J. F. C. Harrison

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John Fletcher Clews Harrison (28 February 1921 – 8 January 2018), usually cited as J. F. C. Harrison, was a British academic who was Professor of History at the University of Sussex and author of books on history, particularly relating to Victorian Britain. [1]



Harrison was born in Leicester in 1921. He was educated at City Boys' School and at Selwyn College, Cambridge. During World War II he served in the British Army as a captain in the 17th (Uganda) Battalion of the King's African Rifles. After the war he became a lecturer, then Deputy Director of the Department of Adult Education and Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Leeds. From 1961 to 1970 he was Professor of History at University of Wisconsin. He then was appointed Professor of Social History at the University of Sussex, where he remained until his retirement. He has held visiting appointments at Harvard University and the Australian National University. [2]

He died on 8 January 2018 at the age of 96. [3] An extended obituary by Malcolm Chase was published in the Labour History Review in 2019 [4]


'John Harrison writes always for an informed general public and not for examiners or fellow specialists', E.P.Thompson once commented, adding that 'he writes always with clarity, in an unhurried, authoritative, economical style'. [5] Thompson and Harrison had been colleagues in the University of Leeds Adult Education Department and the years they spent teaching adult students in 'extramural' classes up and down Yorkshire shaped their determination to make academic history as accessible as possible. This was also reflected in Harrison's formative role in the UK Society for the Study of Labour History, of which he was the first secretary. [6] At the heart of Harrison's achievement as a historian are three books.

  1. Learning & Living (1961), described as 'the most influential and widely read work in the field of adult education history'. [7]
  2. Robert Owen & the Owenites in Britain and America (1969), published in the USA under its subtitle The Quest for a New Moral World.
  3. The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780–1850. In his conclusion, Harrison commented: We see only as through a glass, darkly. At the end of this book it is apparent how little we know about what ordinary people "think and feel".' However the editors of his festschrift (see Honours below) believe Harrison 'as much as any historian of the nineteenth century, has opened up the history of ordinary people, their thought and feelings. His work is anything but doctrinaire, and it has eschewed preoccupation with narrow, male-dominated, labour movement institutions'. [7]

John Harrison's autobiography (Scholarship Boy: A Personal History of the Mid-Twentieth Century, 1995) is informative not only about the author's academic career but also life in pre-war Leicester and military service with the King's African Rifles.


For his 75th birthday his lifetime's work was celebrated by his colleagues with a festschrift:

This original collection of critical essays on issues of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rural life, popular politics and beliefs brought together fifteen well-known historians. All were associated with Harrison, and all shared his interest in the importance of the personal in history, as opposed to the history of impersonal institutions. Among the essays on popular belief were studies of millenarianism, the secularist tradition and a case study of American Muggletonianism – the last by E. P. Thompson. Other essays addressed Owenism, Chartism, the Chartist Land Plan, gender and autobiography, vegetarianism and popular journalism. There were critical evaluations of the influence of America on British radicalism and socialism, on the motives that drove workers' children to become teachers, and on the construction of images of English rural life.


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  1. Ernest Kay (1981). International who's who in education. International Who's Who in Education. p. 175. ISBN   0900332565.
  2. author information for Late Victorian Britain
  3. John Fletcher Clews Harrison Obituary
  4. Chase, Malcolm (1 April 2019). "Obituary: J.F.C. Harrison (1921–2018)". Labour History Review. 84: 71–83. doi:10.3828/lhr.2019.4. S2CID   150643909. Archived from the original on 20 May 2019. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  5. Review of Harrison's book The Second Coming in the Guardian 13 September 1979.
  6. Joan Allen, Alan Campbell and John McIlroy, Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives (2010), p. 28.
  7. 1 2 'John Harrison: an appreciation', Living and Learning, ed. M.Chase and I.Dyck (1996), p. 1.