Malcolm Chase

It is with great sadness that the Social History Society has heard of the death of Professor Malcolm Chase. Malcolm was an inspirational scholar, colleague, and a friend to many in the Society.

Malcolm was an active member of the Social History Society almost from its inception. After reading history at York, Malcolm moved to Sussex for an MA at the end of the 1970s. He remained at Sussex to complete a DPhil under the supervision of J.F.C. Harrison (a pioneer of ‘history from below’) and joined the society as a postgraduate. He was a long-serving member of the committee and chaired the society from 2011-2014.

Malcolm’s professional career was spent at the University of Leeds. From 1982 to 2005, he worked for the university’s Department of Adult Continuing Education (later School of Continuing Education). Initially appointed as an administrative assistant, he became Reader in Labour History and Head of School before moving to the School of History in 2005. There, he was promoted to Chair in Social History and oversaw the school’s REF 2014 submission as Director of Research.

He was, however, best known as a leading authority of British social movements and political radicalism. His research spanned agrarian reform, early trade unionism, and Chartism.

His first book The People’s Farm: English Radical Agrarianism, 1775–1840 (Oxford University Press, 1988), explored the political thought and influence of the agrarian reformer Thomas Spence. In it, Malcolm argued that labour historians needed to consider questions relating to the land as well as ‘the industrial revolution’. His second book, Early Trade Unionism: Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour (Ashgate, 2000), similarly argued that British trade unionism owed much to ideas and practices that pre-dated the eighteenth century.

Malcolm’s third book, Chartism: A New History (Manchester University Press, 2007) is his best known and has already become a landmark study. In the words of Robert Saunders, who reviewed the book in 2008, its argument was ‘subtle, wide-ranging and richly detailed, synthesising a lifetime of research and engagement’.

Malcolm made an enormous contribution to the historical profession. Alongside his distinguished teaching and research, and his contribution to our society, he was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; vice president of the Society for the Study of Labour History; chair of the journal Northern History; history editor of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal; and a member of the editorial boards of Cultural and Society History, Llafur: The Journal of Welsh People’s History, and La Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle. He was a kind, warm, and generous scholar, who used his standing to encourage and promote others in the field.

Malcom retired in 2019 due to ill health. Despite this, he remained a collegial as ever, apologising for missing our annual conference and promising one day to return. He will be missed by the whole Social History Society and our thoughts and sympathies are with his family at this difficult time.

Professor Naomi Tadmor, current chair of the Social History Society, has said:

Not long ago colleagues and friends in Social History Society were very saddened to hear that Malcolm was taken ill. After years of remarkable work and service, he was looking forward to many more years of excellent and prolific research.

I first met Malcolm when I joined Social History Society as a doctoral student, and I came to know him over the years as a life-long member, Committee member, and Chair.

It was always a pleasure to talk with him about History, the Society, and current affairs. As a community, Social History Society owes Malcolm a great deal, and extends its deepest condolences to his family.