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Subaltern Socialism (Peter Edwards)
Whilst existing studies have focused on the role of the London-based metropolitan elites in addressing the education of working men and women the voices of those who participated remain muted. This study focuses, instead, on the students and teachers at the People’s College in Sheffield from the late 1840s. Originally established by a Congregational minister a group of students took the lead to reorganise the college when he left under a cloud in the late 1840s and created the model for the London Working Men’s College set up by the Christian Socialists in 1854. 

The students, themselves the sons and daughters of local skilled workers, included a future MP, a Bishop, the editor of the Indian Times and the owner of one of Sheffield’s largest cutlery manufacturers. Educated in close proximity to small craft-based workshops which were at the centre of the rise of trades unionism and the Sheffield Outrages, the study challenges the interpretation of social change through the lens of class and explores wider cultural and religious influences.

The years between the failure of Chartism and the second Reform Act are often seen as a period of equipoise where advances in socialism were in abeyance. There has also been a tendency for historians to minimise the relevance of religion in their interpretation of the past. The current study questions these traditional historical assumptions and explores the impact that theological change had in addressing the social question;. As part of a close social study of the Sheffield People’s College the research explores the inter-relationship between religion, education and concerns for social improvement. Based on the study of those directly involved the research concentrates on a history from below to better understand the non-political concerns for social change.

Peter Edwards is currently studying for an MRes in History at Birkbeck College, University of London, having recently completed his MA in European History there. Peter’s research explores the influence of religion on working men and women’s adult education in the years immediately after the decline of Chartism in 1848 and 1870’s Education Act. He is interested in understanding whether this represents continuity in the development of socialism during the period.

Now retired, Peter is the treasurer and trustee of FHALMA, a charity that builds awareness of Black British heritage, especially associated with the legacy of Eric and Jessia Huntley. FHALMA aims to inspire learning about history, education, and culture, as found in the various Huntley Collections at the London Metropolitan Archives. He is also a co-opted committee member of the Social History Society.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.