This essay integrates two themes: the enclosure of land, or of other resources, as a physical mechanism of privatization; and the technique of historical investigation known as writing history “from the bottom up.” Building on the work of Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel laureate in economics for her work on the commons, the essay criticizes the powerful and influential 1968 article “The Tragedy of the Commons” by the biologist Garrett Hardin. It demonstrates how Hardin's central argument is derived from the ideas of a nineteenth-century Oxford professor responding to a protracted series of militant actions by a small community in Oxfordshire that sought to defend its commons from enclosure. The acts of resistance exerted by these Oxfordshire commoners were among the first events uncovered and written about by members of the Ruskin College History Workshop who pioneered history “from below” in England during the early 1970s.

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