The Making of Modern Britain : 1951 – 2007

History can often feel like one event after another. It can achieve a kind of boring objectivity to it. But do not fall for this. There is more than scientific objectivity to this.

Let us consider the question of when to begin the story of ‘Modern Britain’. Some Political Historians have delved as far back as 1688, to the eve of the peculiar English system of Parliamentary Sovereignty. Others have told a story that begins with ‘the Victorians’ – telling a tale of modern industrial Britain in which the origins of ‘industrial’ and ‘post-industrial’ Britain can be found in the factories and avowed ideals of Victorian life. Another interpretation still begins at 1945 – with the emergence of Britain and its empire from a global war and a moment of ‘progress’ towards a Welfare State and ‘post-war consensus’.

The moment you decide to begin the story of ‘Modern Britain’ has immense implications for the story you tell. Each of these curtain openers suggests aspects of today’s Britain as its essence – its Parliament, its model of Capitalism or its Welfare State.

But we could just as easily begin our story with the 1905 Alien Act that legalised the borders of Britain, the 1928 Representation of the People Act which created somewhat universal electorate or the creation of the BBC in the aftermath of World War One.

This course decides to begin six years later in 1951, with much of that supposed state and consensus already established. It decides to end in 2007 as Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves the scene. One year before the Global Financial Crisis and three years before the official starting point of a decade of Austerity Britain. 1951 to 2007. The twilight of Churchill to the end of Blair. Make of that what you will. The course seeks to look broadly at the political, economic, social, and diplomatic histories of ‘Modern Britain’ during this period.  But this periodisation, inevitably narrows the vision of the past – emphasising certain moments as significant and reducing others to a footnote. It is the work of future historians and students of history to consider the validity of this.  

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