Call for Papers: Ways of Knowing in (and about) Modern Britain

Westmere House, University of Birmingham

5th-6th July, 2018

 We invite postgraduates and early career researchers (within 5 years of completion) to Birmingham for a two-day conference exploring ways of knowing in and about modern Britain.

Following on from our PGR/ECR workshop, ‘Seeking Legitimacy’, in 2016, we want to continue thinking about the interplay between value and authority in Modern Britain. While Seeking Legitimacy used expertise to critique exclusionary narratives of modern Britain, Ways of Knowing will disentangle knowledge from expertise. In so doing, we aim to broaden our historical narratives, bring sub-disciplines into conversation with one another,  and ask questions about the ontological limits of our discipline. How can, for example, a discipline built on the importance of factual information, on rational lines of reasoning, and on a masculine-secular model, capture ways of knowing that have no archival grounding, or that may be personal, from memory, or superstitious? While we question the limits of our discipline, we are also interested in pushing at its boundaries by exploring the political relationship between ourselves, our practice and our historical subjects.

Day 1: Telling Stories about Modern Britain

On the first day, delegates are invited to participate in conference-wide workshops, led by outside speakers, that seek to explore the ways we produce and share knowledge about the past. Across three sessions, we will ask who tells historical stories, who benefits from them, and who is missing, in order to think collectively about:

  • The ways funding and employment structures shape and constrain the stories we research, and our ability to share them
  • The limits of conventional historical narratives, the stories they allow us to tell, and those they don’t
  • The audiences we seek to engage, and those we might neglect


Day 2: Ways of Knowing in and about Modern Britain

On the second day, we invite ten-minute-long papers that reflect upon competing forms of knowing in delegates’ work and practice. What, where and when are the sites and spaces in modern Britain wherein different types of knowledge meet, and how do they interact? How are types of knowledge, and ways of knowing, in and about the past, claimed, constructed and contested by our historical subjects, and by us, as postgraduate and early career researchers? What value is ascribed to different types of knowledge, and how are some ways of knowing privileged over others?

We aim for a broad historical scope, and welcome papers from any period or discipline within modern British studies. Topics for consideration include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Sites and spaces of knowing
  • Expertise
  • Identity and embodiment
  • Knowledge acquisition
  • Secrets, rumours and myth
  • Belief
  • The archival record
  • Memory
  • Ignorance, prejudice and misinformation


Please submit an abstract of 250 words, along with a short biography, to by 20th April, 2018. There are no registration fees for this event, and some travel bursaries will be available.



Details can be found:

One-day workshop, Friday 1 June 2018
University of Birmingham

This workshop aims to provide a forum for the first systematic reflection on histories of masculinity in modern Britain since the publication, nearly thirty years ago, of Michael Roper and John Tosh’s landmark collection, Manful Assertions (Routledge, 1991). We invite expressions of interest from scholars working on questions of masculinity in any field and any discipline. Our aim is to use this workshop as a starting point for a new collection of essays to be published by Manchester University Press (subject to review).

Image result for manful assertions

In the period since Manful Assertions was published the history of masculinity has continued to grow as a field. Scholars working in this area have made significant contributions to our appreciation of gender as a necessary and productive category of analysis in the study of the British past. In so doing, they have broken new ground in both isolating the time-and place-specific nature of ideas and experiences of masculinity, and demonstrating how interrogating the dynamics of gender and power can transform our understanding of state and society, politics and culture, economy and environment in modern Britain.[i]

Yet there has been little attempt to take stock and consider the implications of both changing forms of historical knowledge and our present social and political conjuncture for key categories, chronologies, and debates in the history of masculinity.

Despite the development of new areas of inquiry and methodologies in the study of the historical formation of masculinities (often associated with histories of the emotions and/or sexualities, and the new cultural history), established frameworks remain intact. These include, most notably, ideas around “domestication” and the private sphere, a focus on the transformative flashpoints of war, and the tired, if culturally pervasive, trope of “masculinity in crisis”. A handful of edited collections have drawn together contributors to reflect on particular themes — notably around masculinity in relation to religion, empire, or war. As yet, however, there has been no explicit consideration of the practice, preoccupations, and politics of histories of masculinity in modern Britain in toto.

Three decades on from Manful Assertions, and with the guiding questions, theoretical foundations and archival resources of research in modern British history having undergone significant transformation, this is an important intellectual moment at which to consider the state of the field.[ii]

It is also an important political moment at which to think through the practice and politics of writing histories of masculinity. Initial work in this area built on the interventions of women’s history and gender history, as well as the political commitments of feminism and the pro-feminist men’s movement, and responded to the growing cultural purchase in the 1980s of the “new man” and associated models of behaviour and identity. It was an historical project that addressed itself directly to the circumstances, conditions and questions of its own conjuncture. But it was also one that implicitly, perhaps, organised itself around a linear or progressive narrative of change over time: the slow undoing of patriarchy and the fragmentation of a dominant code of masculinity. Our choice of the plural “masculinities” in the workshop’s title, to denote the existence of various codes and expressions of masculinity across time and place, reflects a key outcome of the first phase of research in the field.

But the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo campaign, the masculinist rhetoric and posturing of the Alt-Right and pro-Brexit movements, and the endurance of sexism within and beyond the university all indicate that white, hetero-patriarchy has in fact, over the last thirty years, become a more rather than less pervasive and insistent force in public life. This is evident in popular culture and old and new media, but also in patterns of violence in everyday behaviour and language. A history of masculinity written from the vantage point of the present must therefore take patriarchy’s renewal as both a challenge to the politics of its intervention and as the central problematic of its investigation. In doing so, it must also reassert the power of history, and especially women’s, feminist, queer and imperial history, to question and unsettle and denaturalize forms of hegemony and hierarchy in contemporary public life.

With these intellectual and political starting points in mind, we seek contributions that address specific problems, processes and episodes in the modern history of masculinity but at the same time think through the analytic categories and concepts around which our work is structured, and that establish conversations between different fields and approaches. In this context, two questions animate this project: how should we write histories of British masculinity, and why write these histories now?

Themes for consideration include, but are not limited to:

  • Scales and spaces around which ideas and experiences of masculinity take shape. These include, but are not limited to: local, regional, national, imperial and global; private and public; individuals, families, friendships, partnerships; age, generation, life-cycle; states, institutions, markets, communities, associations.
  • Identity and difference as categories to understand the historical formation of masculinities. Keywords might include intersectionality and relationality as historical problems and ethical imperatives; masculinity and vectors of gender, class, “race” and ethnicity, religion, sexuality, place, “ability”; masculinity and whiteness; histories of queer and/or trans men; masculinity in the age of non-binarism.
  • Frameworks and narratives, old and new, for understanding shifting patterns of masculinity in relation to the wider formation of British modernities and historiographical knowledge. What do we do with analytic categories like patriarchy and power; “the domestication of the male” and “the flight from commitment”; “Oxbridge men” and “temperate heroes”; the “crises” of masculinity, the “New Man”, “fragile” and “toxic” masculinities; long and short twentieth centuries; war, interwar, postwar; masculinities and emergent narratives of decolonization, decline/declinism, neoliberalization, secularization, “revolt on the right”, emotional revolution, Anthropocene?
  • Masculinity in politics and the politics of masculinity: language and rhetoric; political and economic power; masculinity after feminism; radicalisms of left and right; masculinity as crisis.
  • Sources of the self and the ways in which masculinity is lived and felt. Key motifs might include the tension between cultural norms and individual subjectivities, representation and experience; constituting masculinity through or against work, leisure, markets, media, the state, private life, bodies; hegemonic assertions and points of refusal; style and performance; unity and fragmentation; emotional economies; self and other.
  • The history of masculinity as a project that has ethical and political stakes; commitments and energies; unsettling versus reifying; necessity versus distraction; masculinities at work and in the discipline; researching and teaching; public engagement; masculinity and academic capital: experiences of benefit and harm, strategies of resistance and devaluation.

Our aim is to use this call for papers as a prompt — a starting point for an edited collection based on real collaboration and discussion that, we believe, can best meet the complexity and urgency of these questions and issues. We would therefore like potential contributors to present their ideas for draft chapters at a one-day workshop at the University of Birmingham on 1st June 2018. If this something you’d like to be involved in, please send a paper proposal (c.300 words) along with a short biography to us on the email addresses below by 4th February 2018.

We especially urge contributions from those working on intersections of masculinity and “race” or ethnicity, regional and non-metropolitan masculinities, and transmasculinities. We also warmly encourage submissions from postgraduate and early-career researchers and are seeking funding that will allow us to reimburse PGR/ECR travel to/from the event.



Katie Jones is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. Katie’s research focuses on gender, sexualities, emotion and public health in twentieth century Britain and her thesis is provisionally entitled “Masculinities, Contraception and Sexual Health in Late Twentieth Century Britain, 1967-1997.”

Matt Houlbrook is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham. Matt’s research focuses on the cultural history of modern Britain, with particular interests in histories of gender, sexuality, and selfhood. He is the author of Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-57 (University of Chicago Press, 2005) and Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Ben Mechen is Teaching Fellow in Modern British and European History at University College, London. Ben’s research examines sexual liberalism and new models of the sexual self in late-twentieth century Britain. He is currently working on his first book, Responsible Pleasures: Sex after the Sexual Revolution.


[i] Recent interventions include Roper, Michael, ‘Between Manliness and Masculinity: The “War Generation” and the Psychology of Fear in Britain, 1914–1950’, Journal of British Studies, 44:2, 2005, 343-362; Smith, Helen, Masculinity, Class and Same-Sex Desire in Industrial England, 1895-1957, (London: Palgrave, 2015); Delap, Lucy and Sue Morgan (eds) Men, Masculinities and Religious Change in Twentieth Century Britain, (Palgrave, 2013); Griffin, Ben, The Politics of Gender in Victorian Britain: Masculinity, Political Culture and the Struggle for Women’s Rights, (Cambridge University Press, 2012); Fletcher, Christopher, Sean Brady, Rachel Moss and Lucy Riall (eds), The Palgrave Handbook ofMasculinity and Political Culture in Europe, (Palgrave, 2017).
[ii] For a recent reflection on the state of the field see Tosh, John, ‘The History of Masculinity: An Outdated Concept?’, in Arnold, John H. and Sean Brady (eds), What is Masculinity? Historical Dynamics from Antiquity to the Contemporary World, (Palgrave, 2011). See also Harvey, Karen and Alex Shephard, ‘What Have Historians Done with Masculinity? Reflections on Five Centuries of British History, circa 1500-1950’, Journal of British Studies, 44:2, 2005, 274-280.


Shelter at Christmas

Author Nick Crowson Image

Christmas is a congested time in the homelessness charity market as organisations of national and regional profiles vie with one another to secure your donations.

2017 sees Shelter’s Christmas appeal focusing on claims that 125,000 children will be homeless this Christmas and urging the public to make supporting Shelter ‘your new Christmas tradition’.  The story focuses on Julie and her two children who, last Christmas, had been placed by their local council in unsuitable emergency temporary accommodation. With Shelter’s assistance the family will now enjoy Christmas 2017 in a safe, new home of their own.

Shelter launched, with its first Christmas campaign, on 1 December 1966.  Conceived by Rev Bruce Kenrick in February 1966 Shelter was intended to be a short-term fund-raiser for a collective of housing associations. With seed funding of £25,000, Des Wilson, a 27-year-old New Zealander, was hired in July to prepare the launch and research the state of homelessness. Wilson, who became Shelter’s first director, came to symbolise the public ‘expert’ face, and voice, of the organisation in its early years.

Shelter advert 1 Dec 1967

Despite the pre-planning and PR expertise, the launch of Shelter only received limited press coverage and initial donations were slow. Good fortune came with the repeat on BBC TV of Cathy Come Home on 11 January 1967. This was the tragic love story of Cathy and Reg spiralling down the housing ladder into local authority emergency accommodation. Cathy’s desperate effort to prevent her children being placed in care, just because they were homeless, caught a public nerve.

This mirrored Shelter’s message. Many would, mistakenly, assume that the two had emerged in co-operation, rather than isolation. A mistake reinforced because the rights of Cathy were donated to Shelter enabling it to repeatedly broadcast at fundraisers nationwide. Without Cathy it is questionable whether Shelter would have raised £650,000 within two years.

Shelter Home Sweet Hell Advert 2 Dec 1966 The Times

The Christmas appeal became enshrined in the calendar as it pushed the message that too many families were experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’ living in sub-standard, and insecure, accommodation. The image of the family, and especially the child, became central: innocents obliged to endure hardship through no fault of their own.

Shelter was only borrowing from the pioneering use of photography by the NSPCC to highlight child abuse in the Victorian era, and the draw upon the idea of waifs and innocents that had become such of feature of humanitarian publicity campaigns. Shelter secured the services of young photographers, like Nick Hedges, to chart the dereliction and decline of Britain’s housing stock. The themes were recurrent: children suffering, overcrowding and uninhabitable rooms.

These photos, accompanied by personalized stories of the family, adorned the campaign literature of Shelter to both evidence and tug-at-the heart. And so with the 2017 appeal it would seem little has changed since 1966. Some of the images became iconic: the image of woman pushing a pram, and dragging a suitcase, down a desolate country lane first appeared in 1974, and was used repeated until 1987.

Shelter recognized that Christmas was a time of when the media was only too willing to run with stories concerning the homeless. It facilitated introductions and stories. ITV ran a succession of ‘Shelter Reports’ (1967-1972). Yet TV news reporting often down plays the homeless’ role as active citizens who have a right to participate in solutions; instead these are articulated, by a dialogue, between charity, government and health professionals.

Shelter would have countered that their campaigning strategy of documenting case-studies heighten awareness for groups whom otherwise might have been denied a conduit for their voice. It used its publications to show the ‘impact’ of the money raised. Homelessness numbers continued to grow and by 1973 Shelter were explicitly rejecting the notion that money brought solutions.

Herein lies the dilemma: too often the public are unable to connect these cases to wider structural responses that might alleviate matters. Our guilt is assuaged by direct debit donations to such ‘expert’ organisations that offer to ameliorate a situation on our behalf.

Shelter’s early achievement was in expanding the parameters of public debate about housing, and successfully relating it to an issue of housing security rather than welfare need. They were able to create a narrative that took homelessness beyond being those who were physically roofless to those who were obliged to live in housing that was either insecure or in a poor condition.

That Shelter continues to exist points to the intractable nature of homelessness, but also suggests that it, and other such organisations, have failed to convince government  (and ultimately the electorate) that a radical and fundamental restructuring of the housing market is required.


Confidence Games and/as Modern Times – Round table.


Our first event of the term at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History is upon us! All welcome and details are below.

Confidence Games and copy 2Abstracts:


The Confidence Game of the Chicago School

Prof Matt Houlbrook


It is easy to find the confidence trickster anywhere, if you are looking closely enough. The global networks of trade and empire along which people and goods moved from the sixteenth century, the expanding cities of the modern United States, and the turmoil of revolution and civil war in the new Soviet Union: in each of these contexts the trickster was identified as characteristic or archetypal. Mobility and anonymity provided opportunities for personal reinvention and social advancement. They also allowed fakes and frauds to flourish, created intense anxieties about the difficulties of trusting those one met, and ensured social interactions and commercial exchange were haunted by the possibility of deceit. Britain’s bogus honorable and…

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A male voice in a female chorus.

Hall headshot

Richard Hall

Richard is a post-graduate student at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, you can find our more about his work here. He is working on A Social and Emotional History of Fathers and Sons in Post-war Britain. He is on Twitter: @rrichhistorian

As it was in 2015, one of the best things about MBS in 2017 was the opportunity to share ideas in a stimulating and supportive space. There seems to be a particular energy around MBS, which inspires productive and challenging conversations with like-minded souls. Certainly, a sense of solidarity was powerfully represented in the round-table on feminism and history. It was – fittingly – impassioned, consciousness-raising, and sisterly.

It was an impressive line-up too: Sally Alexander, Hester Barron, Caitriona Beaumont, Claire Langhamer, Lucy Robinson and Penny Summerfield. They spoke passionately, about theory, about practice, about being surprised (and admitting it), about children, about self-reflection, about disempowerment, about working with not on sources, about working collaboratively, about being nice, and about being angry. They spoke about being feminists, and being historians. And being feminist historians.

This last point inspired several thought-provoking questions. Is a feminist, historian, who does not work explicitly on gender, a feminist historian? Is all history that acknowledges patriarchy feminist history? How do the personal and the political inform the intellectual? Responses to these and other questions led to a discussion that rested very much on the present, rather than the past: on gender prejudice and what it is to be a woman in a history department.

Perhaps I wasn’t the only man in the room to feel a little discomfited by what followed. Certainly, no-one felt inclined to add a male voice to the female chorus of discontent. I imagine most of us fancy ourselves as fairly liberal: acutely aware that battles for equality are far from over; gender-blind in all our workplace and studyplace interactions. We might also imagine that, save for a few crusty old misogynists, most history departments are relatively progressive environments. We might put the gender pay-gap down to structural issues happening outside departments; we might think everyday sexism is mercifully uncommon in them.

If any of us did harbour such misconceptions, they were quickly laid to rest. What we heard from women across the room was a catalogue of prejudice and exploitation: having your work quoted un-cited; doing more administration than men; seeing more students than men (for pastoral and academic purposes); dealing with all male reading lists; dealing with initial-surname formats that lead to false impressions of all-male reading lists; being asked to sit on panels or attend meetings simply because you’re a woman; being ignored in those panels and meetings; checking men’s work for unconscious bias because they’re too lazy to check themselves; not being taken seriously in a whole host of ways… the list went on.

Of course I am not naïve enough to say that I wasn’t previously aware of these issues; but I am saying that the vociferousness and unity of the discussion shocked me a bit. What also shocked me a bit was the complete absence of men’s voices. It got me thinking about recent work by Lucy Delap, which investigates feelings of guilt and shame among anti-sexist men in the wake of Women’s Liberation Movement politics in the 1970s and 1980s.[1] Since that moment, the study of men, as well as women, as gendered actors has become more established.[2] More recently still there has been some public debate around male feminists.[3] But given our silence about feminism both past and present at the MBS round table, perhaps we still have something to learn from the emotional journeys these anti-sexist men went on 30 or 40 years ago.

Of course, similar points might be made in relation to anyone both supportive of, and outside of, a marginalised group, for whom the political will never be quite so personal (I wonder how many white voices were heard at the Black Lives Matter workshop at MBS, for example, which unfortunately ran parallel to this session). These are difficult conversations to join: the debates presently raging within feminism around issues of white colonisation illustrate some of the complex and fiercely felt views that relationships of power give rise to.

Nonetheless, I feel like these are conversations men could and should be having: just because we believe it intellectually, it doesn’t always follow that we’re conscious and diligent in the workplace.[4] For example, when men choose to use female, rather than male, pronouns where the gender is undetermined, it can shake listeners and readers out of lazy normative practices; or when men take on the leg-work to make a panel more female (an example a female colleague recently shared with me), it can change behaviours as well as attitudes. At the very least we can be alert to the day-to-day prejudices that were reeled off all too readily in the discussion at the MBS round-table. Perhaps the best way to join the chorus, is to sing.

[1] Lucy Delap ‘Uneasy Solidarity: The British men’s movement and feminism’ in Kristina Schulz (ed) Women’s Liberation Movement: impacts and outcomes (Berghahn, 2017).

[2] Among many, see Joan  Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’ in The American Historical Review, 91 (1986); Michael Roper and John Tosh ‘Introduction: Historians and the politics of masculinity’ in M. Roper and J. Tosh (eds) Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain Since 1800 (Routledge, 1991); Judith Bennett ‘Patriarchal Equilibrium’ in Judith M. Bennett (ed) History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Manchester University Press, 2006).

[3] See for example

[4] On women working with men to improve gender equality in the workplace, see