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Britain in the Long Twentieth Century - HIS00058I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mark Roodhouse
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

According to Sellars and Yeatman, the authors of the spoof history 1066 and All That, ‘English’ history ended when America replaced Britain as ‘Top Nation’ in 1918. For them the national story after the First World War was a forgettable tale of decline and fall. Contemporary historians echoed this ‘declinism’ in their accounts of the period. All agreed that the years since 1870 have been a time of dizzying economic, political, and social change. Britain, already thought of as the ‘workshop of the world’ and the ‘first industrial nation’ at the start of this period, was propelled by the technological and economic changes associated with the development of industrial capitalism into a ‘modern era’ characterized by industrialization, urbanization, ‘modernity’, and ‘mass society’ – at least that is how some have come to see it.

While few dispute the pace and extent of change, historians continue to struggle to understand its causes, consequences, and significance. In recent years historians have turned away from an earlier narrative of imperial and economic decline offset by rising living standards and a more inclusive notion of citizenship. An alternative story has yet to emerge, although this is not for want of trying. There are many tales to tell that challenge or complement the story of comfortable decline, including ‘the short life of social democracy’ (or ‘the long life of market culture’), neo-corporatism, and governmentality amongst others.

Unlike other modules with a mature historiography, you will have the chance to find your own evidence and tell your own tales as well as evaluate those told by historians. We will study themes in modern British history, focusing on the economic, the political, and the social and cultural by turns, considering the relationship between developments in these interconnected spheres, while evaluating historians’ attempts to develop integrated frameworks. Despite the youthfulness of the historiography, there is no shortage of primary or secondary source material to study. Historians are now discovering the recent past, but social scientists and cultural critics were there long before them. There are also new sources to consider – photographs, sound recordings, moving images, and digital data – that captured aspects of life in modern Britain.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students’ progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing

Module content

Teaching Programme:
This 20-credit module consists of 16 twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.

The provisional outline of titles for the lecture series is as follows:-

Briefing: Why Study Modern Britain?
1. Island Stories

Part 1 The Economy: globalisation to post-war reconstruction
2. Free Trade and Greater Britain
3. War and Peace
4. Decline and Declinism
5. ‘Other’ Narratives

Part 2 Politics and the Public
6. Leaps into the Dark: democratisation in Britain
7. Labour: the new kid on the block
8. Roads To and From 1945
9. Thatcher and After

Part 3 Experiences: society, community, self
10. Class Systems and Class Identity
11. Gender and Region in British Social Identity
12. Mass Culture
13. Identities and (Counter)cultures
14. The Death and Legacies of Christian Britain
15. A Multicultural Britain?

16. Reflections on Britain in the Long Twentieth Century - and the module

Round-up: Any Questions

Weekly discussion groups will focus on a key debate raised in the lectures. The topics are likely to be:

  1. Island Stories
  2. From Globalisation to Fragmentation
  3. Declinism - and Reconstruction?
  4. Adjusting to Democracy
  5. Consuming the State
  6. Class and Social Identity
  7. Re-Imagining Community
  8. Belief and Belonging


Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.


Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Carnevali, Francesca and Julie-Marie Strange, eds. Twentieth-Century Britain: Economic, Cultural and Social Change. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2007.

Clarke, Peter. Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900-2000. 2nd rev. ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2004.

Daunton, Martin. Wealth and Welfare: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1851-1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.