In Conversation: E.P. Thompson and C.L.R. James

An interesting conversation recorded sometime around 1982 between two of my favorite historians: EP Thompson and CLR James. The most fascinating part of the 50-minute conversation/interview comes toward the end, beginning at about minute 43′ in which they start talking about how and why to write history. The conversation nicely gives a flavor of both historians’ Marxism: the “unpredictability of process,” defining human need beyond narrow economic needs, and how to make history contemporary. Below is an annotation for those that want to browse through pieces of video.

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1′-20′ Thompson was heavily involved in the anti-nuclear peace movement at the time, so the first 20 minutes of the interview are about the Cold War and the peace movement.

18′-26′ Mostly about Solidarity in Poland, which both of them are enthusiastic and celebratory about. They talk about what this could mean about the balance of forces within the eastern bloc.

26′-39′ Has a lot of Thompson talking about India. They are both optimistic about its radical political potential. Independence struggles and post-colonialism come up, and they mention Brazil as another country to watch.

40′-51′ Why and how we write history and why that changes the way other historians write history.

(h/t: Thanks to Jeffrey Webber for the link.)

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