The search for 'General Ludd': the mythology of Luddism

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In attempting to make sense of the working-class disturbances of the period 1811-13, both contemporaries and historians have searched for 'General Ludd' and his followers. The magistrates who sent out their spies to uncover the underground organization of the movement, the witnesses and prosecutors at the Assize trials giving their versions of events, the parliamentary Secret Committee set up to investigate the disturbances, and the historians who rely on evidence surviving from these sources have all attempted to understand Luddism's scope and revolutionary potential. Yet Luddisni can be analysed and understood in a different light. This article discusses aspects of its mythology and shared identity: that is, how Luddism was seen and transmitted in a more abstract form than physical organization. In assessing what it meant for its participants and opponents rather than what it actually achieved in practice, some suppositions can be suggested as to why Luddism developed in the way it did and managed to sustain itself for a relatively long period of time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-295
Number of pages16
JournalSocial History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2005


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