|Lionel Munby took a communist approach to history, looking at the lives of ordinary people.|
Lionel Munby, who has died aged 90, taught and fostered the study of local history in Hertfordshire, edited the Local Historian and played a leading role in developing the subject in England.
Born in Oxford, Lionel developed his interest in social history and politics in the 1930s. After school in Oxford and Clifton college, Bristol, he entered Hertford College, Oxford, where in 1939 he graduated with a first in modern history. It was during this time that he, like many intellectuals of his generation, joined the Communist party.
With the war came military service, mainly in Italy. Initially, promotion eluded him, but he was eventually called in to his superior's office and told that it was silly that he was not being promoted just because he was a communist. The offending pages of his service record were then burned. Promotion followed, and he finished the war as the adjutant of Milan.
In 1946 he was appointed to teach at the Cambridge University's board of extramural studies. He soon started to teach local history in Hertfordshire as well. From the start, he got students actively involved in their learning, an approach being taken up by other historians, many with communist credentials, who looked at history from below, at the lives of ordinary people.
This involved reading documents, deciphering strange handwriting, studying maps and walking fields, all of which led to him writing local history. Many Hertfordshire local history publications in the 1960s, 70s and 80s owe their inspiration and editing to Lionel. Some classes led to the founding of local history societies.
He was on the committee of the Hertfordshire Association for Local History from 1955 to 1987, serving as chairman and president. He also provided the inspiration for the founding of the Hertfordshire Record Society and became its first secretary.
For 20 years he was the editor of the Amateur Historian, later the Local Historian. The change of title was indicative of Lionel's thinking. Local historians were not professional or amateur – just local historians. He was also involved in the British Association for Local History, in later years as president.
Lionel wrote a number of books. The Hertfordshire Landscape (1977) is considered a classic, and many of his other works are indispensable items on any local historian's bookshelves.
Marxism and history: a bibliography of English language works (1967)
East Anglian studies (1968)
The Luddites, and other essays (1971)
Kings & Queens: The Colouful History of the British Monarchy (1974)
Concise Encyclopedia of World History (1977)Reading Tudor and Stuart handwriting (1988)
How much is that worth? (1989)
Local History in Czechoslovakia
Lionel M. Munby
In June 1962 I took part in a Conference of History Lecturers from Czechoslovak Pedagogic Institutes, in Pilsen, on the teaching of local history. At the same time I was invited to meet and to talk with historians from Bratislavia University, from the Charles University of Prague and from the Academy of Sciences. The picture of recent developments in local history in Czechoslovakia which follows was gathered in this way. I am most grateful to Dr. Alice Teichovd of the Department of External Studies of Prague University, who, with the Ministry of Education, arranged my visit, for much additional information and for the correction of errors in what follows; for what is said, however, I take full responsibility.
Czechoslovakia before 1938 had local antiquarian societies not unlike those which existed in Britain, both in their approach to local history and in the social circles to which they appealed. However, interest in local history resembled that in Scotland and Wales rather than England, for both Czechs and Slovaks were acutely conscious of their nationality, expressed in opposition to centuries of German and Hungarian cultural influence. During the most recent German occupation there was an even more active process of Germanisation at work. Genealogies were published to prove the German origins of all distinguished contributors to Czechoslovak history, and local studies were distorted in the Nazi interest. Naturally after 1945 there was a violent reaction : the nationalism of the inter-war years was strengthened by the experience of the years 1938-45 Thus the first interest in local history after 1945 was not so much in the history of particular communities, villages or towns, as in the rediscovery and re-emphasis of the Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak cultural identities throughout their history.
This concern has led, for example, to major archaeological and historical research on the period of the Great Moravian Empire, to a new interest in and emphasis on the remarkable late Gothic graphic art of Bohemia and Moravia, to deep interest in the Hussite movement, and to new studies of the industrialisation of Bohemia and Moravia. The Hussite museum at Tabor has been revitalised. The Director showed me the graffiti recently discovered on the walls of the Council Chamber used in the fifteenth century; pride of place went to a drawing of Zizka, the Hussite military leader, guarding Heaven's gate, with a scrawled text claiming that as long as Zizka held the keys no German would enter. This nationalist undercurrent in local history has made history popular. There can be few parallels to the extra-ordinary response to the exhibition of national archives opened in Prague Castle in May 1958 : 1,700 documents were on display and 815,000 visitors came to the exhibition. This nationalist undercurrent is not a new thing; historical studies contributed to the development of Czech nationalism in the nineteenth century and before.
The second main element in the recent development of local history is a consequence of the economic and social changes which followed the political change in 1948. One is vividly reminded of Marc Bloch's remarks in The Historian's Craft 'Revolutions force the doors of safes, and put ministers to flight before they have had time to burn their secret papers ... the spirit of the secret society is inherent in all corporations. Here it is that the historian of the present finds himself plainly at a disadvantage'. In Czechoslovakia the modern historian is well served. Prof. J. V. Polisensky has described what has happened in Czechoslovakia : 'The decree No. 12/1945 authorised the State Archives of Agriculture to take over and safeguard the records of all large estates in Czechoslovakia. After 1948 the records of cathedrals and monasteries were put under the control of the Central State Archives . . . Since January 1st, 1956, all the archives throughout the country are controlled by the Archives Departments in the lower administrative units … With the help of voluntary assistants, mostly students reading history … it was possible to concentrate the records in thirty-five regional archives, distributed among the counties". The modern archives of firms, businesses and local government bodies are open for research. With a wealth of new archive material easily available, it is hardly surprising that the bulk of recent work in local history has been on modern and almost the last century. These were in Hungarian in Slovakia and in German in Bohemia and Moravia. The German was furthermore in Gothic script. Latin was in use for all official records in Slovakia until 1848. Few Czechs, today, know Latin or Hungarian or can read Gothic script. The difficulties which the British amateur meets when he reaches back to the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries are met by the Czechoslovak in the nineteenth century. For this reason the publishing of Calendars and Registers of Archives is an even more vital factor in developing the widespread study of Czechoslovak local history than it is in Britain.
This is a fact which is well appreciated. For example, while a Calendar of Bratislava's Archives up to the fifteenth century was published before the war, publication up to the eighteenth century is now in progress. emphasis on local history work. Students have to produce a piece of original work, as in British Teachers' Training Colleges; these are quite substantial studies. I saw an apparently very well documented history of the local glass industry. The Pilsen Institute, in which this work is more advanced than in most parts of Czechoslovakia, publishes its own annual journal of 200 to 300 pages, the bulk of articles in which are historical. Examples of topics covered are the economy of the Neuhauser estate 1563-6; Pilsen during the Thirty Years War (effects of the war on population); the beginning of industrialisation in West Bohemia; the impact of the 1848 revolutions on the Zbirower neighbourhood; the development of capitalism and the workers' movement in Pilsen to the beginning of the twentieth century; the Pilsen National Committee in 1985.
The student teachers are given practical help in making use of local museum and record sources. A regular part of their course consists of topo-graphical study, tours of the neighbourhood, visits to historical sites of many kinds, factories as well as castles and churches. Emphasis is put on training future history teachers in their responsibility for, and in the techniques of, preserving ancient buildings. In this connection it was revealing to find, on a visit to Karlstein Castle, that the guide was a chemistry student doing a vacation job, who had a passionate interest in, and considerable knowledge of, history. A great deal of the discussion which took place at the Conference in Pilsen would have been quite familiar to British teachers of local history. It was, however, interesting to hear some stress being put on the desirability.
One of the most delightful experiences of the Conference occurred during a visit to Cheb, an historic city which was very badly damaged during the war and is being remarkably restored. In the Castle grounds a teenager insisted on taking me to the cellar in which a group of his friends were making their own museum of finds made during the rebuilding of the town. They had begun this collection without any official encouragement, but now have the support of the local Museum Curator and are learning simple restoration techniques as well as the arts of display and the history necessary for an intelligent exhibition of their finds. There are, obviously, major differences between the situation in local history studies in Czechoslovakia and that in Britain, differences in the field of study and in the organisations at work.
The field of study in Czechoslovakia today seems to be more often the local institution than the local community; the organisation is more directly connected with history teaching in schools and universities. These differences arise from the different history of the two countries, remote as well as recent, but there is something to be learnt from mutual contact. I was impressed when visiting the Pilsen Brewery to find the whole entrance permanently filled by an exhibition illustrating the history of brewing in Pilsen and the history of the brewery, which historians and student teachers had prepared from the archives of the brewery as well as from general sources. The Czechs whom I met were impressed with British work in local history done by amateurs through local history societies and extra-mural classes; the local histories and journals I took with me did not come back.
JOHN MILLER (pp. 115 ...)
Songs of the Labour Movement
In March 1961 the Council of Czechoslovak Ethnologists and Folklorists, a section of the Czechoslovak Academy of Science, held an International Symposium for research into 'Workers Songs'. This was the first conference of its kind and covered a wide range of subjects. It revealed that work in this subject is taken very seriously, and that a great deal of research has been done in the Socialist countries, compared with those of the capitalist countries that were represented. This is true particularly of Great Britain, where the subject is not recognised officially, or academically, and no grants are given towards research.
The only small exception was, when, as part of the Festival of Britain, A.L. Lloyd was asked to arrange a competition for songs relating to miners and the mining industry, which led subsequently to the publication of his Come all ye bold miners by Lawrence & Wishart in 1952. Since then there has been a revival of interest in what might be termed 'industrial' or `workers' folk-song, including the creation of new songs in the folk—song idiom, which are being enthusiastically sung by young people in the many folk-song clubs that are springing up all over the country, and also in the CND and peace movements.
It is not possible or necessary to give a definition of workers' songs, but it will be agreed that included in the description are not only the 'industrial' folk-songs mentioned above, which are the urban equivalent of 'classical' folk songs collected in the first folk song revival of sixty years ago, but consciously composed songs of workers' conditions and lives, e.g. music hall songs, and the songs of revolt which stimulate and inspire the people in their efforts to improve their lives by struggle against an unjust social system and by striving to bring about a better one. Such songs of revolt on the part of oppressed classes have existed since society was divided into classes and examples are found in all periods and all countries. Our country is no exception, as is proved by the songs and ballads about the legendary Robin Hood, the songs of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and the songs of the English Revolution of the seventeenth century.