I am a historian of twentieth-century British politics, culture, ideas and psychologies. Much of my research addresses two connected themes: firstly, the lives of ‘the people’, how their life-chances have been both advanced and constrained in the first democratic century; secondly, themes of character, emotion and aspiration. My main current research project is on the subject of people’s opportunities, potential and talents in Britain since 1918, from the intriguing mixture of rigid hierarchies and social mobility in the 1920s, to the complex cocktail of ambitions, both thwarted and achieved, amongst the contemporary ‘X Factor’ generation. This both flows from, and departs from my first book, Psychological Socialism: the Labour Party and qualities of mind and character, 1931 to the present (MUP), as well as articles in The Historical Journal and English Historical Review, all exploring the role of character, values and mentalities in the pursuit of social democracy – Labour wanted to create a different economy, but also a different sort of person. Finally, I have also been interested in the theme of time in British political history, which I have examined in a further recent article in The Historical Journal (2013).
My teaching at Kingston, including Railway Age To Television Age, and Beatles To Blair, spans British history from 1830 to the immediate present. I like to range widely across different aspects of British domestic history, drawing the connections between culture, leisure pursuits, politics, and shifting British identities and values. Students of British history at Kingston explore the historical significance of cinema, television, the Beatles and the X Factor, as well as World Wars and Prime Ministers, from Churchill to Blair. I offer a particular emphasis on contemporary history: the 1960s to the 2000s, right up to the present: our students can enjoy debating the fascinating times they are actually living through. My classes aim to combine maximum student involvement with discussion of the most up-to-date debates amongst historians. They include ‘mock-ups’ of key general elections in which students play the roles of political parties and leaders, group debates over the positions of leading historians, and probing of varied primary sources, from film, cartoons, and television to Cabinet minutes.