Introducing the new edition of 20th Century Britain: Economic, Cultural and Social Change

April 4, 2024 | Blog
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In this post to celebrate the start of the Economic History Society annual conference in 2024, Nicole Robertson of Sheffield Hallam University, John Singleton of Sheffield Hallam University and Avram Taylor of Northumbria University introduce the new edition of 20th Century Britain: Economic, Cultural and Social Change (Routledge, 2023).

The Economic History Society (EHS) annual conference at the University of Warwick in 2023 saw the launch of the third edition of 20th Century Britain: Economic, Cultural and Social Change. Commissioned by the EHS, published by Routledge, and edited by Nicole Robertson, John Singleton and Avram Taylor, 20th Century Britain offers an authoritative and accessible survey of contemporary research on the British economy, society, political system and culture. Each chapter is written by an academic specialist on the topic, primarily with an undergraduate—first, second or third year—audience in mind. 20th Century Britain can also be used as a reference book by lecturers, postgraduates and the public more widely. The book provides a snapshot of the state of academic thinking on twentieth-century British history from the vantage point of the 2020s.

The first part of the book comprises thematic essays covering the whole of the twentieth century, including chapters on the economy, economic management, big business, parliamentary politics, leisure, work, health, international economic relations and empire. It uncovers key areas of equality and diversity in chapters on women, living standards, social mobility, ethnicity and multiculturalism, and gender and sexuality. The most recent subfields of historical studies are also explored, including disability history and environmental economic history. The second part focuses on seismic events and topics covering shorter timeframes, including the world wars, interwar depression, Britain and European integration, sexual behaviours, civil society, the 1960s cultural revolution and resisting racism. Several chapters including those on inequality and living standards, work and the labour market, the interwar depression, and consumerism span the concerns of economic, social and cultural history. Many of the contributors, and some of the topics, are new, and in those respects the third edition is significantly different from the previous edition of the book.

As 20th Century Britain shows, the period in question was marked by growing prosperity and widespread social and cultural change; at the same time, however, substantial economic and social inequalities persisted, and in some periods rose. Seen over the long term, Britain demonstrated a capacity for adaptation and evolution and did not experience stagnation or decline.

The editors believe that there is merit in bringing together the at times contrasting perspectives and methods of economic, cultural and social historians in order to obtain a more convincing picture of events and trends. Students of each strand of history should at least be aware of what is held to be important by researchers in the other strands. In particular, the editors of 20th Century Britain, and the EHS as an academic society, seek to raise awareness among lecturers and students of British history of the value of adding an economic and social history perspective to their work.

This collection, which now supersedes two earlier editions, provides an essential guide to current academic thinking on the most important elements of twentieth-century British history and is a useful tool for all students and scholars interested in modern Britain. No doubt the fourth edition, perhaps in a decade or so, will reflect further changes in academic thinking on enduring themes, as well as the emergence of new priorities in the selection of topics.


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