This paper explores the politics of remembrance through a case study of Chartism, the British mass movement for democratic and social rights in the 1830s and 1840s. It will focus on the ‘paper pantheon’ of radical greats constructed by the Chartists from the perspectives of Romanticism, the powerful cultural and literary effects of which were still being felt into the 1840s. The paper highlights two linked aspects of romantic memory in Chartist heritage politics. First, the question, not of remembering, but forgetting and erasure; that is, which individuals and episodes in the radical tradition were either forgotten or consciously excluded by the Chartists. Second, particular attention is paid to recent scholarship in Romantic Studies which has explored the relationship between memory and posthumous reputation.
While the impact of Romanticism can be hardly denied and was part of the cultural inheritance of the Chartists, it is important not to exaggerate its impact. Some Chartists rejected the unchecked appeals to the passions and introspection associated with Romanticism. Chartist aversion to this pull was a legacy in part of the enduring impact of the radical Enlightenment. The final section explores some of the tensions between Romanticism and Enlightenment in Chartist heritage politics, and draws on recent work on the history of emotions to sketch out the affective politics of Chartist memory. In doing so this paper suggests that political historians pay more attention to the politics of the passions.
Matthew Roberts is Associate Professor of Modern British History at Sheffield Hallam University. He works mainly on nineteenth-century British political and cultural history, with research specialisms in the history of popular politics and protest, the visual and material culture of politics, and the history of emotions. His latest book, Chartism, Commemoration and the Cult of the Radical Hero was published by Routledge in 2020.
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