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Nineteenth Century Hidden Agendas

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Dorothy Thompson looks at the impact of revisionism and triumphalism on tales of solidarity and struggle from the society of the Industrial Revolution.

It is a truism that most historians' research into the past is fuelled by their contemporary preoccupations. The collapse of the command economies in Eastern Europe, the conflicts in post-colonial and imperial countries and the limitations of the legal and social gains made by the modern women's movements have seriously affected the way we look at the social history of our own and other nations and our own and other genders. Triumphalism of many kinds is in the air, Marxism is dead, class is an out-dated category, reports of the death of the bourgeois family have been grossly exaggerated.

There is a stock-taking amongst historians, one of the components of which is the examination of the theoretical frameworks that have informed much of the more recent social history. I want to look briefly at some of the reconsiderations as they affect historical work on the period that has interested me most in my forty years as a historian – that is the history of popular politics and of women in the nineteenth century, particularly in the earlier years.

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