The People's Century: Britain 1900-2000

Module code: 905V1A
Level 7 (Masters)
30 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

For the last two generations, the study of British history at Sussex has been concerned with the lives and experience of ordinary people.

This module builds upon this longstanding tradition. It is not a survey course and is not intended to be a comprehensive history of Britain in the twentieth century. Each week we will take a key theme, but the exact direction of the seminar will be the decision of the class, and you'll be free to explore that theme in whatever context you wish.

This means that reading lists will only be set one or two weeks in advance, as they will depend on your interests. It also means that reading lists should act only as a starting point for your own further research. The key themes we will explore are: democracy; poverty and inequality; gender; national identity; war and memory; popular culture and the State.

Sussex historians have long made key contributions to the development and study of people’s history.

J.F.C. Harrison was at Sussex from 1970 as Professor of Social History. His The Common People (1984) is a long-period survey that is focussed on the lives of ordinary people who were still very much left out of history when the book was written.

Asa Briggs, vice-chancellor of the university from 1967-76, was one of the most important figures in the development of social history.

Several Sussex historians were influential in conception and production of History Workshop in its early days: Stephen Yeo, Eileen Yeo and, Alun Howkins. The study of local and community history was pioneered by Stephen Yeo through Brighton-based QueenSpark Books.

One of his early graduate students was Alistair Thomson, who has become one of the leading oral historians of his generation.

Dorothy Sheridan, who originally studied at Sussex in the 1960s, has been a key figure in both the Mass Observation Archive and the Mass Observation Project since she began working at the archive in 1974. She is well known for her work on wartime’s women’s lives, on theories of life history writing and on the archive itself.

Other Sussex history graduate students of the 1980s went on to make significant contributions in this field, notably Penny Summerfield with her work on gender, memory and oral history. Selina Todd also completed her PhD at Sussex. Her book, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010, was published in 2014.

The emphasis on people’s history continues at Sussex today. The work of all the historians of twentieth-century Britain currently working at Sussex, Hester Barron, Martin Francis, Ian Gazeley, Claire Langhamer, Lucy Robinson and Clive Webb, is closely connected to the lives, experiences and cultures of ordinary people.

Module learning outcomes

  • Display a specialised knowledge of major developments and different historical approaches in the social, cultural and economic history of Britain in the twentieth century.
  • Display a broad understanding of key interventions within the historiography of modern Britain and a specific expertise in key areas, demonstrating the ability to summarise complex positions and distinguish relevant considerations.
  • Display written skills of clarity, rigour, precision and concision in the presentation and criticism of arguments and positions.
  • Display the ability to engage in reasoning of an abstract and theoretical nature, and to understand and deploy technical terminology.
  • Develop the ability to locate appropriate historical source material, the ability to read complex primary evidence critically, and to carry out a substantial and original piece of research in history writing.