Rural History

Research Article

Rural History: The Prospect Before Us

Liz Bellamy, K. D. M. Snell and Tom Williamson

Two questions will no doubt greet the arrival of this journal: why rural history? and why now? The current economic climate is hardly favourable for ventures of this kind. But recent developments in the numerous fields which touch on matters rural indicate a real academic need for a new forum for interdisciplinary exchange. Much exciting and innovative work has been carried out over the past decade – on the nature and structure of rural communities; on regional differences and identity; on how rural workers are defined and represented by others and by themselves; on the relationship between the urban and the rural. Yet this research has been scattered across a range of disciplines and subdisciplines, many of which tend to be regarded as marginal to the central thrust of historical investigation. In areas like folklore studies or art history, ideas of the rural have developed apace, and the terms of the analysis of the rural community have acquired considerable methodological complexity. Yet the study of ‘rural history’ continues to be rather narrowly defined, confined by an essentially economistic agenda that has excluded much of the most fascinating recent work. Rural history is often seen as synonymous with agricultural history, and although the latter has generated a great deal of valuable and interesting research, its privileging of the economic perspective has tended to preclude the methodological inclusiveness that now seems necessary to foster cross-fertilisation between the disparate areas in which the study of rural society is being pursued.