HST396/397: Britain at War: Nation, Community and Identity, 1939-1945

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Clare Griffiths



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

This special subject focuses on British society and culture during the Second World War. The war years were a time of national planning and economic organisation on an unprecedented scale, forcing redefinitions of the rights of the individual and the needs of the wider community. The experiences of evacuation, of the Blitz, and of rationing shaped a 'Home Front' which has become part of our national mythology. The war years have also come to be identified with profound changes in notions of society and the role of the state. Alongside the military effort, there was a remarkable ferment of debate looking to the future: debates about 'Reconstruction', in housing, physical planning, welfare provision and education. The war has been seen as a radicalising influence on society, making possible the landslide Labour victory at the 1945 general election, and promoting a political consensus which paved the way for the establishment of the welfare state.

There are major questions to be explored about the notion of political consensus, about changing relationships between the individual and the state, understandings of citizenship, and constructions of identity. In this module we will make use of a wide range of sources, including government reports, the press, Mass Observation, personal diaries, film and art work from the period, to explore these questions, investigating the nature of the Home Front, the realities of national morale, and the hopes for reconstruction.

The module aims to nurture students' skills in source criticism and the use of evidence in constructing an argument. Students will gain experience in dealing with primary sources, including the use of visual materials (art work, graphic design and film). They will be encouraged to develop skills in research and criticism, and the delivery of the module provides opportunities for them to enhance their communication skills, in oral discussion and written presentations.


Teaching and Assessment

The module is taught through two weekly seminars. The subject is approached through the study of primary material, and the seminars will focus around detailed discussion of the set sources, including film, audio and visual materials as well as written texts.

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Selected Reading

  • Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (London, 2004)
  • Paul Addison, The Road to 1945. British Politics and the Second World War, rev. ed. (London: Pimlico, 1994)
  • Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Cape, 1991)
  • Robert Mackay, The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45 (London: UCL Press, 1999)
  • Peter Stansky & William Abrahams, London's Burning: Life, Death and Art in the Second World War (London: Constable, 1994)
  • Penny Summerfield, Reconstructing Women's Wartime Lives: Discourse and Subjectivity in Oral Histories of the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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