People's history  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from History from below)
Jump to: navigation, search

"In my decades as a historian, I have concentrated on people somehow outside the traditional centers of power or wealth in the early modern period."--Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) by Natalie Zemon Davis

"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 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 (1963) by E. P. Thompson

Related e



A people's history, or history from below, is a type of historical narrative which attempts to account for historical events from the perspective of common people rather than leaders. There is an emphasis on disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor, the nonconformists, and otherwise marginal groups. The authors typically have a Marxist model in mind, as in the approach of the History Workshop movement in Britain in the 1960s.


"History from below" and "people's history"

Lucien Febvre first used the phrase "histoire vue d'en bas et non d'en haut" (history seen from below and not from above) in 1932 when praising Albert Mathiez for seeking to tell the "histoire des masses et non de vedettes" (history of the masses and not of starlets). It was also used in the title of A. L. Morton's 1938 book, A People's History of England. Yet it was E. P. Thompson's essay "History from Below" in The Times Literary Supplement (1966) which brought the phrase to the forefront of historiography from the 1970s. It was popularized among non-historians by Howard Zinn's 1980 book, A People's History of the United States.


A people's history is the history as the story of mass movements and of the outsiders. Individuals not included in the past in other type of writing about history are part of history-from-below theory's primary focus, which includes the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor, the nonconformists, the subaltern and the otherwise forgotten people. This theory also usually focuses on events occurring in the French Revolution, or when an overwhelming wave of smaller events cause certain developments to occur. This approach to writing history is in direct opposition to methods which tend to emphasize single great figures in history, referred to as the Great Man theory; it argues that the driving factor of history is the daily life of ordinary people, their social status and profession. These are the factors that "push and pull" on opinions and allow for trends to develop, as opposed to great people introducing ideas or initiating events.

In his book A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn wrote: "The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and walks, and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."


Historian Guy Beiner wrote that "the Neo-Marxist flag-bearers of history from below have at times resorted to idealized and insufficiently sophisticated notions of 'the people', unduly ascribing to them innate progressive values. In practice, democratic history is by no means egalitarian".

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "People's history" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools