Labour History Review

Chartism, Commemoration, and the Cult of the Radical Hero, c.1770-c.1840

Labour History Review (2013), 78, (1), 3–32.

Abstract

Since its first appearance in the title of a collection of essays edited by Hobsbawm and Ranger in 1983, the ‘invention of tradition’ has become part of the mental furniture of the historian. Yet we know much less about how labour movements invented their own legitimating traditions as the historiography is dominated by discussions of ‘official’ attempts to invent tradition, such as that undertaken by states and colonial authorities. This article explores this process through a case study of the Chartist movement. Many historians have argued that Chartists were bearers of a radical tradition which had its origins in the 1770s. Thus, it is surprising that historians have paid little detailed attention to how Chartists saw themselves in relation to this diverse radical tradition or indeed to the ways in which they invented their own tradition. This article focuses on one key aspect of this invented tradition: the construction of a pantheon of heroes from the recent radical past. By drawing on recent work on ritual and commemoration, the culture of heroism, print and popular literature, visual imagery and material culture, the ‘invention of tradition’ emerges as a much more contingent and contested process than the original model conceived by Hobsbawm, et al. suggested.

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Author details

Roberts, Matthew