Contemporary History, Politics and Public Life

Course Material 2024/25

What does it mean to write the history of the recent past? As a field, contemporary history lacks firm boundaries. Some journals define it in chronological terms: history since 1918, 1930 or 1945. For others, it means ‘writing the history of one’s own times’ (Peter Hennessy) or looking for the historical moment ‘when the problems which are actual in the world today first take visible shape’ (Geoffrey Barraclough). This Research Project will engage students in the study of the recent past, placing a particular focus on the place of contemporary history in politics and public life. Over the course of eight seminars, students will be encouraged to consider how and where the study of history intersects with institutional and popular memory, the construction of ‘official’ or collective pasts and the practices of public commemoration, and to ask who gets to write contemporary history, using what materials, and why it matters. The course content moves from Britain to South Africa and the Middle East, exploring a range of contexts for studying the recent past, and includes a hands-on session working with primary sources at the Churchill Archives Centre.