Introducing SSLH Labour History Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries have a long history in academic publishing, but in the online world they can take on a new lease of life. Here, John Halstead introduces SSLH’s revived Labour History Notes and Queries – a new feature of this website.

The original Notes and Queries was a weekly periodical founded as an academic correspondence magazine in 1849, in which scholars and interested amateurs could exchange knowledge. The scope of the journal was wide. It included contributions on folklore and literature as well as history.

In the years before the end of the First World War contributions were not very long, a few paragraphs or even a sentence or two. The ‘Notes’ then became longer and remain so today, though shorter than the ‘articles’ of a typical academic journal. ‘Queries’ tended to take little space and became less numerous than ‘Notes’. Publication, originally in London, has moved to Oxford University Press, from print to online, and book reviews have been added to notes and queries. We now introduce our own online SSLH Notes and Queries.

The Society’s journal first appeared as Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History 1 in autumn 1960. Its philosophy was that of being a ‘tool of the trade’, so it carried a report of Professor Asa Briggs’ lecture at the Society’s inaugural meeting on ‘Open Questions of Labour History’. Not quite a set of queries of course, but a pointing to gaps that needed to be filled and approaches that could be taken. Perhaps someone today can point to new directions to take? W. Campbell Balfour reported on a conference in Stockholm while J.F.C. Harrison drew attention to a Philip Snowden collection at the Keighley Public Library. The issue also noted journals published abroad: the International Review of Social History by the IISG at Amsterdam; the Annali of the Istituto Giacomo Feltrinelli, Milan; and Labor History, Tamiment Institute, New York.

The first note under a new category of ‘Notes and Queries’ entries appeared in Bulletin 2 of spring 1961. There were three contributors: Bulletin editor Royden Harrison noted information on Allen Davenport but asked whether his Life had ever been published. Perhaps this led to the publication by Malcolm Chase in 1994 of The Life and Literary Pursuits with a further selection of Davenport’s work by Scolar Press. John Saville wrote on the ‘Authorship of The Bitter Cry of Outcast London’. He confirmed the Rev. A. Means as author and explained some confusions in library catalogues. A third contribution came from John K. Crellin, looking for information about Dr Steel and Equality, a London socialist group, with activity in Wisconsin. The Crellin query about Dr. Steel and Equality was answered by Michael Brook in Bulletin 4 of spring 1962; and, in effect, by J.F.C. Harrison’s Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America: The Quest for the New Moral World, 1969. pp. 177-9. He also draws attention to the collection of Thomas Steel Papers in the archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

With the publication of Bulletin 49 in autumn 1984 some thirty-one items had appeared under the ‘Notes and Queries’ rubric. But this understates the matter because notes also appeared separately as ‘Notes on Sources’, ‘Notes on Labour Statistics’, ‘Notes on the Labour Press’, and so on. Short pieces published as ‘Documents’ can also be thought of as notes. A number of ‘essays’ of greater length than a substantial note, though not qualifying in length and scope as a journal article, were published. And in Bulletin days, under the review editorship of Laurence Marlow, hardly any publication escaped our notice.

The founders of the Society and the first editors of the Bulletin took the view from 1960 that good academic work in labour history could and should be placed in existing academic journals. Attitudes started to change with the proliferation of journals. John Saville was especially irked by the creation of Social History, which was to first appear in January 1976, and initiated a discussion on the SSLH executive about whether we should have a journal. Royden Harrison and Sidney Pollard were tasked with examining the matter, but the conclusion was negative. When the Bulletin became Labour History Review in 1990 some features of ‘the tool of the trade’ continued to appear but were eventually dropped. This was partly because only peer-reviewed articles within an ‘internationally recognised academic journal’ would count in research assessment reviews. Book reviews were of no interest and items of ‘scholarship’ falling outside the scope of a journal article were also excluded..

But as the Society’s website is one of the means whereby it communicates with the public, and fulfils its charitable object to provide ‘the public’ – not simply members of the academic profession – with knowledge about labour history, the EC supports the online publication of labour ‘notes and queries’. We now live in a very different world from that in which the Society was founded. New terms and forms of labour have emerged – such as ‘the precariat’. There have been conceptual shifts – such as from ‘class’ to ‘identity’. There are many books, people, connections between topics or things hitherto unnoticed, that might be usefully brought to our attention. So there is a great deal that is completely new, and even perhaps something new on old familiar topics such as Chartism or the Owenite socialism that featured fairly prominently in BBSLH contributions, that can be ventilated.

The scope and flexibility possible with online publication is much greater than in LHR. This is an open invitation to submit matters of interest and enquiry.

If you would like to contribute a Note or Query to the SSLH website, please email us using the form below.