History as Argument

Palmer, Bryan D.

Publisher:  Against The Current
Date Written:  01/09/2013
Year Published:  2013  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20086

On the argument of E.P. Thompson’s tremendous book, The Making of the English Working Class



A great deal could be said about E.P. Thompson’s tremendous book, The Making of the English Working Class, on the 50th anniversary of its publication. Yet I want to make only one rather simple point: argument animated Thompson for his entire life, and it figures centrally on almost every page of his evocative account of class formation.

This is not the minor point it might seem on the surface. There was a time when apprentice historians were schooled in history as argument. We thought the seminars we were in, and the books we would eventually write, would be about argument. That time, in my view, is long gone.

Young historians are now educated to think that argument is actually a bad thing, that polemic is to be avoided rather than cultivated as a specific type of political intervention and a particular kind of writing form, with its own artistry. Argument is dismissed as a bad career move. Historical writing is the worse for this kind of conventional wearing down of its potentially serrated political edge.
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