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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.  His latest book The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War will be published in 2020 by Oxford University Press.

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 I am currently writing a book, entitled 'The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War', to be published by Oxford University Press in 2020.  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

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 welcome proposals from potential research students at M.Phil. and Ph.D. level on topics in modern British cultural, intellectual and social history, and in the history of the humanities and social sciences.  As I will be on leave in 2020-21, I am unable to accept M.Phil. students for that year only but will continue to accept new Ph.D. students.  Current Ph.D. students are working on George IV as collector;  the collection of Renaissance decorative arts in the 19th century;  the 'aspiring author' 1870-1914;  heritage preservation at the local level in the 19th century;  the psychology of development in India;  early transnational histories of anthropology;  European art markets in the early 20th century;  the presentation of the natural world in new media in the interwar period;  popular auto-ethnography in new media in the interwar period.

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.  From 2021 I will be convening in the reformed Part I the IA outline paper on the history of Britain since c. 1750, offering with Melissa Calaresu a redesigned IA sources paper on Collections, and with Prof Sujit Sivasundaram a IB thematic paper on 'British Worlds'.

For postgraduates, I run with colleagues a Ph.D. reading seminar, which in 2019-20 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

Chair, Modern History Section (H10), British Academy, 2018-

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

  • The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War (2020)
  • (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

‘Looking Around the World’, in Adelene Buckland and Sadiah Qureshi (eds.), Time Travellers:  Victorian Perspectives on the Past (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2020)

‘The Rise and Fall of the Social Sciences in the British Educational System, 1960-2016’, in Plamena Panayotova (ed.), The History of Sociology in Britain: New Research and Revaluation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)

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

‘The Language of Social Science in Everyday Life’, History of the Human Sciences (2019),

‘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