Monday, September 29, 2008

Death of an historian

History is our collective memory, the product of research, analysis and debate. Just sometimes it can be a personal memory too, encapsulating the sense of a lost world. One historian who managed to cross both spheres was William Woodruff, who has died aged 92. Though well published in a long academic career, he found popular acclaim late in life with his memoir of growing up in working class Blackburn, The Road to Nab End.

So how did someone who left school at 13 end up at Harvard? The answer is Adult Education and, specifically, the WEA. As its legacy is being so casually discarded today, it is apt to reflect on Woodruff's achievement and remember the person who was his early mentor, "his grandmother Bridget, who loved books and encouraged him to do the same".
"She was very talented, and look where it got her," he would say. "She ended up in the Blackburn workhouse."
We must never take our privileges for granted, nor forget the wasted talent of those who were never able to fulfil it. It's time to fight back.

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