Social History/'new History' New History Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 10
  • Subject: Sociology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #66673166

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Another important theorist and historian was Eric Hobsbawm, who was well-known and respected for his work on the history of British labor movement. These and other theorists, particularly those who dealt with the history of the labor movement in the country, provided the groundwork and the historical insight that was to lead to the later more widespread acceptance of multiculturalism and social history

In Britain therefore the Marxist historians and theorists provided an important part of the foundational structure of modern multicultural history. The importance of Marxism for social history is relatively easy to discern. Marxism is essentially an analysis and a critique of the structure of the ruling capitalist elite and privileged classes and this theoretical stance emphasizes the historical reality of the ordinary individual and worker in society. This can be seen in the title of Friedrich Engels' work, the Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)

Historians like Thompson, while they used the analysis and standpoints of the Marxists, were however not mere political promulgators of this theory. "Thompson and Hobsbawm brought far more than the usual Marxist theoretical dogma to their work, displaying considerable sensitivity to the lives of ordinary people, discovering some genuine working class heroes, and colouring their work in warm romantic hues." (Windschuttle, 2000, 22)

Historians like Thompson therefore created a history of the English people that transcended political and sociological interpretation and identified the groundwork of what was to become known as 'history from below." As Windschuttle states, while is it is true that by the late 1980's the theories of Marxism, at least in their fundamental form, had lost much of their appeal and academic popularity, yet the methodology and the style of historical research that had been initiated by historians like Thompson served to include a wider range of topics and subjects, as well as sociological and political elements into historical research and writing. (Windschuttle, "The Problem of Democratic History," 22) This led to the concept of "history form below' becoming mainstream as well as to the inclusion of the importance of multiculturalism into this form of thinking about history. Windschuttle goes on to provide a very crisp and incisive overview of the type of writing that was to result from the work of these historians. He describes the fundamental impetus of 'history from below; as; an examination of vast dimensions of the human experience heretofore unnoticed. Why should a democratic people dedicated to equality not applaud the attention now given to the roles in history of women...working people, religious & nominations, and other groups relatively powerless in the formal political sense?

Windschuttle, "The Problem of Democratic History," 22)

Therefore this stance is in a broad sense a theoretical standpoint that seeks to expose the biases of a mono-culturalism and in its analysis and historical description to take account of the multicultural and multivalent structure of society. In other words, this movement in historical thought takes cognizance of the various levels of class and culture that has previously been ignored in mainstay historical research. This included the histories of immigrant to the country such as influx of Asian and Pakistani workers as well as other ethnic and racial minorities that formed part of the complex structure and substructure of the society. These were histories that in the view of "new history "... deserved to be uncovered and made known" (Brecher). In short this contemporary form of history was intimately involved with the history of other cultures and subcultures in the society. "The movement for history from below has challenged not only the elitist conception of who history is about, but also elitist notions of who history who should do history and who it should be for" (Brecher). For example in England, "...thousands of people have participated in local "history workshops" which explore the history for particular neighborhoods" (Brecher).

There are a number of other theorists and historians who should be included in the development and writing of histories from below. One could include Rodney Hilton and Christopher Hill in this respect. As Kaye (1983) states: "...they have taken seriously the historical experiences, actions and struggles of the 'lower classes or orders,' recovering the past which was actively made by them but not written by them" (Kaye 168). For example on the work of Hilton there is the recognition that the peasant class experience in Britain has not just been economic or political but that there as a further depth and range of experience of these people that had not been adequate recorded or historically researched. Hilton (1975) for example stated that "...medieval peasantries must be understood not only as "peasantries" but in the context of the institutions and culture of medieval feudal society" (Hilton 13).

The above views of calls and multiculturalism has led to the conception of "total history' where the hidden and complex ramification of various classes and cultures in the society is explored beyond the common range of conventional history that is written ' from the top down." Another instance is that in Hilton's work, the English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages, in addition to the 'peasantry as a class' discussion, "...there are discussions of village social structure, peasant economy, women in the village, and the small town as part of peasant society" (Kaye 168). The discourse between this form of history and the investigation of biased structures of society and forms of cultural oppression were to follow as a consequence of this form of historical research. The focus was no longer on history according to the view of the 'oppressors' but rather a history of the "oppressed'. (Hilton and Fagan, 9)


In conclusion it should be noted that the "new history" and the stance that takes its point of departure from 'below" in Britain owes much to the earlier Marxist historians. These historians are in fact seen as the "progenitors" of contemporary "history from below." (Kaye 182) Given this legacy in the British context it is not surprising that much of the historical research has been focused on the marginalized and disenfranchised cultures and sections of the population.

For example there has been a great deal of research on the Asian and Pakistan immigration to the country. After the Second World War there was a large scale immigration of Muslims from various counties including North Africa to Britain. The central reason for this was the need in Britain for cheap industrial labor and they "...turned towards their former colonies in South Asia and North Africa to fill labour shortages... (What perspectives for Islam and Muslims in Europe?) Research into this area has produced numerous studies dealing with the prejudice and the alienation that these immigrants experienced. This type of research clearly shows the link and the connection between 'history from below' and multiculturalism and also suggests that these two concepts are inextricably intertwinwed in this new approach to history. While there are many detractors and critics of this new historical approach, there are also many who see 'new history' as advancing the aims of the discipline. As Gaskill (2000) states;

Social historians of early modern England have achieved a great deal in the last thirty years. The world we had lost has been regained, extended, and much of it explained. We now understand in detail England's huge expansion and diversification of population and economy in this period, accompanied by momentous shifts in many areas of life: social structure, community, the family, kinship, literacy, religion, labour, poverty and disease to name but a few.

Gaskill 4)

There is therefore little doubt that the writing of 'history from below' provides a much-needed and important part of historical research and discourse in contemporary scholarship.

Works Cited

Brecher J. History From Below: How to Uncover and Tell the Story of Your

Community, Association, or Union. 3 June 2007.

Gaskill, Malcolm. Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Questia. 3 June 2007

Harrison R. History from below: approaches to the study of social history.

June 2007

Hill, Christopher. The English Revolution: 1640. London: Lawrence & Wishart.1940

Hilton, Rodney, and H. Fagan. The English Rising of 1381. London: Lawrence & Wishart.1950

Kaye, Harvey J. "History and Social Theory: Notes on the Contribution of British Marxist Historiography to Our Understanding of Class." Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 20.2 (1983): 167-192. Questia. 3 June 2007


Nelson, Michael. "History, Meet Politics." The American Prospect 18 June 2001: 36. Questia. 3 June 2007

What perspectives for Islam and Muslims in Europe? 3 June 2007.

Wickham, Chris. "Rodney Hilton." History Today Sept. 2002: 6+. Questia. 3 June 2007


Windschuttle, Keith. "The Problem of Democratic History." New Criterion June 1998: 22. Questia. 3 June 2007


Windschuttle, Keith. "Rewriting the History of the British Empire." New Criterion May 2000: 5. Questia. 3 June 2007

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