Writings of the Luddites

Kevin Binfield, Editor Johns Hopkins University Press $54 (279p) ISBN 978-0-8018-7612-7
The Luddites have been appropriated by Marxist historians as pioneers of working-class self-awareness and by latter-day technophobes as early rebels against a dehumanizing machine civilization. This engaging academic study of authentic Luddite rhetoric seeks to rescue them from such""totalizing"" interpretations and let them speak for themselves. Murray State University English professor Binfield amasses a wealth of original documents from the period 1811 to 1817, including articulate public appeals for higher wages and proscriptions against labor-saving industrial machinery, semi-literate death threats against employers who paid no heed to such appeals, songs and poems celebrating the exploits of the""perhaps apocryphal"" Ned Ludd in demolishing the offending machines, and penitent letters from death row written by Ludd's real-life followers. This is a fine-grained micro-history, exploring the variations between different regions of England and different sectors of the textile trade as workers sought to adapt the figure of Ludd to their small-scale struggles with the local economic and political establishment. Binfield finds a number of sometimes conflicting tendencies, including traditionalist citations of centuries-old customs and statutes regulating the textile industry, trade-unionist ambitions to gain a seat at the table with manufacturers, ostentatious legalism, and Jacobin calls to overthrow king and aristocracy alike. Binfield's blend of labor history and rhetorical analysis is usually insightful, and scholars will find his illuminating commentary on the large selection of texts reprinted here a valuable resource for further research. Photos.
Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 312 pages - 978-1-4214-1696-0
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