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Rodney Hilton, Marxism and the transition from feudalism to capitalism

Epstein, Stephan R. (2007) Rodney Hilton, Marxism and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Past and Present, 195 (Suppl.). pp. 248-269. ISSN 0031-2746

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Abstract

A founding member of the Historians’ Group of the Communist Party, of the journal Past and Present, and a major force in a distinctive and distinguished School of History at the University of Birmingham, Rodney Hilton was among the most notable medieval historians of the latter half of the twentieth century. He was also the most influential of a small number of Marxist medievalists in Britain and Continental Europe who practised their craft before the renaissance of Marxist and left-wing history after 1968. Surprisingly, therefore, his work's historiographical and theoretical significance has not attracted much attention. Although Hilton was, first and foremost, a ‘historian's historian’, and made his most lasting contributions to the fields of English social, agrarian, and urban history, his engagement with Marxist historical debates cannot be lightly dismissed.Hilton's Marxism, a central feature of his self-understanding as a historian, reflects both strengths and weaknesses of British Marxist historiography in its heyday, and his interpretation of a locus classicus of Marxist debate, the transition from feudal to capitalist modes of production, still carries considerable weight among like-minded historians. This brief essay proposes to identify the salient features of Hilton's contribution to the ‘transition debate’; examine his move in the early 1970s to address certain problems he identified with that debate, and his renewed concern with the question of the ‘prime mover’; suggest reasons why this theoretical move was only partly successful; and, by way of conclusion, set out briefly some lines of future empirical and theoretical engagement.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://past.oxfordjournals.org/
Additional Information: © 2007 Oxford University Press
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain > DAW Central Europe
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Rights: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/usingTheLibrary/academicSupport/OA/depositYourResearch.aspx
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2008
URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3523/

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