|Radical Historians and the Making of Social History in Britain and West Germany: The Case of the History Workshop Movement|
|Established in Britain in the mid-1960s, History Workshop was a grassroots organisation made up of radical-academic, feminist, labour and local historians, as well as political and community activists, which challenged the authoritative status of professional history and sought to democratise the study of the past and the production of historical knowledge. Despite often being seen as a peculiarly 'English' phenomenon, History Workshop had a significant international dimension, with movements emerging in other parts of the world, notably Germany, Sweden, South Africa, and the United States. Notwithstanding local, regional and national differences, History Workshop (and the agents and groups that constituted it) was a social formation that moved beyond and across both national and academic boundaries. For these reasons, it represents an important, though problematic, object of concern in the study of the history of historiography: important, because it became a vehicle for the development of social history in the 1960s and 1970s, and then later for the reception of the ‘new’ cultural history in the 1980s; problematic, because it does not easily fit the academic and national contexts in which narratives of historiography’s evolution have been traditionally set.
With that in mind, this paper explores the complex interplay of social processes and interactions, between the national and transnational, between scholarship and politics, which infused the writing of many social historians. The main focus is on British History Workshop and German Geschichtswerkstatt, where extensive transnational links were forged amongst practitioners of ‘history from below’ and Alltagsgeschichte. From an analysis of the exchanges, transfers, and contacts between these two groups, and the processes and mediums through which they took place, the paper aims to understand how historical writing shaped and was shaped in the course of these material and symbolic interactions. This will be carried out by examining how intellectual and cultural transmissions were enabled by contacts and networks based upon a whole range of phenomena, such as academic travel, collections of books, journals and articles, shared institutional affiliations, attendence at conferences and meetings. The paper will then consider how certain features of the domestic political culture in each country conditioned these intellectual relationships, suggesting that persistent tensions arose out of contradictory impulses which made them both possible and imposed certain limits on them. It goes on to assess how important transnational processes were in the conceptual and interpretive developments that occurred within British and Germany historiography, and asks whether a common, transnational historical vision or orientation can be ultimately discerned.|