Empire, Welfare and Citizenship in Britain, 1870-1914

Tutor: Miles Taylor

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00031C

As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, Britain, along with other European countries, extended the responsibility of the central state for more aspects of social welfare than ever before. By the end of the First World War, pensions, national insurance and occupational welfare, primary education, and, infant and maternity care had all been made the subject of state intervention to the extent that we can talk of the modern welfare state having its origins in this period. Why this has happened has long perplexed historians, and a variety of explanations have been put forward: the threat of socialism, fears of imperial decline, racial ‘degeneration’ and economic competition from Germany and the USA, humanitarian responses to poverty, ideological attempts to create worthy ‘citizens’, as well as a fight between the political parties for working-class votes.

This module explores new ground by examining the links between the growth of the welfare state and Britain’s status as the world's foremost imperial power. To what extent did anxieties about the future of the imperial ‘race’ contribute to the sea-change in policy? How much did Britain learn from the social reform experiments being carried out in the white settlement colonies? And to what extent did the experience of famine, migration, epidemic disease and environmental pollution in the empire accelerate intervention at home?

Seminar topics may include:

    • Introductory: a British way of welfare? Empire and social reform before 1914.
    • The heart of the empire: urban life and the idea of degeneration
    • A race apart: poverty in the midst of plenty
    • Dangerous disease: public health panics at home and abroad
    • Modelling imperial families: maternity, childcare and education
    • From subjects to aliens: race, immigration and rights
    • Empire and environment: planning the new world
    • The legacy of empire: warfare and welfare after 1914


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

    • Harris, Bernard. The origins of the British welfare state : society, state, and social welfare in England and Wales, 1800-1945. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.


For more detailed information, please visit the module catalogue.