E. P. Thompson

British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner

Edward Palmer Thompson (3 February 1924 – 28 August 1993), usually cited as E. P. Thompson, was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class (1963).

E. P. Thompson


  • ...class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs. The class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born—or enter involuntarily. Class-consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms. If the experience appears as determined, class-consciousness does not. We can see a logic in the responses of similar occupational groups undergoing similar experiences, but we cannot predicate any law. Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way.
    • The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1980), pp. 8–9
  • I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "Utopian" artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.
    • The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1980), p. 12

Quotes about ThompsonEdit

  • The man who has done more than anyone else to rouse the national conscience over nuclear weapons is E. P. Thompson. ... Like Gladstone, who felt himself called away from writing about the Christine doctrine of eternal punishment to lead the agitation over the Bulgarian atrocities, Thompson abandoned his scholar's desk and the book that he is writing on William Blake last autumn to devote himself to the anti-nuclear cause.
    • Ian Bradley, 'The great crusade gets under way', The Times (25 October 1980), p. 14
  • The distinctive contribution of working people to the agitation for Reform between 1789 and 1832 is brilliantly invoked in E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class.
  • He once called himself the Muggletonian Marxist, and the title is too tempting to resist. He claimed some special affinity with one associate of the sect, William Blake, and all those who ever heard him lecture on the subject must at least draw some comfort from the fact that he completed this volume before his death. Almost every page offers fresh evidence, not merely of his vast, overflowing erudition, but of his wit, his humanity, his soaring historical imagination, the combination of qualities which made the publication of The Making of the English Working Class such an event not merely in the writing of English history but in the politics of our century.
  • [W]orking-class consciousness is no longer the talismanic concept it once was among historians. In retrospect it is clear that E. P. Thompson's magical evocation in The Making of the English Working Class (1963; rev. edn. 1968) brought a prominent line of inquiry to its culmination. Perhaps this should have been obvious at the time, given the author's determination to define class, not in material terms, but as a product of the daily experience of individual men and women.
    • Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England, 1783–1846 (2008), p. 676
  • E. P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’...has set the tone for much writing about popular protest.
    • Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England, 1727–1783 (1989), p. 753
  • The life and work of E. P. Thompson exemplified the social and cultural struggles that were taking place in the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s, a period which gave the working class access to higher education in a way that had never happened before. His writings, polemical, astringent and tough minded, had an imaginative sweep which questioned social complacencies and compelled institutions and individuals to look beyond their own narrow concerns and their conception of their past.
    • The Times (30 August 1993), p. 17

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