It is often suggested that the work of E. P. Thomson played a pivotal role in shaping South African historical writing and provided the foundations for a new school of social history. Thompson's writings – often refracted through many other texts – were one influence amongst many. This article, drawing on my own experiences of key moments of individuals and institutions, argues that the decisive and central role that is ascribed to his work does not accord with much more complex and localised realities. The article touches on numerous other influences that shaped the research and writing of succeeding cohorts of historians. It also suggests that while The Poverty of Theory was an influential publication, it did not initiate new forms of research and writing, but rather contributed to debates that were already well underway. In conclusion, the usefulness of the category of social history is disputed, as in the South African context it lends to a lazy lumping together of a very diverse selection of historians and needs to be rethought or replaced.
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