Ever present in the popular mind…
It is with great sadness that we have to report the death of Chartist Historian, Professor Malcolm Chase. Malcolm was Emeritus Professor of Social History at University of Leeds School of History with research interests centred on British popular culture and politics in the long nineteenth century. This encompassed British radical politics and the early labour movement, as well as the Chartist movement itself, post-Chartism, print culture and the local history of Yorkshire.
Widely published, Malcolm was a regular contributor to scholarly journals, most recently ‘What did Chartism Petition for? Mass Petitions in the British Movement for Democracy’ in Social Science History (2019) as well as writing several books, starting in 1988 with The People’s Farm, a history of agrarian reformer Thomas Spence, through to his 2007 Chartism: A New History, arguably now the definitive history of Chartism.1 Malcolm also contributed to the recent Comma Press publication, Resist: Stories of Uprising.2 His afterword, ‘Arming Ourselves as They Did,’ provides the historical context for Kamila Shamsie’s preceding imagined narrative Savage, about the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy.
Prior to joining the School of History, Malcolm worked in the Leeds University School of Continuing Education. As fellow Chartist historian Katrina Navickas said: ‘Malcolm’s major commitment throughout his career was to adult education. He gave as many talks to community groups as to academics – he served as chair of the Social History Society, and a long standing member of the Society for Labour History.’
Malcolm was often consulted as a Chartist historian by the BBC, appearing in 2006 with Jeremy Irons on BBC 1’s Who Do You Think You Are? (2006) and in 2018 on Radio 4’s, British Socialism, The Grand Tour (2018). He was consultant to the 2018 Kennington Chartist Project and gave a lecture there to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the great Chartist meeting on Kennington Common in April 1848. He also spoke at the Chartist Convention held in Newport Cathedral in November 2019.
Malcolm will be remembered by fellow historians for his generosity and encouragement of their work with many taking to twitter to honour his memory.
Australian historian, Paul Pickering said: ‘It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Malcolm Chase. Malcolm was one of the world’s leading authorities on 19th century British social movements and a generous and inspirational colleague.’ @Pickering_P_ANU
Dr Janette Martin of the Huddersfield Local History Society agreed: ‘We are greatly saddened to lose a fine historian and friend who gave so much of his time and expertise to history outside of the academy’. @hisjlm
A colleague from his department, Claire Eldridge, said Malcolm ‘…represented what academia looks like at its best. He combined intellectual rigour with steadfast support, especially for junior colleagues, kindness & humour; he will be sorely missed.’ @ElDrClaire
Malcolm was also esteemed by students, his PhD student Vic Clarke said, ‘Malcolm was brilliant and kind, two qualities that make a great teacher. He was like a walking encyclopaedia of the Chartist movement, and so encouraging and supportive of new ideas. His office was an absolute mess, but an organised one, with filing cabinets full of bits of paper, photocopied articles, and book chapters. I’ve missed his presence in supervisions during his illness, and I’m honestly so scared to be finishing this PhD without him to guide me. My thoughts are with his family.’ @vjc_torianist
Katrina Navickas said, ‘He had so much left to do and is gone far too soon. He leaves such a large hole in labour history, #chartist, community and local history.’ @katrinanavickas
Sarah Richardson said, ‘What distinguished Malcolm from many leading historians was his generosity, appreciation and support for younger scholars and those on the periphery of the profession. Far from being jealous or protective of his research areas, Malcolm was delighted to share his own scholarship and promote the work of others. His Northern grit, warmth and sense of humour permeated his scholarship. His contribution to the history of the working class is immeasurable and although his published works will preserve his reputation we will all miss his razor sharp insights, wit and spontaneous asides.’ @WarwickHistory
At the heart of his work, Malcolm recognised what he called in his 1984 PhD thesis, the ‘integral dignity’ of labour and working on the land. Twenty-five years later, in his definitive history, he acknowledged Chartism’s vision of a more equitable society as ‘of enduring significance and a reference point for future generations, in the words of 1910 Durham miners’ leader and MP John Wilson: “ever present in the popular mind”.’ He concluded the book quoting the late Bobby Kennedy as recognising that Chartism had moved society ‘closer to the recognition of a profound truth, that our essential humanity and dignity are protected and preserved only where government answers not merely to the propertied and wealthy but to all people.3
Obituary by Dave Steele @history_dave
- Malcolm Chase, The People’s Farm: English Radical Agrarianism, 1775-1840 (Oxford UP, 1988), Malcolm Chase, ‘What Did Chartism Petition For? Mass Petitions in the British Movement for Democracy’ in Social Science History, 43, 3 (2019) 531-551., Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester UP, 2007),
- Resist: Stories of Uprising, (Comma Press, Manchester, 2019)
- Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester UP, 2007), p. 360.