Time and Place: 1984: Thatcher's Britain (Observing the 1980s)

Module code: V1333
Level 5
15 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Seminar, Lecture
Assessment modes: Coursework

George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984 describes a totalitarian government bent on total manipulation. For many on the left, Margaret Thatcher's government represented elements of an 'Orwellian' state, in which the social democratic consensus established after the end of the Second World War was replaced by a free-enterprise economy and a centralised state. For those on the political right, the 1980s Thatcher governments championed the reassertion of individualism, British nationalism and a retreat from the so-called 'nanny state' in which the fight against the 'enemy within' was as important as the fight against the enemy without. In cultural terms, most writers point to the 1980s as being marked by creative pessimism, with 'anti-Thatcherism' the dominant cultural theme.

This course will examine key events of the 1980s and reflect upon whether Margaret Thatcher's most famous quote, 'There is no such thing as society', is a suitable epitaph for the 1980s. Topic studied include: the 1982 Falklands War; the 1984 miners' strike; the reemergence of mass unemployment, peaking in 1986 at over 3.5 million; privatisation of industry and challenge to trade union power; and the violent mass protest against the Community Charge in 1990.

Rather than producing a top-down political history of the period, this course is interested in exploring the wide variety of evidence available to the contemporary historian. It is built around the 'Observing the Eighties' project which includes oral histories from the British Library and holdings of the Mass Observation Archive and ephemera from the University of Sussex.

Module learning outcomes

  • Critically evaluate the historiography around a particular moment.
  • Critically evaluate the applicability of historical concepts to particular cases.
  • Supply evidence of these skills in extended essay form.
  • Demonstrate ability to use limited amounts of primary source material in extended historical argument.