Department of History
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BA (Exeter), MA (Warwick), PhD (London Guildhall), FRHistS
Lawrence Black is Professor of Modern History. He specializes in the history of political culture and has research interests across the modern period. He is currently writing a book about popular conservative identities and lifestyles in 1980s' Britain and America, provisionally entitled 'The Indiscreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie.' He is also starting a project on the career and influence(s) of opinion researcher, Mark Abrams. He has commented on the history of affluence, consumerism and politics on BBC TV and radio. His research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and British Academy and he has been a Fellow at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, at Churchill College Archives in Cambridge and a Fulbright Visiting Professor. He is a member of the editorial board of the journals Twentieth Century British History and Contemporary British History.
Lawrence joined the department at York in 2012 having taught at the Universities of Bristol and Durham in the UK, and Duke and American University in the USA.
Lawrence has mainly written on the history of political culture in Britain in the later twentieth century. His work is interested in the practices, language and status of politics in the wider culture (a relationship more apathetic than historians focused on elections and policy allow). His book, Redefining British Politics (2010), explores the interactions of political parties, social movements and social and cultural change in the 1950s-60s. It discusses how understandings of "the political" changed in engagement with post-materialist issues, but also struggled to compete with them and with public scepticism. It analyses youth, consumer, cultural and media politics and the impact of TV on political communication.
His next book looks at lived conservatism in 1980s' Britain and America, and specifically the best-selling Sloane Ranger and Preppy Handbooks. He uses the handbooks to explore dress, class, accent, ethnicity, food, empire and a cultural apparatus of elitism. It ranges from a history of the King's Road and hunting to an application of concepts like taste and habitus from (contemporaneously translated into English) Bourdieu's 'Distinction.' The handbooks were, he suggests, nothing less than guidebooks to being conservative and thus a key source for understanding the Thatcher and Reagan eras.
His new research project is thinking about the career of opinion researcher, pollster and sociologist Mark Abrams. Abrams was a protean figure who researched newspaper reading, TV watching, advertisement memory recall, race relations, popular political opinion and much (much) more. He was involved in designing the 1964 election campaign 'Let's go with Labour', the naming of 'The Sun' newspaper and removing 'Manchester' from the title of 'The Guardian', as well as working for the Social Science Research Council, Age Concern and the UK and US governments on WW2 propaganda. Between the 1930s and 1980s and ever since he has been omnipresent as a source for modern British historians, but rarely as a subject. 'The Uses of Numeracy' as the project is titled, aims to get to grips with this hidden persuader and servant of the data - a mass observer by nature, although a critic of Mass Observation's qualitative approach, preferring to hone a sample survey method.
Lawrence has also recently co-edited Reassessing 1970s Britain (2013) that brings together key figures (in areas like economics, politics, feminism and publishing) from the period with historians to rethink the much-maligned decade.
Lawrence would welcome enquiries from prospective postgraduates interested in all these areas. Lawrence has supervised PhDs on television, immigration, labour and ethnicity, working-class artists, juvenile delinquency, consumerism and distribution and Anglo-Chilean feminism. He has examined PhDs in Australia, Canada, and the USA as well as the UK.
Summer term 2023
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