Robert Owen and his legacy

CFP: a conference in Wales, August 2008

Call for Papers

Robert Owen and his legacy

Gregynog Hall, Newtown, Wales, 14-17 August 2008

A major international conference to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Owen (1771-1858) will be held 14-17 August 2008 at Gregynog Hall near Newtown in Montgomeryshire, Wales. Plenary speakers include Professor Gregory Claeys (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Ian Donnachie (The Open University). The conference is organized by the Department of History and the Centre for the History of Wales and its Borderlands at Swansea University and is supported by the School of Humanities at Swansea University, Llafur: The Welsh People's History Society and the Society for the Study of Labour History.

Robert Owen's long and varied life touched on a number of themes of great importance to the understanding of the nineteenth century: industrialization, radical politics, early socialist thought, trades unionism, factory reform, political economy, education, religion, the beginnings of the co-operative movement. Owen was born in Newtown, and after spells in London and Lincolnshire he went into business as a cotton manufacturer in Manchester in 1788. Later marriage took him, as manager, to the New Lanark cotton mills, where he determined to improve the working and social lives of his employees. In 1813 his A New View of Society outlined a broader utopian vision, but, disillusioned by a lack of progress in Britain, in 1824 he journeyed to Indiana, where he established the New Harmony cooperative community. This experiment having failed, Owen returned to Britain in 1828, to find his ideas the focus of enhanced interest, as the early trade union and co-operative movements developed, and as others took an interest in communitarian socialism. Owen established the National Equitable Labour Exchange in London, published (1832-4) the newspaper The Crisis and promoted 'Rational Religion' in Halls of Science. Another cooperative community, at Queenwood near Tytherly in Hampshire, was established in 1839 (surviving until 1845), and Owen continue to proselytise, publishing (1834-46) his New Moral World, and in 1857-8 his autobiography (The life of Robert Owen written by himself). He died in 1858 at Newtown.

The conference also concerns Owen's legacy: the ways in which Owen's ideas have been influential in the century and a half since his death. In the nineteenth century the first generation to appreciate Owen concentrated on his importance for the development of the co-operative movement, and on his secularism. Later, Fabian thinkers focused on his ideas for social reform, claiming him for a non-Marxist tradition of British socialism. Marxist writers tended to be less sympathetic, pigeonholing Owen as a utopian socialist alongside Fourier and Saint-Simon. In the years between the world wars Fabian historians tried to integrate Owen into the history of the British working-class movement, but since 1945 Owen has been claimed by new left socialist historians, by feminist scholars, and by the American communitarian tradition. Today Owen's influence is felt in the global co-operative and fair trade movements, and his reputation stretches far beyond Wales and beyond Britain.

Papers are invited on any of the following topics or on any other topics of relevance to the general theme of the conference: Owen and factory reform; Owen and education; Owen the businessman; Owen and trades unionism; Owen and co-operation; Owen and radical politics; Owen and Chartism; Owen and feminism; Owen and class struggle; Owen the autobiographer; Owen and religion; Owen and utopian socialism; Owen and human nature; Owen and Manchester; Owen and New Lanark; Owen and New Harmony; Owen and Queenwood; Owen and Wales; A New View of Society; New Moral World; Owen and political economy; Owen and Owenism; Owen and the historians.

Proposals (maximum 500 words) for papers should be submitted to either Professor Noel Thompson ([mailto][/mailto]) or to Professor Chris Williams ([mailto][/mailto]) by 1 March 2008.

Chris Williams
Department of History / Yr Adran Hanes,
University of Wales Swansea / Prifysgol Cymru Abertawe,
Singleton Park / Parc Singleton,
Swansea / Abertawe,
SA2 8PP.

Email / ebost: [mailto][/mailto]
Telephone / ffôn: 01792 602318
Fax / ffacs: 01792 295746
Mobile / ffôn symudol: 07814 234403