Monday, 15 June 2015

The Magna Carta manifesto : liberties and commons for all

Marking 800 years since the Magna Carta, Stephen Town adds another compelling read to his Nightshelf donations.

Linebaugh, P., The Magna Carta manifesto, in the University Library at H 2.1 LIN

This is the week of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and so this subject is hard to avoid. The bandwagon of new publications on the topic is large, but I have decided to make a gift of a work published some time ago which I came across in the University of Washington Bookshop in Seattle while at a conference.

Whilst this is an academic work, like probably most books written on the Charter, it has a bias and a polemical style. It is unusual to commence such a work with a Monty Python quotation.

The book concentrates not solely on the Magna Carta itself, but also the accompanying Charter of the Forest created two years later. This other document may not generate much interest this week, but the Forest Charter was much more significant to ‘common’ people than the Great Charter, and has modern day resonance in relation to the basic necessities of living a free life. As the author, Peter Linebaugh says, “political and legal rights can only exist on an economic foundation. To be free citizens we need to be equal producers and consumers”.

It may not share the spotlight, but the
Forest Charter was much more significant
to 'common' people

I found this a startling book, because it pointed up my ignorance about the history of rights in this country, and suggested that I had not appreciated what the word ‘commons’ really means. Everyone will be talking about rights this week, but this book may be a better source for deeper thought than some of the other contributions lining the bookshop shelves.

Further reading:

The Library also has a number of e-resources on the Magna Carta including excerpts provided by Early English Books online. These can be found through Yorsearch.

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