Monday, October 02, 2006

Demanding a continuing supply of history

While we're on the subject of the end(s) of history, I thought I'd share a quote with those of you who don't spend most of your waking hours immersed in the minutae of EP Thompson's back catalogue. It comes from the transcript of a talk Thompson gave on the 20th of October 1985, when he appeared alongside Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, and Perry Anderson at a forum organised by The New School for Social Research, which had learned that all four men would be in New York at the same time (didn't Saturday Night Live try the same trick once in the '70s when all four Beatles were in NYC?) .

Hobsbawm, Hill, and Anderson were all in New York because of their academic careers, but by 1985 Thompson hadn't seen the inside of a university library for years. After the Thatcher government had decided to site Cruise missiles in Britain at the beginning of the eighties he'd thrown himself into anti-nuclear activism, becoming the most famous face of a revived Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Much of Thompson's talk, which was published in The Essential EP Thompson a few years ago under the title 'Agenda for Radical History', is devoted to apologising for being an 'impostor' in the world of academic history, and explaining why political activism seems more important, if not more desirable, than research in the archives. Here's a choice quote:

When in our country, as in yours, professional groups started forming their own anti-nuclear organisations, historians had a bit of a problem because, unless they were post-Hiroshima, there really wasn't very much history that historians could actually contribute (they thought) to the anti-nuclear movement. But at length someone came up with the right banner for Historians against Nuclear Weapons: 'Historians Demand a Continuing Supply of History'. And they're right.

Today some historians, at least, are still protesting against war.


Blogger Mike B said...

Thanks for the earlier suggestions on Anderson and Thompson... I've been having lots of fun reading through these big debates of the 60s and 70s... You could make a good reading group just working through the essays. Great to see they could share a panel 20 years later after some quite nasty things said.

4:39 pm  

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