John Fletcher Clews Harrison (28 February 1921 - 8 January 2018), usually cited as J. F. C. Harrison, was a British academic who was Professor of History at the University of Sussex and author of books on history, particularly relating to Victorian Britain.
Harrison was born in Leicester in 1921. He was educated at City Boys' School and at Selwyn College, Cambridge. During World War II he served in the British Army as a captain in the 17th (Uganda) Battalion of the King's African Rifles. After the war he became a lecturer, then Deputy Director of the Department of Adult Education and Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Leeds. From 1961 to 1970 he was Professor of History at University of Wisconsin. He then was appointed Professor of Social History at the University of Sussex, where he remained until his retirement. He has held visiting appointments at Harvard University and the Australian National University.
He died on 8 January 2018 at the age of 96.
'John Harrison writes always for an informed general public and not for examiners or fellow specialists', E.P.Thompson once commented, adding that 'he writes always with clarity, in an unhurried, authoritative, economical style'. Thompson and Harrison had been colleagues in the University of Leeds Adult Education Department and the years they spent teaching adult students in 'extramural' classes up and down Yorkshire shaped their determination to make academic history as accessible as possible. This was also reflected in Harrison's formative role in the UK Society for the Study of Labour History, of which he was the first secretary. At the heart of Harrison's achievement as a historian are three books.
John Harrison's autobiography (Scholarship Boy: A Personal History of the Mid-Twentieth Century, 1995) is informative not only about the author's academic career but also life in pre-war Leicester and military service with the King's African Rifles.
For his 75th birthday his lifetime's work was celebrated by his colleagues with a festschrift:
This original collection of critical essays on issues of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rural life, popular politics and beliefs brought together fifteen well-known historians. All were associated with Harrison, and all shared his interest in the importance of the personal in history, as opposed to the history of impersonal institutions. Among the essays on popular belief were studies of millenarianism, the secularist tradition and a case study of American Muggletonianism - the last by E. P. Thompson. Other essays addressed Owenism, Chartism, the Chartist Land Plan, gender and autobiography, vegetarianism and popular journalism. There were critical evaluations of the influence of America on British radicalism and socialism, on the motives that drove workers' children to become teachers, and on the construction of images of English rural life.