I’ve just added a new page to this website: a bibliography of Black Country history. This region is, as any scholar who tries to research it will tell you, tremendously under-researched compared to many comparable regions, which is strange when you consider the huge significance of the Black Country to British industrial, social, technological and cultural history. It’s a sign perhaps of the contradictions and complexities which sit within its history. The Black Country is no monolithic bloc politically-speaking, like the cotton towns of Manchester or the shipbuilding North-East. It’s not even monolithic industrially, with coal mining, metalworking, brickmaking, and other industries distributed in complex topographical and geographical ways.
This bibliography is an attempt to formalise what’s out there for the sake of the student or researcher, and to identify the gaps in the academic record. It’s all secondary literature, pulled from sources like the Bibliography of British & Irish History, the Urban History Bibliography, journals, Google Scholar and so on. I’ve aimed to limit it for now to “academic” texts, that is, footnoted and peer-reviewed. I don’t really like making this distinction – hierarchies aren’t really healthy, but I would be completely overwhelmed trying to do a comprehensive list, so as a starting point I can at least call on some reasonably objective criteria to limit it.
So what emerges? I’ve arranged it chronologically, and this shows that certain periods – the nineteenth century particularly – are far better represented than say the early modern or the twentieth century. This represents traditional social history I suppose: many of these articles date from the 1970s and 1980s and look at social conditions, urban politics and protest, and represent themes common to much history then. Eric Hopkins and George Barnsby’s many works are most representative here. But it does suggest that the history of the Black Country would bear telling for a broader period more substantially.
I could have tried arranging it thematically, which would also point out some disparities I think. For instance technological history is well represented, particularly steam engines, which is perhaps unsurprising being the home of the first Newcomen and Boulton-Watt engines – see Keith Gale’s and Jim Andrews’ articles particularly. And aristocracies and elites are covered too, with Trevor Raybould and Richard Trainor the best known (cf Jon Lawrence and others on Liberalism too). Several writers have written extensively on subjects using the region as a case study: Marie Rowlands on Catholicism and social change, Zvi Razi on medieval social history, David Philips on crime, Roger Swift also on crime but also immigration in Wolverhampton, and Peter Larkham on town planning. There are some great articles on the region’s post-war immigration history too, by Kevin Searle, Liz Buettner, Joe Street, plus several articles on the 1967 turban dispute in Wolverhampton.
But I think there are gaps too. There’s little placing the Black Country in its global or imperial contexts – work which is sorely needed, as Priya Satia’s recent book touching Birmingham shows. Something like this for chainmaking, or any other industry active in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, would be invaluable. There should be much more women’s history in a region like this too (though check out the articles on chainmaking by Sheila Blackburn and Carole E. Morgan, as well as Roz Watkiss Singleton for the mid-twentieth century), and I’d love to see more on other big cultural history themes too, like ‘race’ outside of the post-WW2 era, and Irish connections beyond Roger Swift’s sterling work. There’s plenty of study that still to be done on literary and artistic themes too.
This is an unfinished and constantly growing project of course. Please please please get in touch with comments and suggestions, and even better – please write some articles about the Black Country!