History: Politics, Culture and Society in the 1930s

Ref: C3739734

This course will introduce students to the extraordinary decade of the 1930s, its defining moments, hopes, fears and legacies. Starting with the economic crisis of the depression, it will go on to analyse the political failures of British governments against the background of widening social divisions and the rise of war and fascism in Europe.

Additional information about this course

*Reading courses bookable from 1st July 2016* Half term: 02/06/2017.

Course aim

This course provides a fresh look at the 1930s, and the implications for Britain of that remarkable decade of political uncertainty and conflict, cultural change and international crisis.

Who is the course for?

No explicit qualifications needed. A keen interest in history, current affairs and politics would be an advantage

What topics will this course cover

Introduction to the 1930s: This introduction will ask why the 1930s was such a defining decade and will set out the key themes of the course, ask some of the searching questions that will be considered during the week. It will also review the pre-coursework and suggest reading for the week. The Economic and Political Crisis This session will look at the implications of the Wall Street crash, and the onset of the Great Depression. The political ramifications of the economic crisis for Britain will be considered by looking at the formation of the National Government, the contexts, choices and motivations made by Ramsay Macdonald, the subsequent split in the Labour Party and the formation of Oswald Mosley’s ‘New Party’. The Working Classes in the 1930s (Part 1) The focus of this session will be the impact of the Depression on the working classes, the effects of the Means Test and the response through the rise of the hunger marchers, the role of trade unions and organisations like the National Unemployed Workers Movement. A range of oral history sources, diaries and letters will help tell the story of this period ‘from below’, in addition to more official accounts. Attitudes towards the Labour Party, and organisations The Working Classes in the 1930s (Part 2) In this session working class experience and the growing awareness of the conditions of working class life will be explored through the literature of that time including George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole and J.B.Priestley’s English Journey. This will include discussion over the extent to which these and similar works reflect a new genre of literature. The Middle Classes in the 1930s (Part 1) The inter-war period was one of insecurity for the middle classes and this session will address the economic and social reasons that have been used to explain this and the evidence for changes in attitudes, lifestyles and political allegiances. It will effects of economic crisis on middle class expectations, (eg loss of servants) changing political identities, including the shift to the far right. The Middle Classes in the 1930s (Part 2) This second part will look at the growth of radicalism among middle classes; their idealism, hopes, fears and commitments. This includes the growth of the student movement and support for Spanish Republic, and peace, the Left Book Club and the politicisation of poets and writers. It will assess the role of intellectuals in the politics of the 1930s. Divided Loyalties: Part 1:The ‘Cambridge Spies’ The 1930s was characterised by loyalties and commitments that often cut across national boundaries. In some cases this meant putting political objectives before questions of national interest and security. The so-called Cambridge Spies, young communist and ex-Cambridge graduates recruited initially to work for the Comintern, has been the source of many mysteries, dramas and historical studies. This session will look at the motivations, illusions and divided loyalties of those who made the fateful decision to work for Soviet intelligence. Divided Loyalties: (Part 2) The ‘Appeasers’ Debates about ‘treason’ and ‘treachery’ often characterise the politics of the 1930s and usually attributed to the ‘Cambridge Spies’. Yet there were many others who sought accommodation with countries hostile to Britain and this session will explore the role of the national media towards Italy and Germany and the strategy adopted by the Chamberlain government between 1937-1939.

What will it be like?

WEA classes are friendly and supportive. You will be encouraged to work together with your fellow students and tutor. You will be asked to share your ideas and views in the class and work with the group to give and accept feedback in a supportive environment. The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you to be actively involved in your learning. You may be asked to undertake work to support your course outside of your class.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

• Gain a knowledge and understanding of the key political events in Britain during the 1930s. • Assess the effect of social and cultural changes on 1930s Britain. • Evaluate the main legacies of the 1930s in Britain.

How will I know I'm making progress?

THe classes will be interactive - talks and discussion, advice on reading, space for clarification of ideas and events

What else do I need to know, do or bring?

No specialist clothing required.. No field trips. Pen and notebook important.

Reading and information sources

These are only suggestions. The source closest to a 'reader' for the course is Juliet Gardiner (2011) The Thirties: An Intimate History Harper Collins – Other useful texts in no particular order of preference: Geoff Andrews (2015) The Shadow Man: At the Heart of the Cambridge Spy Circle (I.B.Tauris) Tom Buchanan (1997) Britain and the Spanish Civil War (Cambridge University Press) George Orwell (1937) The Road to Wigan Pier originally published in 1937 there are numerous Penguin editions available. Martin Pugh (2008) ‘We Danced All Night’: A Social History of Britain Between the Wars Bodley Head There are many other history texts which cover the 1930s available in libraries etc. Julian Symons (1975) The Thirties (Faber and Faber)is short and very useful but may not be widely available now. Likewise John Stevenson and Chris Cook (1979)The Slump: Society and Politics During the Depression (Quartet)

What could the course lead to?

The course could lead to further study of history at a more advanced level and useful preparation for higher education courses.

Download full course outline

History: Politics, Culture and Society in the 1930s Course Outline


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  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2016
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