Academic & Teaching staff
+44 (0)113 34 33183
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 the formative years of trade unionism, and the Chartist movement. Adjunct interests are in the history of environmentalism in Britain, and Teesside and Cleveland local history.
'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 Projects
My current project will be a book on the British Isles in 1820. Taking its cue from Shelley's famous sonnet England in 1819, this will seek to broaden our understanding of a year which is generally seen from the narrow perspective of the consequences of 'Peterloo' and George IV's infamous divorce of Queen Caroline. Although these two events were of obvious significance, I want to explore the wider world of popular culture and politics in this momentous year: these included the Cato Street Conspiracy (to assassinate the Cabinet) and serious unrest in Scotland (which the predominantly Anglo-centric narrative of nineteenth-century British history too-often ignores). Equally importantly, though, the book will analyse the conditions that inclined the British Isles to social and political stability at a time when, ostensibly, the political establishment faced the sternest test of its authority since the French Revolution. My hope is that the book may also offer something of a response, from the perspective of historical studies, to James Chandler's acclaimed contribution to the 'return to history' in literary studies, England in 1819 (1998). I was awarded an Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellowship to complete this book, which will be published by Manchester University Press in 2013.
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 on Spence and those he influenced, for example in contributions to the Dictionary of Labour Biography, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and, most recently, the British Library's Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism. These also link to an abiding interest in life-writing and autobiography. In 1994 I edited The Life and Literary Achievements of Allen Davenport, an important early Victorian working-class autobiography, by an early socialist and Chartist. Davenport's Life was published in 1845 but it was long-thought lost. However, a copy was discovered in - of all places - Nashville, Tennessee, in 1983.
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. While the term 'trade union' was coined in the mid-nineteenth century, it is possible to trace trade unionist ideas as far back as the seventeenth century and even earlier. This was one of the arguments of my second book, Early Trade Unionism: Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour (Ashgate, 2000), also now republished by Breviary.
My most recent book is Chartism: A New History (Manchester UP, 2007), completion of which was made possible by AHRC-funded research leave in 2005-2006. The book did not quite take twenty years to write (as a couple of reviewers thought!) but it did emerge from a sustained interest in what, in effect, was Britain's formative civil rights movement. I published a case study of Chartism on Teesside as long ago as 1988 (in Northern History, volume 24). Subsequently I explored the agrarian aspects of Chartism through two articles in English Historical Review (1991 and 2003) and a chapter contributed to Living and Learning: Essays in Honour of J. F. C. Harrison (1996), a festschrift I co-edited with the late Ian Dyck. A French translation of Chartism: A New History will be published in 2013. See also http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/699.
- Chair of the Social History Society
- Secretary to the Management Committee of Northern History
Member of the Editorial Board of Cultural & Social History - http://www.bergpublishers.com/?TabId=522
Member of the Editorial Board of Llafur: the Journal of Welsh People’s History - http://www.llafur.org/journal.htm
- Formerly Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour 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/), founded 1765 and arguably the oldest musical society in England
I welcome enquiries from potential postgraduate students in appropriate 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)
- Mike Brennan - Civic and municipal leadership: a study of three northern towns, 1837-67
- 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
- Simon Walker - Radical Toryism
Priscilla Truss - Primitive Methodism on the Yorkshire Wolds (joint supervisor with Professor Simon Green)
James Dean - The 1842 'general strike' in Yorkshire
Past research students
- David Bentley: Capital Punishment in Northern England 1750-1870 (MA by research, 2008). Following a distinguished legal career, Dr Bentley undertook this research as a retirement project, which he is now pursuing further as a writer for the popular local history market.
- Angharad Houlden - Education as a site of tension between parents and the State, 1870-1914 (MA by Research, 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) (White Rose Graduate Studentship - jointly supervised with Professors Miles Taylor [Institute of Historical Research] and Colin Divall [University of York])
- 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
- 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
Previous outreach work has included a lecture at the National Portrait Gallery, London, linked to an exhibition of Chartist portraits. This was based on my 'Building identity, building circulation: engraved portraiture and the Northern Star', in Papers for the People, ed. J.Allen and O.Ashton, 2005.
I provided research advice and was an on-screen "expert" for the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? programme about Jeremy Irons in October 2006. I also contribute short articles on labour history issues to the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are Magazine. In October 2007 I authored an article on 'Chartism's Black Activist', pp. 20-22 for History Today.
I contributed to recent BBC Radio 4 broadcasts, on William Cuffay (July 2010) and Guerrila Gardeners (November 2010). William Cuffay was a London trade unionist and Chartist, of West Indian slave descent, who was transported to Australia in 1849. I also contributed to a documentary about Cuffay for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's national radio network, broadcast in 2011.