The People’s Heritage (905V1A)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Autumn teaching

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.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 278 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2024/25. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.