Prof Peter Mandler

Professor of Modern Cultural History
Bailey Lecturer in History, Gonville and Caius College
Professor Peter Mandler
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 as President of the Royal Historical Society and from 2020 to 2023 as President of the Historical Association. 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 was published in autumn 2020 by Oxford University Press.
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 three areas:

1) The history of the humanities and social sciences. My 2013 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 recent publications in History of the Human Sciences and Past & Present.  Currently I am planning to present this research on the language of social science in everyday life in the James Ford Lectures in British History at the University of Oxford in 2025-26.

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 in a book, entitled 'The Crisis of the Meritocracy: Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War', published by Oxford University Press in September 2020. In turn this work led to a collaboration with Laura Carter and Chris Jeppesen with whom I will be engaged in 2017-24 in a project funded by the ESRC on 'Secondary Education and Social Change in the UK since 1945' (for more information, see our website at  We are currently writing up our findings as a book manuscript tentatively titled 'A Nation at School:  The Experience of Universal Secondary Education in the United Kingdom since 1945'.
3) British urban history.  With Simon Gunn (Leicester) and Otto Saumarez Smith (Warwick), I am editing a multi-author volume on the postwar British city, inspired by the great Dyos and Wolff volumes on the Victorian city, published in 1973.  My own contribution will be a study of some characteristic 'urban types' as framed by the media - the jogger, the mugger and the hipster - to consider the shifting social landscape of the city in a period of urban decline, gentrification and centre-city repopulation. 

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 and now the Sources option S4 Collecting and Collections in Part IA of the Historical Tripos (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.
For undergraduates, I convene with Michael Joseph the IA outline paper on the history of Britain and Ireland since c. 1750 (O7), with Melissa Calaresu a IA sources paper on Collections, and from 2023 with Sujit Sivasundaram and Michael Joseph the IB topic paper on 'British Worlds' (T12), putting British history in the long 19th century into global context.  I will be supervising for both the outline and the topic paper.  I am also currently convening the Research Project seminar 'Themes in Modern British and Irish History' (RP8).

For postgraduates, I run with colleagues a Ph.D. reading seminar, which meets 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  Please note that NYCTC will be concluding its activities in summer 2024.

I also convene the Faculty's research seminar in modern cultural history, with Lucy Delap and David Cowan. 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.
Chair, Editorial Board, Historical Journal
Series Editor (with Deborah Cohen and Margot Finn), Modern British Histories, Cambridge University Press
Chair, Higher Education Policy Development Group, British Academy
Council, British Academy
I welcome proposals from potential research students at M.Phil. level on topics in modern British cultural, intellectual and social history, and in the history of the humanities and social sciences.  Please note that as I am due to retire in summer 2025 I will be unable to accept any further Ph.D. students.

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;  see our website at  After 10 years of happy and successful collaboration NYCTC will be concluding its activities in summer 2024.


Tags & Themes


Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge CB2 1TA;  phone 01223 768779


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, 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 244 (2019), 235-69

‘The Language of Social Science in Everyday Life’, History of the Human Sciences 32 (2019), 66-82

‘Parliamentary Scrutiny of Aid Spending: The Case of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)’, Parliamentary Affairs 71 (2019), 331-52  (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