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Unit information: The Making of Contemporary Britain (1918-2008) in 2020/21

Unit name The Making of Contemporary Britain (1918-2008)
Unit code HIST20114
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Charnock
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The past 100 years of British history have been characterised by enormous change. The advent of mass democracy, mass communication, mass production, and mass consumption produced novel challenges for politicians and society alike. New experiences, often driven by technological advances, and changing social formations opened up opportunities for many, whilst simultaneously serving to exclude others. Divisions along lines of class, gender, race and sexuality plagued domestic politics, resulting in fractious debates regarding the right to citizenship, to vote, to work, to marry, and even the right to a basic standard of living. Life in Britain was rarely, if ever, a uniform experience. For both historians and those living through the twentieth century explaining the continuities and changes of the period has been a challenge. In their attempts to do so, they created various narratives about the nation, its citizens, its history, and its relationship to the wider world. These are the narratives of contemporary Britain which continue to shape our understandings today.

This unit aims to introduce students to the uneven scope, scale, and pace of change in contemporary Britain. In particular students will interrogate the ways in which different narratives of continuity and change emerged in and about the twentieth century in Britain, and the purposes they have served. By exploring different areas of life – from politics, voting and protesting, to working, shopping, belief and love – students will engage with alternative ways of understanding this period in British history. Has the twentieth century really witnessed the ‘Death of Christian Britain’? Did the nation spiral into long-term economic decline after the heyday of the Victorian industrialisation? Was there a sexual revolution in the 1960s? And did the 1980s see the demise social democracy under the tutelage of Margaret Thatcher? This unit will enable students to tackle big historiographical debates in the field and to develop a more complex understanding of the political turmoil, economic uncertainty, and social upheaval of the twentieth century, all of which shape the world we live in today.

Unit Aims:

  • To provide a broad grounding in the history of contemporary Britain.
  • To enable students to develop opinions and judgements about the social, cultural, economic and political development of Britain in the twentieth century that are both informed and independent.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the major narratives of change and continuity in Britain in the twentieth (and early twenty-first) century.
  2. Explain the relationship between economic, social, political, and cultural change and continuity in modern and contemporary Britain.
  3. Evaluate the key historiographical debates surrounding contemporary British history
  4. Interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points
  5. Present their research and judgements in written and oral forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 2500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Formative Oral Presentation [ILO 5]

Reading and References

Francesca Carnevali, and Julie-Marie Strange, Twentieth-century Britain': Economic, Cultural and Social Change (2007).

Peter Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000, 2nd ed (2004).

Nicholas Crowson, Matthew Hilton, James McKay (eds), NGOs in contemporary Britain: non-state actors in society and politics since 1945 (2009).

Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880 2nd ed (2012).

Pat Thane (ed), Unequal Britain: Equalities in Britain since 1945 (2010).

James Vernon, Modern Britain, 1750 to the Present (2017).