I am a Lecturer in Modern British History and Vice Principal of St Hilda's College, Oxford. As a social historian, I am interested in ordinary people's experience and memory of the past. My research examines class and gender relations, social mobility, work and education - often by using oral histories and unpublished autobiographies.
My book The People: the rise and fall of the working class, 1910-2010 (London, 2014), argues that the century after 1910 was the working-class century. The working class became 'the people', as a result of ordinary people's efforts to have their voices heard. The book explores this, and what led to the demonisation of the working class at the end of the 20th century.
I work closely with communities and organisations beyond the University. These include MaD Theatre Group in Manchester. My collaboration with them informed my article 'Class conflict and the myth of cultural "inclusion" in modern Manchester' in J. Wolff and M. Savage (eds), Culture in Manchester. Institutions and urban change since 1850 (Manchester, 2013).
I serve on the editorial boards of Past and Present and the Royal Historical Society's Studies in History monograph series, and am a member of the Advisory Panel of History and Policy.
Women, Work and Value, a transnational network co-ordinated by Dr Josie McLellan at Bristol University.
I am one of the convenors of Oxford's women's history seminar
Phoenix Rising: Working-Class Life and Urban Reconstruction, c. 1945–1967
Journal of British Studies
The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010
'There was nothing extraordinary about my childhood or background. And yet I looked in vain for any aspect of my family's story when I went to university to read history, and continued to search fruitlessly for it throughout the next decade. Eventually I realised I would have to write this history myself.'
What was it really like to live through the twentieth century? In 1910 three-quarters of the population were working class, but their story has been ignored until now.
Based on the first-person accounts of servants, factory workers, miners and housewives, award-winning historian Selina Todd reveals an unexpected Britain where cinema audiences shook their fists at footage of Winston Churchill, communities supported strikers, and where pools winners (like Viv Nicholson) refused to become respectable. Charting the rise of the working class, through two world wars to their fall in Thatcher's Britain and today, Todd tells their story for the first time, in their own words.
Uncovering a huge hidden swathe of Britain's past, The People is the vivid history of a revolutionary century and the people who really made Britain great.
Class, experience and Britain's twentieth century
Family Welfare and Social Work in Post-War England, c.1948-c.1970
The English Historical Review
Class conflict and the myth of cultural ‘inclusion’ in modern Manchester
Culture in Manchester: Institutions and urban change since 1850
This book brings together studies of cultural institutions in Manchester from 1850 to the present day, giving an unprecedented account of the city's cultural evolution. These bring to light the remarkable range of Manchester's contribution to modern cultural life, including the role of art education, popular theatre, religion, pleasure gardens, clubs and societies. The chapters show the resilience and creativity of Manchester's cultural institutions since 1850, challenging any simple narrative of urban decline following the erosion of Lancashire's industrial base, at the same time illustrating the range of activities across the social classes. This book will appeal to everyone interested in the cultural life of the city of Manchester, including cultural historians, sociologists and urban geographers, as well as general readers with interests in the city. It is written by leading international authorities, including Viv Gardner, Stephen Milner, Mike Savage, Bill Williams and Janet Wolff.
People Matter: The Making of the English Working Class
History Workshop Journal
One enduring legacy of The Making of the English Working Class is Thompson’s careful attention to the agency of ordinary people. I suggest that his methodology offers a means of identifying agency and resistance across different periods of history. His use of both class and experience, which were challenged by the cultural turn, deserve renewed attention, as they offer important analytical tools for historians. Rather than simply describing class as a social phenomenon, The Making provides us with a way to analyze class as a dynamic, historically-specific relationship. At a time when inequality is presented by politicians as normative and inevitable, we need these insights more than ever.
Thai Brides and Teacakes: working-class culture and the modern city
Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester
From Babyboomers to Beanstalkers. Making the Modern Teenager in Postwar Britain
Cultural and Social History
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the British teenager was presented as a symbol of generational rebellion in the popular press, social investigations, and much political debate. We draw on oral histories, newspapers and the archives of prominent social surveys to question this presentation. By examining how working-class teenagers and their parents experienced and remembered the post-war years, we identify a disjuncture between the literature on moral panic and the widespread evidence of intergenerational cooperation between parents and children. Many working-class parents, enjoying newfound economic security, felt able to encourage their children to enjoy more adventurous lives.
Domestic Service and Class Relations in Britain, 1900-1950
Past and Present: A Journal of Historical Studies
Far from being symbols of a bygone era, servants remain central
to life in modern Britain. One in ten British households currently
employs domestic workers.1 The ‘disappearance’ of service —
already heralded in the 1920s, when press coverage of ‘the servant
problem’ was filled with nostalgic laments for the faithful
Victorian maid—never happened. Change, of course, did occur
—the live-in housemaid of the 1900s was replaced with the parttime
cleaner of the 1950s — and it is that transition on which I
focus here. I therefore treat the history of twentieth-century
domestic service as one of development, rather than decline.
Moreover, I argue that relations between servants and their
employers illuminate the important and dynamic role that class
has played in modern British history — though we would not
know it from the silence on service that characterizes the major
historical studies of class in twentieth-century Britain.2
This article builds on existing histories of domestic service
by moving beyond the polarization of socio-economic and cultural
history. Between the 1960s and the 1980s sociologists and
social historians were preoccupied with whether ‘deference’ or
‘defiance’ shaped servants’ behaviour and actions. While some
scholars argued that servants were socialized into unquestioning
obedience,3 others suggested that deference in fact masked covert
defiance.4 Both groups used close analysis of the interaction between servants and their employers to place them within an
existing paradigm of class relations.5 Most of these studies
agreed that domestic service had ‘disappeared’ by the 1950s,
largely because young working-class women found the occupation
oppressive and left when job opportunities increased in
factories, shops and offices.6 The recent insights of cultural
historians have challenged this older methodology and the conclusions
derived from it. Judy Giles and Lucy Delap have used
middle-class women’s writing and, in Delap’s case, servants’
memoirs, to suggest that service was a positive experience for
many working-class women.7 These different strands of scholarship
have produced immensely valuable work, but none has successfully
explained the coexistence of servants’ and former
servants’ positive testimonies with the replacement of ‘live-in’
service by part-time domestic work after the SecondWorldWar.
Affluence, Class and Crown Street: Reinvestigating the Post-War Working Class
Contemporary British History
This paper revisits sociological studies of Liverpool between 1956 and 1964 to challenge
the prevailing emphasis on affluence in histories of post-war Britain. Vulnerability to
poverty continued to shape working-class life, and the sociologists and their respondents
drew on class to account for this. However, while the researchers used class as a social
description, their respondents suggested that class was a dynamic social relationship
within which they operated a degree of agency, albeit mediated by gender and locale. Their
agency was not only facilitated by the development of a post-war welfare state, rather than by personal affluence, but also relied on older household economic strategies that highlight continuities with the pre-war period.