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Unit information: Decade of Discord: Britain in the 1970's (Level I Special Field) in 2015/16

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Unit name Decade of Discord: Britain in the 1970's (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HIST26008
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. James Freeman
Open unit status Not open



HIST23008 Special Field Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This Special Field explores a decade commonly seen as the fulcrum around which postwar British politics moved and one of profound economic crisis and mounting social and political unrest in Britain. But had the UK really become ‘ungovernable’ by the end of the 1970s. Were the governments of the decade really as bad as they’re today commonly alleged to have been? Was it really the case that ‘trade union barons’ were increasingly running the country by 1979? During the course of this unit students will examine a range of primary sources such as memoirs and diaries, political pamphlets, government documents, TV news and light entertainment, and popular music. These will be used to assess the degree to which the 1970s can be termed the ‘decade of discord’; to evaluate the performance of Conservative and Labour governments during the decade; and to reassess today’s ‘folk memory’ of events. Seminars will examine both ‘politics from above’ through an examination of elite responses to economic and political crisis, and ‘politics from below’ in the shape of nationalism, shifting class identities, the emergence of 2nd wave feminism, and the impact of new sub-cultures. In the process, students will consider whether recent historiography is right to argue that our view of the 1970s have to some extent been politically constructed.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit students will have developed:

  1. the ability to understand the methodologies used in the study of contemporary history
  2. the ability to locate political change in a broad economic, social, and cultural context with a sophistication appropriate to level I
  3. the ability to describe, analyse and evaluate the role of government in responding to crisis
  4. the capacity to interrogate complex works of contemporary analysis, and to communicate conclusions effectively in writing
  5. the capacity to discuss constructively and thoughtfully the place of the 1970s in subsequent political developments

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Information

1 x 2 hour exam

Reading and References

  • For an entertaining novel that captures the feel of the 1970s, read Coe, J., The Rotters' club (2002).
  • Ball, S. & Seldon, A., The Heath government, 1970-74: a reappraisal (1996)
  • Beckett, A., When the lights went out: Britain in the seventies (2009)
  • Clarke, P., Hope and glory: Britain, 1900-1990 (2004)
  • Coopey, R., and Woodward, N. Britain in the 1970s: the troubled economy (1996)
  • Ferguson, N. et al (eds.), The shock of the global: the 1970s in perspective (2010).
  • Gardner, N., Decade of discontent: the changing British economy since 1973 (1987)
  • Green, E.H.H., Ideologies of Conservatism (2002)
  • Pemberton, H., 'Strange days indeed: British politics in the 1970s', Contemporary British History, vol. 23, no. 4 (2009), pp. 583-96
  • Pugh, M., State and society: British political & social history 1870-1992 (2008)
  • Seldon, A. & Hickson, K., New Labour, Old Labour: The Wilson and Callaghan Governments, 1974-1979 (2004)
  • Tiratsoo, N., ‘You’ve never had it so bad: Britain in the 1970s’, in N. Tiratsoo (ed.) From Blitz to Blair: a new history of Britain since 1939 (1997)
  • Whitehead, P., The writing on the wall: Britain in the seventies (1985)