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The Dignity of Chartism

Groundbreaking studies of Britain’s first major working-class movement
This is the first collection of essays on Chartism by leading social historian Dorothy Thompson, whose work radically transformed the way in which Chartism is understood. Reclaiming Chartism as a fully-blown working-class movement, Thompson intertwines her penetrating analyses of class with ground-breaking research uncovering the role played by women in the movement.

Throughout her essays, Thompson strikes a delicate balance between down-to-the-ground accounts of local uprisings, snappy portraits of high-profile Chartist figures as well as rank-and-file men and women, and more theoretical, polemical interventions.

Of particular historical and political significance is the previously unpublished substantial essay co-authored by Dorothy and Edward Thompson, a superb piece of local historical research by two social historians then on the brink of notable careers.
With contributions by E. P. Thompson

Reviews

  • “Ever alert, Dorothy Thompson probed beneath the outer surface of evidence. The results were innovatory. Her work brought to life the intense and dangerous interior world of working class meetings, conventions and newspapers.”
  • “Dorothy Thompson, who pioneered the writing of labour history from below, emerges as a complex and lucid philosopher of social change in these writings, which also chart the evolution of the post-war British left’s thinking about both its future and its past.”
  • “These essays convey the distilled political and historical wisdom of a lifetime, and what a life it was. Dorothy Thompson will forever be remembered alongside the great Chartist movement she so brilliantly brought to vital, creative life.”
  • “One of the Chartists’ most influential champions in late 20th-century scholarship was Dorothy Thompson, who combined an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movement with an impassioned political vision of its significance … [The Dignity of Chartism] is an admiring and useful … tribute to the life and work of an extraordinary historian.”
  • “‘Your warehouses and your homes will be given over to the flames,’ warned the Irish Chartist Thomas Devyr. The demands of the Chartists exceeded parliamentarianism; they demanded the repeal of the New Poor Law, the repeal of the Act of Union with Ireland, and a whole new way of life. With the political demands of the Charter came also arming, drilling, and the possibility of insurrection. It was a working-class movement with enduring accomplishments like national trade unions, municipal building societies, and local cooperatives. Dorothy Thompson is Chartism’s pre-eminent historian. She writes in a careful, passionate, and welcoming style giving pride of place to the voices in hymn, oratory, diary, and newspaper of the men and women who struggled against the child-consuming factory, the complacency of Victorianism, and empire-induced starvations. Those voices arose in the era of Liberalism. They need to be heeded still. How can Chartism in its Biblical righteousness, in its Shakespearean grandiloquence, in its unremitting class consciousness, in its internationalist generosity, in its Jacobin militance, in its balance of moral and physical force revive in our times of neo-liberalism?”
  • “This is [a] volume that all historians of Chartism should read and provides further evidence, if any was needed, that Dorothy Thompson was the most important historian of Chartism in the past half century.”
  • “Awesome is an over-used word in modern parlance, but Dorothy Thompson’s knowledge of Chartism was just that. She was the pre-eminent historian of the movement.”
  • “Dorothy Thompson brought her extraordinary knowledge of Chartism together with a passionate commitment to democratic change. Her lifetime’s work on the movement remains unsurpassed in its range and historical vision.”
  • The Dignity of Chartism reminds us of Dorothy Thompson’s place as a major post-1945 socialist and feminist historian. It also provides some fascinating insights into her collaboration with EP Thompson and suggests that her reputation should be regarded in the same perspective as his.”
  • “Dorothy Thompson was both a remarkable person and an influential historian of Chartism. This collection of her essays…highlights the approach of one of a formidable pair of fellow historians and left-wing intellectuals.”
  • “This is an extremely valuable volume ... Thompson offers a master class in historical research and presentation ... This is superb history ... Read Dorothy Thompson's marvellous book”

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