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Working class autobiographies (18th-20th C.)

"It gathers together 200 working class autobiographies from the British Library, from manuscript and monograph sources, that capture working people's education, childhood, and working conditions. These valuable historical sources bring the world of the 19th century working class vividly to life; from a policeman's accounts of criminal life to the memoirs of a show manager, from the spiritual conversion of a clown in prison to the tales of gypsy life." -- Gale Cengage

A striking illustration of the overlap between the oral and the written traditions, autobiographies constitute the vast majority of all books written by the working class in the 19th century. They reflect the rapid spread of literacy and the realization of its value as a means of communication with a wider audience beyond the local community. These writings - military and maritime adventures, spiritual memoirs, thieves' tales and other reminiscences of low life, accounts of self-improvement - provide not only a formal record of living conditions but also the people's own view of their lives presented in ways that may often contradict the version given in history books. The range of topics covered includes everything from ancestry to childhood and family relationships, from education to work and leisure, and from religion to politics, providing a significant insight into all aspects of working class life and experience in 19th century Britain.

Date range: 1792-1920

Size: 200 titles

Language: English

Keywords: Autobiographies, working class, Britain, social conditions

Notes: Related collections include the British Labour Party archives, the Trades Union Congress archives, Francis Place papers, Rare Radical and Labour Periodicals, and Public Order, Discontent, and Protest.