skip to primary navigationskip to content

Professor Peter Mandler FBA

Professor Peter Mandler, FBA

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 cultural, social and intellectual history of Britain since c. 1800 and on the history of the humanities and the social sciences in the English-speaking world.   From 2012 to 2016 he served a four-year term as President of the Royal Historical Society.  He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:

Research Interests

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

My own current research preoccupations lie principally in two areas:

1)  The history of the humanities and 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, and in the comparative histories of the humanities in the anglophone world particularly since the 1960s:  see below for forthcoming publications in History of the Human Sciences and Past & Present.

2)  Education in Postwar Britain.   My work for the Royal Historical Society involved me in a wide range of contemporary debates about the place of history in modern British society, and this led me into historical research on the changing map of educational policy and provision in Britain over the last century.  The fruits of this research have appeared in a series of Royal Historical Society lectures, 'Educating the Nation', in 2013-16, and now a planned book, tentatively titled 'The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War'.  In turn this work led to a collaboration with Laura Carter and Chris Jeppesen with whom I will be engaged in 2017-21 in a four-year project funded by the ESRC on 'Secondary Education and Social Change in the UK since 1945' (for more information, see our website at

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).

I have also had a longstanding interest in the history of collecting.  With colleagues at Caius College I have developed the undergraduate Themes & Sources option on the history of collecting (which I currently teach with Dr Melissa Calaresu) and over the years I have supervised a number of PhD students in this area (including two with AHRC collaborative doctoral awards) who now work in a variety of jobs from academic posts to museum curatorships to positions in the heritage industry.  

Research Supervision

I am open to proposals from potential research students at Ph.D. level on topics in modern British cultural, intellectual and social history, and in the history of the humanities and social sciences.  Current Ph.D. students are working on the supply of materials to Victorian artists; photojournalism and the visualization of social democracy; George IV as collector;  British attitudes to Japanese civilization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries;  the uses of anthropology in 20th-century British thought and culture;  the collection of Renaissance decorative arts in the 19th century;  the Elmhirsts of Dartington;  the status and career of the author 1870-1914;  heritage preservation at the local level in the 19th century;  the psychology of development in India;  early transnational histories of anthropology;  and European art markets in the early 20th century.

As I will be on leave in 2018-19 I am not currently accepting MPhil students for next year.  But please do consider the wide range of alternative supervisors we have on offer for topics in modern British history (and I am happy to steer potential applicants to the appropriate people).  I will be able to supervise new PhD students starting at any time.

New York-Cambridge Training Collaboration (NYCTC):  Since 2015 PhD students in 20th-century British history have had 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 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 more information, please consult our website at


For undergraduates, I lecture and supervise for the two modern British economic, social and cultural history papers in Part I (10 and 11).  I also convene the Themes and Sources Option on the History of Collecting with Dr Melissa Calaresu.

For postgraduates, I run with colleagues a Ph.D. reading seminar, which in 2017-18 will meet jointly (by videoconference) 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 (see above).  

I also convene the Faculty's research seminar in modern cultural history, with Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Lawrence Klein.  It meets on alternate Wednesdays in term;  all welcome.  Please consult the seminar listings on the Faculty website for further details of this term's programme.

Other Professional Activities

President, Royal Historical Society, 2012-16

Convenor, Arts and Humanities Alliance, 2012-16

Editorial Boards, Historical Journal (chair), Virtus: Yearbook for the Study of the Nobility in Europe, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education


Key Publications

  • (ed., with David Cesarani) Great Philanthropists:  Wealth and Charity in the Modern World, 1815-1945 (2017)
  • 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

'Afterword:  Liberalism in the Round’, in Sarah Collins (ed.), Composing the Liberal Subject:  Liberalism and Victorian Music Culture (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2019)

‘Good Reading for the Million:  The “Paperback Revolution” and the Co-Production of Academic Knowledge in Mid-Twentieth Century Britain and America’, Past & Present, forthcoming 2019

‘Looking Around the World’, in Adelene Buckland and Sadiah Qureshi (eds.), Time Travellers:  Victorian Perspectives on the Past (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2018)

‘The Language of Social Science in Everyday Life’, History of the Human Sciences, forthcoming 2018

‘Parliamentary Scrutiny of Aid Spending:  The Case of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)’, Parliamentary Affairs, available online 8 Mar. 2018, (with Ambreena Manji)

‘Educating the Nation:  IV.  Subject Choice’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 27 (2017), 1-27

‘Contexts for Collecting:  Inheritance, Purchase, Sale, Tax and Bequest’, in Dora Thornton and Pippa Shirley (eds.), A Rothschild Renaissance: A New Look at the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum (British Museum Publications, 2017), 22-9