The transformation of everyday life in Britain, 1945-1990

Course Material 2022/23
Painting by Harry Wilson entitled 'The Christmas Tree' 1950.

This third year option is motivated by new ways of doing history that have emerged in recent years that centre on the examination of everyday life. Previously dismissed as repetitive or banal, habits of domesticity, food, child rearing, home making, commuting, labouring, ageing, watching television, partying and courting have become of new interest to historians. Inspired by the techniques and investigations of sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, market research and feminism, ‘ordinary lives’ in Britain’s homes, workplaces, schools and streets have inspired new interest.

This Special Subject tells the story not only of how everday lives were transformed in the period 1945-1990, but also of how the social sciences came to investigate and record these transformations. It encourages the study of subaltern and vernacular cultures and lives, and is attentive to the democratisation, radical politicisation and contestation of social movements in this period, including women’s liberation, gay liberation, Black power and disability rights. It offers new forms of social history, pursued through the study of material culture, broadcast and print media, fieldnotes and photographs.

Classes on specific genres of sources offer training in the methods and conceptual approaches to sources, while broad thematic seminars will allow for discussion and debate about new ways of doing British history in the period since 1945. The course problematises conventional breakpoints of world wars or changes of government. It probes at the large scale metanarratives of this period – ideas of individualism, loss of community, rise and fall of social democracy, neoliberalism and embourgeoisment are challenged by histories based on small scale, vernacular and ‘everyday’ observation.

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Image: Painting by Harry Wilson (1898-1972) entitled The Christmas Tree 1950.