Time, history and the making of the industrial middle class: the story of Samuel Smith

Loftus, Donna (2017). Time, history and the making of the industrial middle class: the story of Samuel Smith. Social History, 42(1) pp. 29–51.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03071022.2017.1256092


This article uses the politics of time to explore the making of the industrial middle class. It argues that anxieties about the decline of industry and the future of liberalism at the end of the nineteenth century fuelled a small explosion in life writing, prosopography and popular history. Accounts combined anecdotes about everyday life and reminiscences of the great civic age in a network of texts that attempted to recreate the associational life of the industrial middle class and present it as the foundation of national progress. However, slips in time between retrospection, nostalgia, memory and history reveal the complexity of late-Victorian anti-industrialism and the tensions in liberalism between a political culture that was inclusive and open and a social world that was not. The article combines a deep reading of the autobiography of the cotton magnate and liberal politician Samuel Smith alongside popular local history and collective biography. In so doing it shows how life stories were consciously composed as history, intent on shaping the provincial middle class as a historical force at a time of uncertainty about the future of industry and of liberalism.

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