Peter Linebaugh has been an insightful and prolific historian and commoner for nearly fifty years, He is one of the most illustrious historians of the commons in the world today, best known for his social and political histories of commoners caught in struggles with state power and early capitalists.
I caught up with Peter recently for a talk about his scholarship and political thinking about the commons in history, now available on Episode #14 of my podcast Frontiers of Commoning. We explored such issues as the importance of the Charter of the Forest and Magna Carta; the criminalization of customary practices as early capitalism arose; the special relationship of women to the commons and therefore their persecution; and the role of commoning in struggles for political emancipation.
In the 1960s, Linebaugh was a student of British labor historian E.P. Thompson, a towering figure who inspired a generation of left historians to show how history can illuminate contemporary life and politics and provide strategic guidance.
Linebaugh, now retired from the University of Toledo after stints at many major universities, has a way of conjuring up entire ways of knowing and being that have disappeared. At the University of Warwick, in England in the 1970s, Linebaugh was part of a group of historians who called themselves the “crime collective” because they studied the “social banditry” (Eric Hobsbawm’s term) that was used to resist early capitalism in England.