It’s a weird day when a presidential tweet reminds me of the discussion had the night before in my Digital Humanities class. It’s an even weirder day when I feel compelled to respond with a retweet. I blame the Luddites. The Luddites, 19th Century British weavers and textile workers, protested their loss of jobs by breaking apart the machinery that replaced them. Those participating in the
vandalism were a desperate lot. The jobless craftsmen were offered no government assistance or salvation, and instead were threatened with the death penalty if caught. Due to this threat, the majority of Luddite writings, including their rallying ballads, are not attributed to an author. Instead, they are simply labeled as “anonymous.” President Trump’s tweet blasted the long and necessary tradition of “anonymous” writers with the comment “When you see ‘anonymous source,’ stop reading the story, it is fiction!” I responded in part with “You need a history lesson Donald. Anonymity is used to keep one safe from persecution. Anon is the truth-speaker for the oppressed, bullied, & afraid.” Again, I blame the Luddites.
Before I digress further, here are two of the Luddite songs we examined in class. “The Cropper’s Song” can be found at http://ingeb.org/songs/comecrop.html and “General Ludd’s Triumph” at http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/interventionist/kipperman/ludd.html. For more Luddite history and songs, the BBC has a great thirty-minute program called “The Luddite Lament,” found here https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/b0112y4d. One song mentioned on this program, “Hunting a Loaf,” references the reason the Luddites protested. Kevin Binfield, editor of Writings of the Luddites, notes historian William Felkin’s speculation that “the primary causes of Luddism were hunger and misery.” This is echoed in the last stanza of “General Ludd’s Triumph” with the call for the re-establishment of “full fashioned work at the old fashioned price” so that “colting and cutting and squaring no more / Shall deprive honest workmen of bread.” The hosiery makers of Nottinghamshire, the croppers (highly-skilled cloth finishers) of Yorkshire, and the weavers and spinners of Lancashire were all part of the Luddite Rebellion, which lasted from 1811 – 1813. Although thousands of frames were smashed, it is generally thought of as a failure. Large factories soon became the norm, paying low wages and causing long, hazardous work days. Skilled craftspeople like the Luddites were no longer valued. Their battle cries still live on however, thanks to “anonymous.”