This page contains information about the one-day conference I co-organised with Brodie Waddell in February 2009.
Plebeian Cultures in Early Modern England:
35 Years after E.P. Thompson
21st February 2009, The University of Warwick
Plebeian Cultures was a one-day conference for scholars using insights from social, cultural and political theory to reconstruct the experience of the common people in early modern England. Thirty-five years after E.P. Thompson published his pioneering article on ‘Patrician Society, Plebeian Culture’, the conference focused on the influence of Thompson’s work on recent developments in the study of plebeian cultures. A total of sixty delegates, including many key figures in the field alongside a healthy number of postgraduates, attended this event that was kindly sponsored by the Humanities Research Centre, the Economic History Society and the Royal Historical Society.
The delegates heard three panels: the first, entitled ‘The Thompsonian Paradigm’, examined the key concepts offered by E.P. Thompson’s analysis of early modern social relations. Dave Rollison (Sydney) questioned Thompson’s ‘grand narrative’ of English social history, whilst Phil Withington (Cambridge) critiqued Thompson’s division of society into two classes: the ‘plebeians’ and the ‘patricians’. The second panel, ‘Earthly Necessities’, explored aspects of the economic lives of early modern plebeians, with Craig Muldrew (Cambridge) discussing wages and employer/employee relations, and Andy Wood (East Anglia) thinking about conflicts over fuel rights in the period. The third panel, headed ‘Weapons of the Weak’, investigated plebeian responses to power and authority in the period. Bernard Capp (Warwick) explored tobacco riots in mid-seventeenth century Gloucestershire, whilst John Walter (Essex) provided a survey of Thompson’s impact and legacy on the study of popular protest.
The day concluded with a plenary address by Professor Keith Wrightson, who had travelled from Yale especially to participate, in which many of the key themes were expertly drawn together and suggestions were made for how research into plebeian cultures might proceed in the future. This was a very successful and stimulating day and delegates were left debating Thompson’s legacy for many hours after the conference had officially closed.
A more detailed account of the conference proceedings has been published in Social History, 34:4 (November, 2009)