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Professor Peter Mandler

Professor Peter Mandler

Professor of Modern Cultural History

Bailey College Lecturer in History, Gonville and Caius College

Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA
Office Phone: 01223 7 68779


Peter Mandler was born in the USA in 1958, educated at Oxford and Harvard Universities, and has taught in Britain since 1991 and in Cambridge since 2001, where he is now Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and Bailey College Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College.  He writes on the political, cultural, social and intellectual history of Britain since c. 1800 and on the history of the social sciences in the English-speaking world.   From 2012 to 2016 he serves a four-year term as President of the Royal Historical Society.

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:

Research Interests

British history since c. 1800, especially cultural, intellectual and social history;  the history of the social sciences in Britain and America; concepts and methods in cultural history;  educational history and policy.

My own current research preoccupations lie principally in three areas:

1)  The history of the social sciences.   My most recent book, Return from the Natives:  How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War, tells the story of the 'national character' studies through which Mead and her closest associates such as Ruth Benedict and Geoffrey Gorer sought to apply anthropological and psychological methods to international relations at a time of rapid globalization.  I am now pursuing further research in this area, with a special interest in the diffusion of the language of social science into everyday life through the media of non-fiction bestsellers, journalism and higher education.

2)  Education in Britain.   My work for the Royal Historical Society has involved me in a wide range of contemporary debates about the place of history in modern British society, and I am also now engaged in historical research to provide some deep context for these debates for a series of Royal Historical Society lectures, 'Educating the Nation', in 2013-16, and for a planned book, tentatively titled 'The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War'.   

3)  Victorian Studies.  In 2006-11 I directed with colleagues in English, Classics and History of Science a Leverhulme Trust-funded project, 'Past vs. Present:  Abandoning the Past in an Age of Progress', which explored the various ways in which the Victorians situated themselves in the flow of history.  Although the project has now formally ended, our team of five directors, eight research fellows, and three doctoral students remains connected and is in the process of producing singly and jointly written books reporting on the results of the project.  My own writing in this field is focusing on questions of 'development' and 'progress' (and particularly attitudes to the 'creative destruction' involved in environmental change), and on the acquisition and organization of knowledge of the world's peoples and cultures (connecting here to my interest in the later development of area studies).

Research Supervision

I am open to proposals from potential research students at M.Phil. or Ph.D. level on topics in modern British cultural, intellectual and social history, and in the history of the social sciences.  Current Ph.D. students are working on the supply of materials to Victorian artists;  the rise of sub-cultures of collecting in the late Victorian period;  concepts of time and space in the early 20th century;  photojournalism and the visualization of social democracy; George IV as collector;  cultural reactions to urbanization in the late 19th century;  histories of everyday life in mid-20th century Britain;  British attitudes to Japanese civilization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries;  and ideas of the 'primitive' in British thought and culture before the Second World War.

From 2015 PhD students in 20th-century British history will have the opportunity to participate in a Cambridge-New York training collaboration, in association with Susan Pedersen of Columbia University and Guy Ortolano of New York University.   Activities will include a joint reading group (see below) and occasional workshops on both sides of the Atlantic, to compare intellectual approaches, styles of teaching, field definitions and employment opportunities, and to expose students to new research materials that can shed light on 'Britain in America's Century'.   


For undergraduates, I lecture and supervise for the two modern British economic, social and cultural history papers in Part I (10 and 11).

For postgraduates, I run a Ph.D. reading seminar with Dr Jon Lawrence and Dr Lucy Delap, 'Critical Readings in Modern British History', which in 2015-16 will meet jointly (by teleconference) with staff and students from Columbia University and New York University, as part of the Cambridge-New York training collaboration in 20th-century British history.

I also convene the Faculty's research seminar in modern cultural history, with Dr Lawrence Klein.

Other Professional Activities

President, Royal Historical Society, 2012-16

Editorial Boards, Historical Journal, Modern Intellectual History, Virtus: Yearbook for the Study of the Nobility in Europe

Key Publications

  • Return from the Natives:  How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War (2013)
  • (ed., with Astrid Swenson) From Plunder to Preservation: Britain and the Heritage of Empire, c. 1800-1940 (2013)
  • The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (2006)
  • (ed.) Liberty and Authority in Victorian Britain (2006)
  • History and National Life (2002)
  • The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home (1997)
  • (ed., with Susan Pedersen) After the Victorians: Private Conscience and Public Duty in Modern Britain (1994)
  • (ed.) The Uses of Charity: The Poor on Relief in the 19th-Century Metropolis (1990)
  • Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform(1990)


Other Publications

  • 'Educating the Nation:  II.  Universities', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, forthcoming 2016
  • 'Looking Around the World', in Adelene Buckland and Sadiah Qureshi (eds.), Time Travellers:  Victorian Perspectives on the Past (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2016)
  • ‘Totalitarianism and Cultural Relativism:  The Dilemma of the Neo-Freudians’, in Daniel Pick and Matt ffytche (eds.), Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism (Routledge, forthcoming 2015)
  • ‘The Impact of the State’, in Pedro Ramos Pinto and Bertrand Taithe (eds.), The Impact of History?  Histories at the Beginning of the 21st Century (Routledge, 2015)
  • 'The Two Cultures Revisited:  The Humanities in British Universities since 1945', Twentieth Century British History, forthcoming 2015
  • ‘The Universities and the Human Sciences’, in Michael Saler (ed.), The Fin-de-Siècle World (Routledge, forthcoming 2015)
  • 'Educating the Nation:  I.  Schools', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 24 (2014), 5-28
  • 'The Heritage Panic of the 1970s and 1980s’, in Peter Itzen and Christian Müller (eds.), The Invention of Industrial Pasts: Heritage, Political Culture and Economic Debates in Great Britain and Germany, 1850-2010 (Wißner-Verlag, 2013)
  • ‘Deconstructing “Cold War Anthropology”’, in Joel Isaac and Duncan Bell (eds.), Uncertain Empire:  American History and the Idea of the Cold War (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • ‘Rethinking the “Powers of Darkness”: An Anti-History of the Preservation Movement in Britain’, in Melanie Hall (ed.), Towards World Heritage:  Preservation in an Age of Empire (Farnham:  Ashgate,  2011), 221-39
  • ‘Revisiting the Olden Time:  Popular Tudorism in the Time of Victoria’, in Tatiana C. String and Marcus Bull (eds.), Tudorism:  Historical Imagination and the Appropriation of the Sixteenth Century (Oxford:  Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2011), 13-35
  • ‘Caste or Class?  The Social and Political Identity of the British Aristocracy since 1800’, in Jörn Leonhard and Christian Wieland (eds.), What Makes the Nobility Noble? Comparative Perspectives from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2011), 178-87
  • ‘Being His Own Rabbit:  Geoffrey Gorer and English Culture’, in C. V. J. Griffiths, James J. Nott, and William Whyte (eds.), Cultures, Classes, and Politics:  Essays on British History for Ross McKibbin (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2011), 192-208
  • 'The Responsibility of the Historian', in H. Jones, K. Ostberg and N. Randeraad (eds.), History on Trial: The Public Use of Contemporary History in Europe since 1989 (Manchester University Press, 2007). Spanish translation: 'La responsabilidad del historiador', Alcores: Revista de Historia Contemporanea 1 (2006), 47-61.
  • 'What is National Identity? Definitions and Applications in Modern British Historiography', Modern Intellectual History 3 (2006), 271-97