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Summary: Radical and labour movements in Britain (late 18th & 19th century); Agrarianism and land reform (late 18th to 20th century); The history of environmentalism (mid-20th century);
I graduated in History from the University of York in 1978, and then from Sussex University (MA in Modern European Social History, 1979, and DPhil, 1984). In 1981-82 I was a tutor in History at the University of Exeter. I then joined the University of Leeds, to work at an adult education centre that the University ran in Middlesbrough. I taught at the centre and in many localities across Teesside and North Yorkshire. In 1994 I transferred to the University's main campus, but continued to specialise in adult education as a member of the School of Continuing Education (where, among other things, I was the Chair, 2002-05).
I joined the School of History in 2005. It is a great place for a specialist in British social, and local and regional, history. The Brotherton Library is one of the very best in the UK for these fields, and elsewhere in Leeds and Yorkshire there are many major resources for historical research.
I am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
My longest-established research interest is in radical agrarianism (i.e. ideas about the distribution of landed property and proposals for its redistribution) in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. I continue occasionally to publish in this field but my main interests are now in the labour movement and radical politics generally during the same period. I am particularly interested in protest movements and parliamentary reform, especially Chartist movement. Adjunct interests are in the history of environmentalism in Britain, and Yorkshire local and regional history.
Le chartisme. Aux origines du mouvement ouvrier britannique (1838-1858), French translation of Chartism: A New History (2007), Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013, 470pp
1820: disorder and stability in the United Kingdom , 1st edition ( Manchester : Manchester UP, 2013), x+247pp
‘The “local state” in Regency Britain’, The Local Historian 43:4 (October 2013), pp. 266-78
'Le tournant biographique de l’histoire ouvrière et sociale', Matériaux pour l'histoire de notre temps 104-5 (2012)
'Exporting the Owenite Utopia: Thomas Powell and the Tropical Emigration Society', in Robert Owen and His Legacy. Editors: Williams C, Thompson N. (University of Wales Press, 2011)
'Twentieth-century labour histories', in New Directions in Local History since Hoskins. Editors: Dyer C, Hopper A, Lord E, Tringham N. (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2011)
'Rethinking Welsh Chartism’, Llafur: journal of Welsh people's history 10:3 (2011)
'The Chartist movement and 1848', in John Saville: Commitment and History: Themes from the Life and Work of a Socialist Historian. Editors: Howell, Kirby, Morgan. (Lawrence & Wishart, 2010)
'"Resolved in defiance of fool and of knave"?: Chartism, children and conflict', in Conflict and Difference in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Editors: Birch D, Llewellyn M. (Palgrave, 2010)
[jointly with joan Allen], 'Great Britain, 1750-1900', in Histories of Labour: National and Transnational Perspectives. Editors: Allen J, Campbell A, McIlroy J. (Merlin Press, 2010)
'Unemployment without protest: the ironstone mining communities of East Cleveland in the inter-war period', in Unemployment and Protest: New Perspectives on Two Centuries of Contention. Editors: Reiss M, Perry M. (OUP 2010)
'"Labour's Candidates": Chartist challenges at the parliamentary polls, 1839-60', Labour History review 74:1 (2009)
'"The original to the life': portraiture and the Northern Star", in Picture and Press in the Nineteenth Century: The Lure of Illustration. Editors: Brake L, Demoor M. (Palgrave, 2009)
'Digital Chartists: Online Resources for the Study of Chartism', Journal of Victorian Culture 14:2 (2009)
Current Research Project
Self improvement, popular reform and the public good, c. 1848-1884
Popular self-improvement was integral to the increasing class conciliation that underpinned parliamentary reform from 1867. So too was widening participation in local electoral politics. Both were fields where the residual influence of Chartism was paramount. This project will therefore appraise currents of reform in relation to Chartism’s democratisation of culture. This process crucially included the emergence of a popular market for non-fiction (particularly among women) which powerfully shaped ideas about gender roles, public good and private virtue. This project will offer a significant re-evaluation of factors shaping politics, culture and class relations in mid-Victorian Britain , centred upon the 1867 Reform Act.
My first book, The People's Farm: English Radical Agrarianism, 1775-1840 (Oxford UP, 1988) is a study of the political thought and influence of the agrarian reformer Thomas Spence (1750-1814). An updated paperback edition of this book was recently issued by Breviary. I have continued to publish shorter pieces on Spence and those he influenced and I am contributing to initiatives in France and Britain marking the 200th anniversary of his death in 2014.
Believing agrarianism to be significant means that I am sceptical about conventional approaches to labour history that see the labour movement mainly as part of a narrative of modernisation, through its response to 'the industrial revolution'. Ideas about land reform were a vital part of the British labour movement well into the twentieth century. Similarly, the mentality of early British trade unions owed a great deal to forms of workers' association and ideas about skill that significantly pre-dated the eighteenth century. This was one of the arguments of my second book, Early Trade Unionism: Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour (Ashgate, 2000), also republished by Breviary.
My best known book is Chartism: A New History (Manchester UP, 2007), a French translation of which was published in 2013. The Chartist movement has long been, and remains, one of my central interests. See also http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/699. Most recently I have returned to the latter part of the ‘long eighteenth century’ to investigate political disorder and social stability during 1820 (a year of European revolution) in a new book, 1820: disorder and stability in the United Kingdom (Manchester UP, 2013).
- Chair of the Social History Society
- Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Labour History
Member of the Editorial Board of Cultural & Social History
Member of the Editorial Board of Llafur: the Journal of Welsh People’s History
- Formerly Editor of Labour History Review
- Formerly Honorary Editor for the Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society
Member of the judging panel for the Yorkshire History Prize
I am also the archivst for the York Musical Society (http://www.yorkmusicalsociety.org.uk/), one of the oldest musical society in England
I welcome enquiries from potential postgraduate students in appropriate areas of modern social history, especially nineteenth century popular politics; radicalism, and northern history.
Current research students
- Josie Freear - How and why did the British diet change in the twentieth century and what was the role of M&S within this? (joint supervisor with Professor Richard Whiting)
- John Shaw - Demographic change in a West Yorkshire settlement during the Nineteenth Century, based upon the analysis of Census Returns between 1840 and 1901 (joint supervisor with Professor Simon Green)
- Laura Harrison - Courtship, leisure and space in York, c. 1880-1920
Priscilla Truss - Primitive Methodism on the Yorkshire Wolds (joint supervisor with Professor Simon Green)
James Dean - The 1842 'general strike' in Yorkshire
Graham Rawson - The outdoor-poor of Leeds, 1829-1851
Nathan Bend - Foundations of radicalism in Pennine textiles communities, c. 1816-1837
Simon Clark - Power and the pint: the political influence of pub landlords in Victorian Middlesbrough c.1829 - 1900
Past research students
- David Bentley: Capital Punishment in Northern England 1750-1870 (MA by research, 2008).
- Mike Brennan - Civic and municipal leadership: a study of three northern towns, 1837-67
- Agharad Houlden - Education as a site of tension between parents and the State, 1870-1914 (MA by Research, 2010 - jointly supervised with Professor Katrina Honeyman)
- Janette Martin - Popular Political Oratory and Itinerant lecturing in Yorkshire and the North-East in the age of Chartism (c.1837-60) (PhD, 2010 - White Rose Graduate Studentship - jointly supervised with Professors Miles Taylor [Institute of Historical Research] and Colin Divall [University of York])
- Simon Walker - ‘Sadlerian Tories’? Christianity, constitutionalism, paternalism and protectionism in the factory reform and anti-poor law movements, c. 1830-1847 (MA by Research, 2013)
- Primary Sources for the Historian: An Introduction to Documentary Study (HIST1300)
- Environment and Environmentalism in Britain, c. 1750-1972 (HIST2120)
- Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour, 1660-1870 (HIST2121)
- Chartism: popular politics and authority in northern England, 1838-1858 (HIST3300)
- Memories: autobiographies and memoirs as historical sources (HIST3470)
I owe a great debt to the students who have taken my modules. Their energy and enthusiasm continually throws up new perspectives, and it's great to have one's ideas subjected to bracing scrutiny.
Outreach / Wider Community
- The People’s Charter of 1838: the Chartist legacy for parliamentary democracy: lecture at the Houses of Parliament for the All Party Parliamentary Group on History & Archives – during 2013 I worked closely with the Group on the commemoration of Chartism within Parliament. See the House of Commons Early Day Motion on Chartism and Parliament’s on-line exhibition ; also my article ‘History matters: recognising the Chartists’, History Today 63:11 (November 2013).
‘The “local state” in Regency Britain’: The Annual Lecture of the British Association for Local History (June 2013)
- Chartism in Barnsley: Barnsley UCU Branch Annual Public Lecture (January 2013)
Talk to mark the 200th anniversary of the Luddite executions at York Castle: York's Alternative History http://yorkalternativehistory.wordpress.com/ (January 2013)
Chartism and Huddersfield: Huddersfield Local History Society http://huddersfieldhistory.wordpress.com/events-2/(December 2012)
Exhibition opening: Salem Chapel and Chartist Exhibition Centre, Nantyglo and Blaina Charter Group http://www.chartistvisitorcentre.org.uk/ (November 2012)
Keynote lecture: 5th Newport Chartist Convention, http://chartist-ancestors.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/commemorating-chartism-events-in-south.html (November 2012)
'A social perspective': The North Riding in an age of Transition (1750-1820), British Association for Local History and Northallerton & District Local History Society (September 2012)
'Foul and malignant conspiracy': Northallerton & District Local History Society (May 2012)
Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society (2012)
Chartism in Essex: Essex Labour History Forum (2011)
Luddism: Huddersfield Local History Society (2011)
Printing and publishing in 1820: York Bibliographical Society (2011)
Keynote lecture: British Association for Local History's Local History Day, London (June 2013)
- 'Revising Chartism', Historical Association Nottingham branch (2011)
- 'Our brothers in the holy cause of freedom: British radical reactions to the Canadian Rebellions of 1837-8. Ian Dyck Memorial Lecture at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada in Autumn (2010)
- 'The Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor', Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery (where Feargus O'Connor's buried) and local history groups and trade unions (2009)
- 'Early Victorian Leeds Greatest Newspaper' (Leeds Metropolitan University, 'Talk About the North' public lecture series), (2009)
- Keynote address, 'Rethinking Welsh Chartism' to a study day organised by Llafur (the Welsh People's History Society), (2009)
- 'Trade Unionism and Chartism' for the Ford-Maguire Society of Leeds (2009)
- Lecture on 'The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser: Chartist pioneer of newspaper circulation wars', to the Thoresby Society, Leeds, February 2009
- James Bronterre O'Brien Oration for 2008 (London O'Brien Memorial Committee), June 2008
- 'Using Home Office Papers for local historical research', Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society, Middlesbrough (University of Teesside), March 2008
- 'Paine, Spence and the Real Rights of Man' (The Paine Memorial Lecture for 2008), Thomas Paine Society, London, March 2008
- 'Chartism's black activists', anti-slavery dayschool, Barnsley Trade Council Black & Ethnic Minorities Initiative, January 2008
I have often contributed to broadcasts on aspects of Chartism, for example
- ITV1’s 2013 series Britain’s Secret Houses on the Chartist Land Plan
- BBC Radio 4 broadcasts, on William Cuffay (2010) and Guerilla Gardeners (2010).
- Australian Broadcasting Company’s Isle of Denial (2011) on William Cuffay. Cuffay was a London trade unionist and Chartist, of West Indian slave descent, who was transported to Australia in 1849.