Friday, November 7, 2014


I am now deep into Chapter Three of my re-reading of Capital, and as I read I also turn over in my mind possible paper topics for the students.  One idea I have long had was to turn a student loose on the Irish University Reprint Series of the British Parliamentary Factory Inspectors' Reports.  These are wonderfully rich, detailed accounts of what government inspectors found when they went into factories and interviewed workers in the early nineteenth century.  The reports, which gave rise to a series of reform bills, served as part of the evidentiary basis for Marx's famous Chapter Ten, "The Working Day."  He read them, along with much else, during his endless hours in the British Museum.  I have myself spent some hours reading in these volumes, and they are mesmerizing.  [The entire series runs to one thousand volumes, and deals with everything from the slave trade to sewage and drains.]  I have just ascertained that the Duke University Library has the entire thousand volumes on its shelves, available to UNC as well as Duke students.

What might a student work on?  One idea is to compare the copious quotations from the volumes in Capital with the originals to see whether there is any pattern in Marx's process of selection.  For example, do his selections reveal a sentimental bias by emphasizing the experiences of women and children in the factories?  Does he choose passages that indicate worker militancy? 

I have no idea whether there is already a journal literature on the subject, but if not, this could make a very nice publishable essay.


  1. What a wonderful idea. Archives are one of humankind's greatest inventions. (Is it possible to think 'archive' without 'dusty' echoing somewhere in a corner of one's mind?) Turning "big data" into something worthy of being counted as an archive will be quite the trick.

  2. "Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex (the ugly ones included)." -Marx

    I THINK David Harvey has done some research on comparing Marx's capital to the reports, and I remember he had some interesting conclusions about Marx's reading of the data.

    I can MAYBE send you it if you're interested.

  3. I would be very interested if it is not too much trouble