Graduate Research Seminar

12.45 for 13.00 in SCR; all welcome

On Monday 8 February Joshua Gibson (PhD in HIstory) will deliver the second of this term's Graduate Research Seminars with a talk entitled "Chartism and the age of democratic revolutions."


Chartism was Britain’s largest civil rights movement. At its height it mobilised millions through mass meetings, huge petitions, and the threat of physical force, to demand sweeping constitutional change centred on universal male suffrage, annual parliaments, and the secret ballot. Chartism is usually understood as a political response to the Industrial Revolution. This interpretation, however, has led to relatively little attention to the role of ideas in popular politics and is blind to the important transnational connections recent scholarship in other areas has highlighted. In response to these issues, my research repositions Chartism within the global ‘Age of Democratic Revolutions’. Among the key elements of this phenomenon were freedom of religion, popular sovereignty, the rights of man as unalienable and universal, and that all government should flow from written constitutions. Britain, as the primary counter-revolutionary power with its pride in its ‘unwritten constitution’, is usually seen as outside this process. In this paper, I integrate Chartism, and by extension Britain, to this context in two ways. First, I argue that Chartists drew on natural law elements within English common law to argue that Britain in fact had a constitution, which limited the power of legislature and rested sovereignty in the people. I then trace a number of Chartists who left for America following the failure of Chartism in the late 1840s. Like the ‘Forty Eighters’ from Germany and other European countries, I argue that they left for political reasons. I then show how these transatlantic radicals took up the ‘old cause’ in the New World, and played important roles in American trade unionism, abolitionism, and for the ‘Cause of Liberty’ in the American Civil War.

The graduate research seminar provides an opportunity for our graduate students and research fellows to discuss their work before an astute and very friendly audience. Because this mixed audience includes not only expert insiders, but also intelligent and interested outsiders, this is also an opportunity for speakers to hone their communicative skills, and for the rest of us to be exposed to unfamiliar problems, methodologies and theories.

Meetings begin at 12:45 in the Senior Combination Room, where a free buffet lunch is provided. The speakers kick off at 1:00, and finish by 1:30, giving us a quarter of an hour for questions and discussion.