Past and Present

In 1946 several historians who were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, that included Christopher Hill, E. P. Thompson, Raphael Samuel, Eric Hobsbawm, A. L. Morton, John Saville, George Rudé, Rodney Hilton, Dorothy Thompson, Edmund Dell, Victor Kiernan and Maurice Dobb formed the Communist Party Historians' Group. (1)

Eric Hobsbawm has argued that: "The main pillars of the Group thus consisted initially of people who had graduated sufficiently early in the 1930s to have done some research, to have begun to publish and, in very exceptional cases, to have begun to teach. Among these Christopher Hill already occupied a special position as the author of a major interpretation of the English Revolution and a link with Soviet economic historians." (2)

John Saville later recalled: "The Historian's Group had a considerable long-term influence upon most of its members. It was an interesting moment in time, this coming together of such a lively assembly of young intellectuals, and their influence upon the analysis of certain periods and subjects of British history was to be far-reaching. For me, it was a privilege I have always recognised and appreciated." (3)

In 1952 members of the group founded the journal, Past and Present. Over the next few years the journal pioneered the study of working-class history and is "now widely regarded as one of the most important historical journals published in Britain today." (4)

Primary Sources

(1) Emma Griffin, History Today (2nd February 2015)

The cause of this fledgling historical strand was greatly advanced through association with some of the leading scholars of the age, including the Communist Party History Group members Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, Raphael Samuel and E. P. Thompson. These four were also part of the group that founded the journal Past & Present, now widely regarded as one of the most important historical journals published in Britain today. Thompson’s monumental The Making of the English Working Class (1963) was arguably the single most significant contribution to working-class history, but it is easy to forget that he was just one part of a larger community of scholars with a shared interest in the emergence and experiences of the working class at the time of the British Industrial Revolution.