People's history

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A people's history, or history from below,[1] 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 Nationalist or Socialist model in mind, as in the approach of the History Workshop movement in Britain in the 1960s.[2]

"History from below" and "people's history"[edit]

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).[3] It was also used in the title of A. L. Morton's 1938 book, A People's History of England.[4] 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.[5]: 113 [6][7] It was popularized among non-historians by Howard Zinn's 1980 book, A People's History of the United States.[8]


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."[9]


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".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. P. Thompson, "History from Below", Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, pp. 279–80.
  2. ^ Wade Matthews (2013). The New Left, National Identity, and the Break-up of Britain. BRILL. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9789004253070.
  3. ^ When the State Trembled 1442660228 Reinhold Kramer, Tom Mitchell - 2010 "It was Lucien Febvre who first used the phrase 'history from below' when in 1932 he observed that Albert Mathiez, a founding member of the Annales tradition, had sought 'histoire des masses et non de vedettes; histoire vue d'en bas en non ..."
  4. ^ AL Morton Compendium of Communist Biographies, Graham Stevenson, Accessed Feb 2014
  5. ^ Black, Jeremy; MacRaild, Donald M. (1 January 2016) [2007]. Studying History. Macmillan Education UK. ISBN 978-1-137-47860-3.
  6. ^ Thompson, Edward P. (1966), "History from Below'", The Times Literary Supplement
  7. ^ Black and MacRaild wrote that Thompson's 1966 essay, 'History from below', in the Times Literary Supplement "was the real starting point, not only of the term, but of attempts to define it, to intellectualise about it, and to give it a coherent agenda...."
  8. ^ Howard Zinn (1980). A People's History of the United States. London and New York: Longman.
  9. ^ chapter: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
  10. ^ Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 9.

Further reading[edit]

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