I joined the History Department at Sheffield in September 2006. Before this I read history at Merton College, Oxford, and stayed there to study for my D.Phil. In 2002 I took up a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Contemporary British History (CCBH), Institute of Historical Research, University of London. I remained at the CCBH to hold a three-year British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.
My main research interests are in the political, social and cultural history of twentieth-century Britain. I have worked extensively on the national popular press in the decades after 1918, examining the ways in which newspapers both reflected and shaped British society and culture. My first monograph explored press debates about femininity and masculinity in the inter-war period. My second book, Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press 1918-1978 (OUP, 2009) explored the role of the press as a source of information and imagery about sex, morality and personal relationships. With Professor Martin Conboy, I have written a wide-ranging history of popular newspapers, Tabloid Century: The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the Present (Peter Lang, 2015). I have also worked on the press coverage of child sexual abuse.
I am currently working on a project entitled ‘Everyday Politics, Ordinary Lives: Democratic Engagement in Britain, 1918-1992’, supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellowship (2017-18). This project investigates how British citizens understood politics and how they viewed its relationship to their lives, from 1918 to 1992.
My main research interests are in the political, social and cultural history of twentieth-century Britain. I have worked extensively on the national popular press in the decades after 1918, examining the ways in which newspapers both reflected and shaped British society and culture. I have also worked on the press coverage of child sexual abuse. More recently, my research has focused on democratic engagement since 1918, exploring how British citizens understood politics and how they viewed its relationship to their lives.
I am currently working on a project entitled ‘Everyday Politics, Ordinary Lives: Democratic Engagement in Britain, 1918-1992’, supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellowship (2017-18). This project investigates how British citizens understood politics and how they viewed its relationship to their lives, from 1918 to 1992. It focuses on the everyday political opinions, discussions and interactions of ordinary British people in the period from the establishment of a near democracy with the Representation of the People Act 1918 (which gave the vote to all adult men and most women over 30) up until the transformation of British political culture with the emergence of 24-hour news channels and the internet in the early 1990s.
I am also editing A Cultural History of Media: The Modern Age, 1920 to the Present, the final book in a six-volume history of the media, to be published by Bloomsbury, and co-editing, with Professor Martin Conboy, The Edinburgh History of the British and Irish Press, 1900-2017 (Edinburgh University Press).
In 2009 I founded, with Professor Conboy, the Centre for the Study of Journalism and History.
I am involved in the Stories of Activism project, which explore Sheffield's rich history of activism and collects campaign stories, memories and objects from 1960 to the present.
Please see the video below (as part of the department's Schools History Network) to see me talking about my research and using modern newspapers as sources.
I am keen to supervise postgraduate students working on the political, social and cultural history of modern Britain, particularly those with interests in the media and popular culture; gender, sexuality and class; and popular political engagement and social activism.
- Aaron Ackerley - Economic Ideas in the Interwar British Daily Press.
- Leo Bird - The British Comedy Industry: Prosperity and Decline in Live Comedy Performance, 1945-65.
- Isabelle Carter - Streets in the Sky and Life in the ‘Sink’: Youth, Gender, and Experience on High-Rise Council Estates in Britain, 1961-1998.
- Joseph Diviney - The 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the Demise of the British Coal Mining Industry .
- David Holland - Natives and Newcomers, Marriage and Belonging - South Asian migration, settlement and working-class tolerance in the Sheffield area during the early twentieth century.
- Alexander Noonan - Political Citizens? Democratic Engagement in a Polarised Britain, 1974-94.
- Gareth Roddy - Landscape, Travel, and Literary Tourism in the Western British-Irish Isles, c.1880-1939.
- Hallam Roffey - Offensiveness, Sensitivity and Free Expression in Britain, 1960-2001.
All current students by supervisor
- Lucy Bell - From Co-operation to Confrontation: Trade Unionism, British Politics and the Media, 1945-1979.
- Sarah Kenny - Unspectacular Youth? Evening Leisure Space and Youth Culture in Sheffield, c.1960-c.1989.
- Ross Paulger (MPhil) - Anglo-American Quality Press Narratives and Sexual Revolution, 1958-1979.
- Steve McKevitt - The persuasion industries in the UK and the inculcation of persuasion within British society from 1969 to 1997.
- Lucy Brown – Encountering Each Other: Love and Emotional Relationships between Men and Women in Britain, 1950s-1970s.
- Thomas Dowling - In Spite of History: New Leftism in Britain 1956 - 1979.
- Patrick Glen - Morality in the Music Press, 1967-1983.
- Helen Smith - A study of working-class men who desired other men in the north of England 1895-1957
- Sarah Rawlins - Modernity, Identity & Englishness in the Interwar Suburban Garden.
- Laura King - Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1918-1960
PhD study in History
|(with Martin Conboy)
Tabloid Century: The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the present (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2015)
This book examines how the popular press represented Britain to its readers across the twentieth century, not only narrating major public events such as wars, political campaigns and coronations, but also describing and defining personal and social identities such as gender, sexuality, class and race. It provides a concise and accessible overview of the rise of the tabloid format that came to dominate the media culture of the period.
|Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press 1918-1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press 1918-1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
This book provides the first detailed historical study of the modern popular press’s coverage of sex and private life, from the start of the mass newspaper reading boom in 1918 to the triumph of the Sun’s sexualised journalism in 1978. By examining the production, content, and reception of these newspapers, the book provides valuable new insights into the sexual culture of modern Britain, in particular highlighting the 1950s as a key decade of change.
|Gender, Modernity, and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Gender, Modernity, and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
This book uses the popular press to explore the attitudes and identities of inter-war Britain, and in particular the reshaping of femininity and masculinity. It provides a fresh insight into a period when women and men were coming to terms with rapid social change. It argues that most editors and journalists assumed that society – and gender relations – had been irrevocably changed by the shattering experience of the Great War, and that the main task ahead was to understand and come to terms with, rather than condemn, ‘modernity’.
'Enfranchisement, Feminism and the Modern Woman: Debates in the British Popular Press, 1918-1939’, in The Aftermath of Suffrage(2013), eds. J. Gottlieb and R. Toye.
This chapter explores how the popular daily press integrated new female voters into their political discourse after 1918. It demonstrates that newspapers addressed considerable amounts of material to female readers, emphasising both the duties of citizenship and also the power that women now wielded in the political system. The perception that politics had been dramatically changed by female enfranchisement was reinforced by a wider contemporary belief in an inexorable momentum towards equality. This rhetoric of transformation disguised, however, the persistence of gendered stereotypes and also encouraged the belief that the women’s movement was no longer necessary.
'Representing the people? The Daily Mirror, class, and political culture in inter-war Britain', in Brave New World: Imperial and Democratic Nation-building in Britain between the Wars (2012), eds. Laura Beers and Geraint Thomas.
This chapter examines the mid-1930s reinvention of the Daily Mirror, which transformed a right-wing paper for middle-class women into the first modern tabloid, a brash, left-of-centre paper aimed at a working-class readership. It shows, in particular, how the Mirror expressed discontent with the political status quo in the late-1930s and demanded a greater voice for its working-class constituency; at the same time it developed a distinctive critique of appeasement and offered a persuasive reworking of patriotism as the international situation deteriorated. The paper was able to update established populist traditions for a modern, mediated mass democracy.
'"Putting literature out of reach"? Reading popular newspapers in mid-twentieth century Britain', in The History of Reading, Vol.2: Evidence from the British Isles, c.1750-1950 (2011), eds. Katie Halsey and W.R.Owens.
This chapter explores the ways in which ideas about reading practices shaped the layout and content of newspapers. It outlines how the desire to make the reading experience as easy, convenient and interesting as possible strongly influenced the evolution of the popular newspaper in the opening third of the twentieth century, and led to the forging of a template from which there has been little variation in subsequent decades. It also examines readership surveys from the period to argue that newspapers offered broader horizons beyond normal routines, provided an agenda for everyday conversations, and encouraged a sense of engagement in a national community.
|(with Lucy Delap, Louise Jackson and Louise Settle)
‘Historical Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales: The Role of Historians’, History of Education, 45/4 (2016), pp. 411-429
|‘“The Monster”? The British Popular Press and Nuclear Culture, 1945-early 1960s’, British Journal of the History of Science (Dec 2012).
‘“The Monster”? The British Popular Press and Nuclear Culture, 1945-early 1960s’, British Journal of the History of Science (Dec 2012).
This article examines the coverage of nuclear weaponry in the two most popular newspapers in Britain, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror, in the period from 1945 to the early 1960s. Although both papers supported British possession of the bomb, claiming that it was essential for the maintenance of great power status, their reporting was more complex and critical than the existing scholarship has tended to assume. This article argues that sceptical voices in the press often disrupted official narratives and that journalists emphasized the potential dangers involved in the nuclear arms race.
|‘Ignoring the first draft of history? Searching for the press in studies of twentieth-century Britain’, Media History, 18/3-4 (2012), pp.311-326.
‘Ignoring the first draft of history? Searching for the press in studies of twentieth-century Britain’, Media History, 18/3-4 (2012), pp.311-326.
Until recent years, historians of twentieth-century Britain have made relatively little use of the popular press as a source. This has started to change, encouraged by the process of digitisation, but substantial gaps remain in our understanding of the impact of the press. This article examines how popular national newspapers have been used in political narratives, and in discussions of social and cultural change. The article argues that not only have entrenched stereotypes prevented historians from properly understanding the nature of popular newspapers, they have also led to them misinterpreting broader developments in British politics, society and culture.
|‘The “K-Bomb”: social surveys, the popular press and British sexual culture in the 1940s and 1950s’, Journal of British Studies, 50/1 (2011), pp.156-179.
‘The “K-Bomb”: social surveys, the popular press and British sexual culture in the 1940s and 1950s’, Journal of British Studies, 50/1 (2011), pp.156-179.
This article examines the ways in which the British national press discussed the findings of the two Kinsey sex surveys (1948 and 1953), Mass-Observation’s ‘Little Kinsey’ survey (1949), and Geoffrey Gorer’s 1951 study of ‘English character’. It argues that certain newspapers, such as the Sunday Pictorial, the People and the Daily Mirror, used the prestige of social science to legitimize ‘modern’, more explicit styles of writing about sex for a mass-market family audience, well before the emergence of a more ‘permissive’ culture in the 1960s
|Media and Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century Britain, HST288 (Second year module)
Media and Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century Britain, HST288 (Second year module)
This module will explore the ways in which the press, the cinema, and radio and television broadcasting shaped politics, society and culture in twentieth century Britain. The first half of the module will examine the historical development of each of the major media forms and discuss the different types of content that they provided. The second half will explore a number of key issues, such as the impact of the media on the evolution of modern democracy, the media´s role in reflecting and shaping identities such as class, gender and ethnicity, and the media's contribution to the emergence of a consumer society.
|Permissive Britain? Social and Cultural Change, 1956-74, HST3095/3096 (Third year optional module)
Permissive Britain? Social and Cultural Change, 1956-74, HST3095/3096 (Third year optional module)
This module explores British society and culture as the nation moved from an era of austerity and rationing to one of unprecedented affluence. This was a period of intellectual ferment when traditions and authorities were challenged, personal morality was re-evaluated, and new freedoms were claimed. The transition to a more individualistic, pluralistic and multicultural society caused considerable debate and disquiet. Key topics to be studied include the impact of affluence and consumerism on class and gender relationships; the emergence of a national youth culture based around music and fashion; changes and continuities in sexual behaviour in the wake of the introduction of the contraceptive pill; the increasingly heated debates about immigration and race. Students will assess the significance of the reforming legislation that relaxed the censorship regime, decriminalised homosexuality, enabled easier access to abortion, liberalised the divorce system and abolished capital punishment. They will examine the arguments of those who championed, and those who resisted, 'permissiveness'.
|Stories of Activism in Sheffield, 1960 to the Present, HST6052 (Postgraduate module)
Stories of Activism in Sheffield, 1960 to the Present, HST6052 (Postgraduate module)
This module will enable students to explore modern political and social activism by studying specific campaigns in Sheffield. Students will get the opportunity both to examine local campaign materials (being collected in a new archive) and to hear the stories of activists themselves by conducting an oral history interview. Potential areas of study include trade unionism, employment and labour rights; women’s issues, environmentalism, community-building; and peace, refugees and human rights. Students will learn how to analyse local activism using perspectives from the broader literature on democratic culture and social movements.
|Media and Political Culture in Modern Britain, HST680 (Postgraduate module)
Media and Political Culture in Modern Britain, HST680 (Postgraduate module)
This module explores the ways in which the media have shaped and reflected political culture in Britain since 1945. Students will examine and assess the different political traditions of the press and the broadcast media which led to the former producing unapologetically partisan coverage and the latter striving for impartiality and balance. Themes to be studied include: the treatment of party politics and general elections; the reporting of extra-parliamentary campaigns and social movements; the coverage of war, foreign policy and political violence; and the media´s role in generating political disengagement and apathy.
|Worlds of Consumption, HST3305 (Third year optional module)
Worlds of Consumption, HST3305
Today we take it for granted that what we consume in some way defines who we are. Even the deliberate rejection of consumption—as practised for instance by advocates of voluntary simplicity—is regarded as a 'lifestyle choice'. We understand, too, that consumption is an intensely political topic connected to questions of identity, morality, status, and economic opportunity. How did it come to be so? This module explores this and related questions historically with the aim of illuminating the complexity and variety of consumption in the human past. We tackle consumption in an array of historical settings: chronologically we cover the period from 1400 to the present day; geographically we explore case studies from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, studying consumption’s global and local, as well as its national, dimensions. Studying this unit will give you the chance to engage with the main themes arising from the historical study of consumption and will foster your ability and confidence in formulating analyses of a topic covering a significant period of time, approached in a comparative way, and studied at an advanced level.
I have made significant interventions in public policy-making and media debates about historical child sexual abuse. My historical evidence to the NHS/ Department of Health enquiries into the activities of Jimmy Savile (delivered in 2013, with colleagues from History & Policy) was cited in four public reports on the Savile scandal in 2014-15: Kate Lampard’s Oversight Report (June 2014) and Lessons Learnt Report (Feb. 2015) and reports on Broadmoor Hospital (June 2014) and Stoke Mandeville Hospital (Feb. 2015). Working with Professor Louise Jackson, Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Louise Settle, I have written policy papers and media articles on the history of child sexual abuse, and given presentations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2016) and the St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre’s annual conference (2017).
I have also contributed to policy and media debates about press regulation. One of my articles was cited in Lord Justice Leveson’s report, An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press (November 2012).
I am involved in the Stories of Activism project, which explore Sheffield's rich history of activism and collects campaign stories, memories and objects from 1960 to the present.
I am a Senior Editor, and member of the Management Committee, of History & Policy, which works for better public policy through an understanding of history by connecting historians, policy makers and the media.
As part of the department's Schools History Network we contribute to local schools' teaching by holding events for local pupils and their teachers, introducing children to advances in historical knowledge, and enabling teachers to brush up on their scholarship concerning historical events. Staff have given talks to students at local schools, but we also hold events within the department to which local pupils and teachers are invited and schools have also offered placements for our MA students.
As part of the Schools History Network the department have made a series of videos for use in the classroom. Below is a short video of myself talking about using modern newspapers as sources.
Current Administrative Duties
Head of Department (2018-present)
Director of Graduate Studies (2015-17): This involves overseeing the postgraduate taught programmes and the postgraduate research supervision in the department, liaising with the postgraduate community, and supporting applications for MA and PhD funding.
Director of Learning and Teaching (2010-14): This involves overseeing the undergraduate taught programmes in the department, monitoring student feedback, ensuring the smooth running of quality assurance processes, and assessing the overall shape of teaching provision.
Allocations (2006-9): Overseeing the student module allocation process.