Dr David Cowan

David Cowan
I teach and direct studies at Trinity Hall.
My PhD examined the evolution of popular memories of the inter-war years in Britain and their political implications. An article based on an early part of this research won the 2017 Duncan Tanner Prize and was published in Twentieth Century British History. I submitted my PhD thesis in September 2019 and passed my viva in January 2020. In my thesis, I've tried to foreground the importance of inter-generational dynamics in shaping everyday political cultures. I am currently finishing a book that draws together this work. A recent article in Cultural and Social History looks at the relationship between memory and community amongst television viewers in the 1970s and 1980s, within and beyond Britain.

I am also working on a cultural history of the rich in modern Britain. If my doctoral research was mostly about popular politics, this new post-doctoral project will also encompass popular ideas about the economy. I'm approaching this as a series of case studies, stretching up to the twenty-first century. I have completed new research on celebrity and the Second World War, on debates about wealth taxes in the 1960s and 1970s, on the National Lottery (est. 1994), and am currently working on service workers - a waiter, a taxi driver, a cook - who wrote autobiographies published between the world wars that detailed their encounters with wealthy customers. 

I completed an MPhil in Modern British History (also at the University of Cambridge), writing my dissertation on parenting and individualism in post-war England. An article based on this research is out in Social History, in which I argue that the reception of childcare advice amounted to a 'reworking' of working-class culture. 
I mainly work on the social, cultural, and political history of twentieth-century Britain. I was born in Edinburgh and - for reasons partly personal, partly intellectual - have tried to emphasise the importance of Scottish history in my work. Increasingly I'm also interested in looking beyond the domestic context to think about the lives and feelings of British people abroad - and what other people felt about their mobility.

Most of my research has looked at the connections between the histories of class, selfhood, and popular politics. As such, I'm also interested in the broader literature on cultural histories of inequality, subjectivity, and political history. I have worked extensively with archived social-science material from anthropology and sociology.
Part I papers 6 (British political history, since 1880) and 11 (British economic and social history, since c. 1880). Supervisions and, in 2020-21, lectures.

Part II dissertations.

Historical Argument and Practice.
I am on the steering committee of the History of Radicalism series, which meets termly in Cambridge. Please do get in touch if you're interested in contributing a paper.


Tags & Themes


Emmanuel College, St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AP


Key publications

'Nostalgia, Community, and Late-Twentieth-Century Television', Cultural and Social History, 18, 5 (2021).
'The "Progress of a Slogan": Youth, Culture, and the Shaping of Everyday Political Languages in Late 1940s Britain', Twentieth Century British History, 29, 3 (2018).

'"Modern" parenting and the uses of childcare advice in post-war England', Social History, 43, 3 (2018).