian Randall of the University of Birmingham gave the keynote address (‘the graveyard slot’ he called it, since we had all eaten well!), talking about the broader public understanding of the book.  Then an academic trio, John Bohstedt of the University of Tennessee, Richard Sheldon of the University of Birmingham, and Matthew Roberts from Sheffield Hallam University, talked about riots, the ‘moral economy’, Luddism and corruption, showing how little some things had changed.

The day concluded with an address by Kevin Morgan of the University of Manchester about where labour history goes from here, with three younger academics, Katrina Navickas of the University of Hertfordshire, Matthew Worley of the University of Reading, and Peter Gurney of the University of Essex, giving their take on where historians should go from here.

The day was a sell out, with 120 people in our Engine Hall.  We had stalls by the WEA, second hand book sales, and in our shop signed copies of Stuart Maconie’s books.  A marvellous day.

Craig Horner, People’s History Museum

  • Take your opportunity to listen again to some of the readings.