How to Write History from Below (Graduate)

By Marcus Rediker at the University of Pittsburgh

“History from Below” – also called “Peoples’ History” and “Radical History” – has been an important part of the appearance and spectacular growth of social history over the past half century and one of the most important developments in the discipline and profession of history. This course is designed to introduce graduate students in a broad variety of disciplines, departments, and programs to the key theories, methods, and issues in history from below, from its origin in the 1930s, through the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s, to the present. The course will concentrate on four major themes: race, class, gender, and capitalism. We will read classic and newer works to demonstrate how historical practice has changed over time. Special emphasis will also be given to sources, especially archival research, and to writing.

I have taught this course twice, at the University of Hawai’i-Manoā (spring 2019) and the University of Pittsburgh (spring 2020).  The books and articles I use change over time.  Here are those I have used so far:

  • Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre, Harvard University Press, 1983.
  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Beacon Press, 2015.
  • Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, 2004.
  • Marisa Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
  • Eduardo Galeano, Genesis: Memory of Fire, Volume I, W.W. Norton, 1998.
  • Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  • Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas in the English Revolution, Penguin, 1972.
  • C.L.R. James, Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Vintage, 1938.
  • Gerda Lerner, “Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges,” Feminist Studies 3(1975), 5-14.
  • Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Beacon Press, 2004.
  • Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • George Rawick, “Working-Class Self-Activity,” Radical America, 3(1969), 23-31. Online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/rawick/1969/xx/self.html
  • Marcus Rediker, “The Poetics of History from Below,” American Historical Association Perspectives, September 2010.  Available online at : https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2010/the-poetics-of-history-from-below
  • Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom, Penguin, 2012.
  • Gregory Rosenthal, Beyond Hawai’i: Native Labor in the Pacific World, University of California Press, 2018.
  • Raphael Samuel, “Peoples’ History” and “History and Theory,” in Raphael Samuel, ed., Peoples History and Socialist Theory, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.
  • Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, Columbia University Press, 1988.
  • Julius Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution, Verso Books, 2018.
  • Ronald Takaki, Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii, 1835-1920, University of Hawai’i Press, 1984.
  • E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, Vintage, 1963.
  • Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger, Doubleday, 1992.
  • Jonathan M. Wiener, “Radical Historians and the Crisis in American History, 1959-1980,” Journal of American History 76(1989), 399-434.