Living with the Dead:
My time with a Stocking Maker in the Era of Luddism
followed by a reception in the Coombs extension
ALLAN MARTIN 2013 PUBLIC LECTURE
Professor Carolyn Steedman, University of Warwick
Historians spend a lot of their time with the dead. We write with the words of the dead and gone. Who owns those words? Who owns history? Who has the right to speak for the dead?
I had to ask these questions about Joseph Woolley, framework knitter of Nottinghamshire, and the six volumes of gossip, anecdotes and accounts he wrote between 1800 and 1815. He lived at the epicentre of the machine-breaking crisis of Regency England, but never once mentioned General Ludd, the mythical leader of men and women protesting against de-skilling in the stocking trade. Did Joseph Woolley have a claim to historical attention? Why would I want to write about him?
Early on in the project, I had a dream in which an anonymous global historian turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and said: Tell me, Carolyn: What exactly is the point of writing a book about an obscure, English working-class man, in the face of the great procedures and protocols of global history? My lecture describes my five long years with Joseph Woolley, and writing about him in my own historiographical times.
Carolyn Steedman is Professor of History at the University of Warwick, where she has taught since 1984. Among her many books are Landscape for a Good Woman (1986),The Radical Soldier’s Tale (1988), Dust (2001), and Labours Lost. Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England (2009). The book about Joseph Woolley, An Everyday Life of the English Working Class, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2011.