A People's History of Classics : Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain and Ireland 1689 to 1939 book cover
1st Edition

A People's History of Classics
Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain and Ireland 1689 to 1939

ISBN 9780367432362
Published March 12, 2020 by Routledge
670 Pages 135 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

A People’s History of Classics explores the influence of the classical past on the lives of working-class people, whose voices have been almost completely excluded from previous histories of classical scholarship and pedagogy, in Britain and Ireland from the late 17th  to the early 20th century.

This volume challenges the prevailing scholarly and public assumption that the intimate link between the exclusive intellectual culture of British elites and the study of the ancient Greeks and Romans and their languages meant that working-class culture was a ‘Classics-Free Zone’. Making use of diverse sources of information, both published and unpublished, in archives, museums and libraries across the United Kingdom and Ireland, Hall and Stead examine the working-class experience of classical culture from the Bill of Rights in 1689 to the outbreak of World War II. They analyse a huge volume of data, from individuals, groups, regions and activities, in a huge range of sources including memoirs, autobiographies, Trade Union collections, poetry, factory archives, artefacts and documents in regional museums. This allows a deeper understanding not only of the many examples of interaction with the Classics, but also what these cultural interactions signified to the working poor: from the promise of social advancement, to propaganda exploited by the elites, to covert and overt class war.

A People’s History of Classics offers a fascinating and insightful exploration of the many and varied engagements with Greece and Rome among the working classes in Britain and Ireland, and is a must-read not only for classicists, but also for students of British and Irish social, intellectual and political history in this period. Further, it brings new historical depth and perspectives to public debates around the future of classical education, and should be read by anyone with an interest in educational policy in Britain today.

Table of Contents


Part I: Canons, Media & Genres

1. Motives and Methods

2. The Invention of Classics

3. Working-Class Readers

4. 18th-Century Working-Class Poets

5. Classics and Class in Life-Writing

6. Working-Class Classics via the Visual Environment

7. Staging Class Struggle Classically

Part II: Communities

8. Dissenting Classics

9. Workers’ Educational Classics

10. Classics & Class in Ireland

11. Scottish Working Classes

12. Caractacus and Lloyd-George’s Recruiting Drive in Wales

Part III: Underdogs, Underclasses, Underworlds

13. Seditious Classicists

14. Underdog Professors

15. Ragged-Trousered Philologists

16. Hinterland Greek

17. Classical Underworlds

18. Class and the Classical Body

Part IV: Working Identities

19. Gods and Heroes of the Proletariat

20. Shoemakers

21. Pottery Workers

22. Miners

23. Socialist and Communist Scholars

24. Soldiers: Dai and Diomedes on the Somme

25. Theatre Practitioners


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Edith Hall is Professor of Classics at King’s College London, UK and is leader of a campaign to introduce Classical Civilisation and Ancient History qualifications across the UK state-school sector. She has published 30 books on ancient Greek and Roman civilisation and its continuing influence, and in 2015 was awarded the Erasmus Medal of the European Academy.

Henry Stead is Lecturer in Latin at the University of St Andrews, UK. His research project ‘Brave New Classics’ explores the relationship between the Greek and Roman classics and world communism. He is the author of A Cockney Catullus (2015), a translator of Latin poems and co-editor of Greek and Roman Classics in the British Struggle for Social Reform (2015).


"A massive work of scholarship, deep reading, immersion and understanding of both the classical sources and of their modern British uses. Nowadays, when the cultural hegemony of the classics has well and truly passed, it is a rare scholar who has the ability to pick up the nuances, meanings and allusions that would have been second nature to historical actors when that hegemony was at its peak. The rest of us who lack that ability will be forever in their debt." - Peter Mandler, Times Literary Supplement

"If potential readers of this splendid book are daunted by its subtitle — Class and Greco-Roman Antiquities in Britain and Ireland 1689 to 1939 — they would sadly be missing out not only on a mine of information but also a riveting and entertaining read... its authors Edith Hall and Henry Stead have avoided a style that might alienate readers other than professional academics." - Morning Star

"Hall and Stead offer us not just a history of working-class learning and scholarship, but also a dazzling compendium of genres, a dictionary of working-class classical biography, a survey of institutions and a multidimensional reference work of working-class culture. This is an undoubtedly brilliant book, not only hugely valuable in its own right, but also destined to open up and nurture new lines of research." - John Kittmer, ARGO

 "A People’s History of Classics is a timely and important book, which will help to provide, as its authors suggest, ‘a new ancestral backstory for a discipline in need of a democratic makeover’. Its publication marks a watershed in the study of working-class classical reception in the British Isles and Ireland, and Hall and Stead are to be commended for excavating a stratum of social history that has been for too long obscured by the layers above it. While many studies have examined classical reception in the context of gender, race and sexuality, class has remained a poor cousin. This book goes far towards remedying that fault, while providing numerous starting points for others to extend scholarship in the field." - Quentin Broughall, Romance, Revolution and Reform Journal

"A People’s History of Classics is a trailblazer, opening up to view a fertile landscape that has for long been obscured by clouds of class partiality. Each of its twenty-five and fully referenced chapters acts as a signpost to byways that are full of surprises and lessons to be learnt." - Scottish Left Review

"Edith Hall (King’s College London) has campaigned to promote the study of classical civili>zation in UK state schools, where it is now rarely taught, even in translation. Henry Stead (University of St. Andrews) has created the Brave New Classics project to research the classical roots of Communist ideology. Their joint mission in this volume is to uncover the diffusion and study of the classics among the British and Irish working classes. It is a fascinating archae>ological dig, full of important discoveries." - Jonathan Rose, Journal of British Studies