Social history is sometimes described as the ‘history of the people’ and is a branch of history that emphasizes social structures and the interaction of varying groups in society in contrast to affairs of state. Social history emerged as an alternative to the conventional political history, both in terms of its objects of interest and its belief in deep rooted economic and social factors as agents of historical change. Social and economic history overlap and always have. In the inter-war years both grew. Following the Second World War the subject really expanded greatly, not in a small part due to the work of Edward Thompson. In more recent times social history has adapted to face the challenges to its epistemology. One of the main challenges is from postmodernists attacking its reliance on class-based forms of analysis.
Originally an extension of economic history, it expanded as a separate discipline in the 1960s. It initially focused on marginalised social groups but later turned its focus to pay more attention to the middle and upper classes.
Name: Edward Palmer Thompson
Born: Feb. 3, 1924
Died: Aug. 28, 1993, Upper Wick, Worcester, England
British social historian and political activist. He wrote ‘The Making of the English Working Class (1963)’ and other works which heavily influenced post-World War II historiography. E.P Thompson contributed in founding the British New Left in the 1950s, and then in the 1980s he went on to became one of the most prominent antinuclear activists in Europe.
Post War Changes
The second world war highlighted that many British people were deprived and poor. Then the Liberal politician William Beveridge identified five issues that required change to make Britain better. To achieve his aims, Beveridge proposed the introduction of a welfare state. In 1942 William Beveridge set the government the task of discovering what people wanted to see in his idea of a new and improved Britain.
Beveridge then declared that there were five “giants on the road to reconstruction”:
He therefore proposed setting up a ‘welfare state’ with social security, a national health service, free education, council housing and full employment.
The newly elected Labour government set about making this idea, reality.
- Family Allowances Act (1945) – 5s a week for each child after the first.
- National Insurance Act (1945) – unemployment pay for six months and sick pay for as long as you were sick.
- National Insurance – Industrial Injuries Act (1946) – extra benefits for people injured at work.
- National Assistance Act (1948) – benefits for anybody in need. ‘The Times’ described it as: ‘the last defence against extreme poverty’.
- National Health Service Act (1948) – despite opposition from doctors, who insisted on the right to continue treating some patients privately, Aneurin Bevan brought in the NHS on 5 July 1948. Doctors, hospital, dentists, opticians, ambulances, midwives and health visitors were available, free to everybody.
- 1944 Education Act – ‘Rab’ Butler set the school-leaving age at 15, and introduced free secondary schools. Pupils took an ’11-plus’ IQ test that determined whether they went to grammar school (for academic pupils), secondary modern school (teaching practical subjects), or technical school (to teach practical skills).
- Town and Country Planning Act (1947) – set a target of building 300,000 new houses a year and 1.25 million council houses were built between 1945 and 1951. It also defined green belt land that had to be kept rural.
- New Towns Act (1946) – authorised the building of new towns at places such as Stevenage, Basildon, Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee.
- Children’s Act (1948) – required councils to provide good housing and care for all children ‘deprived of a normal home life’.
- Marshall Aid (1948) – the government used Marshall Aid to get industry going. The government nationalised the road haulage, railways and coal industries in 1947 and steel in 1951.
- By adopting the ideas in the economist JM Keynes’s book – the “General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” (1936) – the government learned how to keep the economy by increasing public spending. This meant that there has never been a depression like the one of the 1930s again.
This Social and Political History course will take you through right from the Agricultural Revolution to almost modern day. We will cover class, race and gender boundaries and the way they have changed over the years. We’ll also explore how attitudes have changed towards crime over the years and discover how politics have adapted along with the public’s changing attitudes and opinions.
(This course has been accredited under NCFE IIQ Licence by NCC Resources Limited which has been approved as an NCFE Investing in Quality (IIQ) centre to give formal recognition to courses)