Malcolm Chase, 1957-2020Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, British history, radical history, working class history
The social historian Malcolm Chase, who has died aged 63 after suffering from a brain tumour, explored the world of working-class people in 19th-century Britain and their radical movements. In this he was following the trail first blazed by EP Thompson in his book The Making of the English Working Class (1963) by rejecting “the enormous condescension of posterity” often to be found in history written by the educated rich.
There was nothing condescending about the way Malcolm wrote about the victims of the Peterloo massacre, calling for political representation in Manchester in 1819, or the Chartists, who championed democracy in the two decades from 1838. Chartism: A New History (2007) established him as the leading authority on a movement of more than 3 million people at its height, the first such driven by the working classes, whose people’s charter called for extension of the vote and annual elections.
Woven into the account were biographies of both male and female activists, forgotten until uncovered by his painstaking research. Hearing Malcolm lecture on the Chartists was always a thrilling experience: he recognised that radicals expressed themselves through fiction and poetry, and sometimes burst into song. He was open to literary scholarship rethinking the aesthetic and imaginative aspects of 19th-century radicalism and acknowledged the importance of locality, examining events in Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as England.