Introduction: Thompson at 100
Professor in the History Institute at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
On February 3, 2024, Edward Palmer Thompson would turn 100 years old. One of the twentieth century’s greatest historians, his work has had an enormous impact on the construction of social history and on historiographical and political debates since the 1960s. The reach of the books, articles, reflections, and political activities of the British Marxist historian has gone far beyond social labor history, the field that distinguished him, and has fostered discussions within a myriad of areas of historical knowledge and social theories.
In Brazil, the work of E. P. Thompson fundamentally influenced contemporary historiography. Without understanding the Thompsonian impact on our country, it is not possible to understand the advances we have made in labor history (of “free” and the enslaved, urban and rural, “formal” and “informal” work), in reflections on historical diversities of gender, race, and generations, and in historiographical debates at large.
To celebrate Thompson’s centenary, the portal of the Laboratory for Studies in History of the Worlds of Labor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (LEHMT/UFRJ) has launched the Thompson at 100 Dossier. We invited historians and social scientists from around the world, who, in short articles, wrote about the influence of Thompson’s work (or in some cases, of Thompson himself) on their personal production and/ or on the historiography of their countries, and themes reflecting on relevance of the British historian today. The dossier is published in Portuguese and English and will continue to receive new articles throughout this year.
Edited by Paulo Fontes, the dossier reveals a “global Thompson” by initially bringing together 20 unpublished and exclusive articles by 21 authors of 13 nationalities (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States), from the 5 continents. In addition to different origins, the authors come from different generations, thematic interests, and theoretical approaches.
The articles show us the strength, originality, and profound relevance of his work, while also pointing out various debates and criticisms that have been addressed over time. It is particularly interesting to understand the differences and similarities in the receptions of Thompson’s works, and reflections on class formation, culture, religion, agency, Marxism, and market economy, among others, in contexts as different as those of several countries in the North Global, from the Latin American and Turkish dictatorships, from the State of Emergency in India, or from South African apartheid. Furthermore, the various dimensions of Thompson’s life – as an anti-fascist communist activist, a popular educator, a central figure in the construction of the New Left, a pacifist leader, a university professor, a theatrical and charismatic speaker – are remembered by many and yielded juicy stories that will certainly capture the attention of our readers.
Finally, I would like to thank immensely the authors who kindly and, as a rule, enthusiastically, agreed to write for this dossier. The LEHMT/UFRJ team and translator Eneida Sela also deserve special thanks. The idea for the dossier was conceived at the beginning of 2024 and carried out, in a true tour de force, in around a month! This dossier is a clear demonstration that it is not only E. P. Thompson’s ideas and works that serve as an inspiration, but also his enthusiasm, energy, and struggle to transform the world.
Editor: Paulo Fontes
Design and layout: Deivison Amaral and Larissa Farias
Graphic design: Brenda Dias and Eduarda Gabrielle Olimpio
Image Research: Thompson Clímaco
General publicity: Ana Clara Tavares
Translations: Eneida Sela