The Missing Story of Mary Burns and Fred: Silences in the Story of History

Coming shortly…. This is a placeholder for an article which is to be published soon as an appendix to a peer reviewed paper submitted to the PRISM Journal and presented at the 2020 Working Class Academics conference. The paper submitted to PRISM is called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons People: A Marmot Overview’ and lays out a perspective on how ‘workingclassness’ can be interpreted as being on a spectrum of having to perform to gain access to sufficiency, the mechanics of a hierarchy of permissions and allowances, the psychology of exclusion, and the effects on life expectancy and health as drawn from Michael Marmot‘s work.

Michael Marmot
Michael Marmot


This placeholder is a deep historical examination of Mary Burns.  Frederick Engels was the lifelong lover of Mary Burns yet there is nearly no mention of her in the annuls of history.  Not much is known or written about Mary Burns just as we dont hear much spoken about the inner philosophical lives of the ‘servants’ of Marcus Aurelius. The accounts of Engels are adorned with epithets such as journalist, philosopher, historian, political scientist, sociologist, and businessman. Mary Burns is scarse known other than being lover of Engels. We don’t even have a record of where her body was buried.

After studying historical documents which make passing reference to Mary Burns I am suggesting that she was at the center of a series of intersecting prejudices which served to effectively silence her erasing her from history almost entirely. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theoretical framework of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) illustrates how the life of Mary Burns was “theoretically erased” and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s theory of power and the production of history (Trouillot, 2015, p.25) accounts for her historical reality being erased and replaced with silences.

The extensive research effort which was put in to discover what we can possibly know about Mary Burns is to be published here as Appendix A to the paper submitted to the journal.  I felt that it was important to put my findings into the public domain and ensure that this body of work was attached to the paper without shortening or truncation.  The story of Mary Burns gives a practical demonstration of the intersectional societal dynamics which are being articulated in ‘The Tragedy of the Commons People: A Marmot Overview’.

At over 11,000 words, this forthcoming study is a short version of a larger multidisciplinary study necessary to give a multi-axis account of a woman I argue who represents an important figure in intellectual and cultural history.  Who that person is, who that person was, I will leave it to you, the reader, to discover through your sense of wonder.  For me, this is the person who is the most part of history but who we find scarce mention of in our books or cultures.

In the meantime, I am going to share in this placeholder some of Michael Marmot’s work and thinking which offers an important analysis relevant to understanding both what became of Mary Burns and the tragedy that befalls the commons people.  Once peer review has taken place of the paper, it will be shared on the Ragged University website.  Best wishes, Alex Dunedin


Some documents: