Masculinities and Political Culture in Britain, 1832-1901

Course Material 2024/25

This paper explores what the political history of Victorian Britain would look like if viewed through the lens of the history of masculinity. What difference did it make to British politics that the political elites were overwhelmingly male and that the electorate was exclusively male until 1918? The paper will examine how the conduct of politics was shaped by shifting cultural ideals and practices of masculinity. It explores how notions of political leadership were influenced by ideals of ‘manliness’; how working-class politics was shaped by male workplace culture; how reforming working-class masculinities became central to liberal politics; and how ideas about ‘gentlemanliness’, honour, sexuality and heroism influenced the practice of political elites.
These questions offer a way of exploring a set of deeper theoretical issues about the relations of power that existed between competing masculinities, and the ways in which men were or were not able to appropriate different male identities, both instrumentally and subjectively. Students will be introduced to a variety of approaches to political history, including the history of political languages, the social history of political activism, and the history of emotions. A wide range of sources will be used including diaries, letters, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary speeches, newspapers, cartoons, and photographs.