VISIONS OF HISTORY by MARHO: The Radical Historians Organization

VISIONS OF HISTORY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Thirteen erratic interviews with prominent and not-so-prominent historians published in the Radical History Review. Conducted at different times between 1975 and 1982 by different people, the actual interviews have a haphazard and arbitrary feel. Three of the subjects are British--E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawn, Sheila Rowbotham; eight are American--Linda Gordon, Natalie Zemon Davis, William Appleman Williams, Staughton Lynd, David Montgomery, Vincent Harding, John Womack, Herbert Gutman; one is a Trinidadian, C. L. R. James, and one a Pole, Moshe Lewin. It is never made clear why they were chosen, though Thompson, Williams, Montgomery, and Gutman are fairly obvious choices (as might also be the missing Eugene Genovese, Christopher Hill, or Herbert Aptheker, among others). The interview with Thompson, author of the classic The Making of the English Working Class, is the centerpiece. It also illustrates the deficiency of the collection as a whole. The interviewer flits back and forth between Thompson's life and a strained discussion of his work, trying to establish connections that Thompson keeps rejecting; meanwhile, the interesting aspects of his untraditional career--best known as a political and anti-nuclear polemicist, Thompson began his teaching in adult education, without doing any graduate work--are frustratingly unexplored. Rowbotham, too, taught in extension programs and has been deeply involved in feminist/socialist politics--but her work has been synthetic and popular, and she comes across less as a professional than as an activist. Hobsbawn, like Thompson a major figure in historical writing but also a synthesizer, talks more of his labor-history researches than of any kind of activism: one wishes he'd been questioned about his reported enthusiasm for jazz, as well as his connections to the British Communist Party. The most successful interviews, in many ways, are with Williams--an Annapolis graduate who became politically involved as a reaction against racial oppression in the military--and Davis, whose work in early French cultural history sets her apart from the others. Both were victims of blacklisting for their views, and both are bracingly relaxed about their careers and their personal lives. Insiders will find enough of interest, but outsiders will largely be left cold.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1983
Publisher: Pantheon