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‘National Decline’, Reproduction and the State in Edwardian Britain

Questions to prepare for seminar:

    1. Was Britain a nation that saw itself in decline in the first decades of the century?
    2. What does the emergence of a eugenics movement reveal about attitudes towards ‘race’ in Britain during the first decades of the twentieth century?
    3. To what degree did a discourse of ‘decline’ shape the formation of the early welfare state?

     Core Reading:

    • E.H.H. Green, ‘An Age of Transition: British Politics, 1880-1914’, Parliamentary History, 16 (1997), 1-17
    • Please read something else this week, as the above reading only gives you an outline of the themes we will be discussing. For your second reading, decide whether to focus on ideas of gender (eg Anna Davin’s article) or race and imperialism - so that you can talk about one area in detail.


    Further Reading:

    • For much of the twentieth century, the imperial experience was one of perceived decline. For thoughts about the impact of this process on national identity: Paul Rich, 'Imperial Decline and the Resurgence of English National Identity, 1918-1979', in T. Kushner & K. Lunn (eds.), Traditions of Intolerance (1989), 33-52; David Cannadine, 'Apocalypse When? British Politicians and British 'Decline' in the Twentieth Century', in Peter Clarke & Clive Trebilcock (eds.), Understanding Decline: Perceptions and Realities of British Economic Performance (1997), 261-84. In fact, the relative lack of domestic resistance to imperial withdrawal may cast some doubt on the Empire-mindedness of the British people: John Darwin, 'Fear of Falling: British Politics and Imperial Decline since 1900', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser. 36 (1986), 39-43.
    • Specifically, on the degree to which concern about decline extended to racial degeneration: R. Soloway, 'Counting the Degenerates: The Statistics of Race Deterioration in Edwardian England', Journal of Contemporary History, 17 (1982), 137-64; Vanessa Heggie, ‘Lies, Damn Lies and Manchester Recruiting Statistics: Degeneration as an Urban Legend in Victorian and Edwardian Britain’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 63 (2008), 178-216
    • Arguing for the significance of a radical right in Britain: Dan Stone, Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain (2002); and on the centrality of race in British eugenics, Dan Stone, ‘Race in British Eugenics’, European History Quarterly, 31 (2001), 397-426.
    • For thoughts on the relationship between the imperial experience and ideas of race in Britain: P. Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (1990); P. Mandler, ‘“Race” and “Nation” in Mid-Victorian Thought’, in S. Collini, R. Whatmore & B. Young (eds.), History, Religion and Culture: Essays in British Intellectual History 1750-1950 (2000); P. Rich, ‘The Quest for Englishness’, in G. Marsden (ed.), Victorian Values: Personalities and Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Society (1990).
    • On the impact of science on racism: N. Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960 (1982); G. Jones, Social Darwinism and English Thought (1980); D. Lorimer, ‘Race, Science and Culture: Historical Continuities and Discontinuities, 1850-1914’, in S. West (ed.), The Victorians and Race (1996), pp. 12-33; W. Ernst & B. Harris (eds), Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960 (1999), chapters 7, 9, 11, 12.
    • On the treatment of ethnic minorities: Colin Holmes, John Bull’s Island: Immigrants and British Society, 1871-1971; David Feldman, 'The Importance of Being English: Jewish Immigration and the Decay of Liberal England', in D. Feldman & G. Stedman Jones (eds.), Metropolis (1989); D. Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840-1914; L. Tabili, ‘The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth Century Britain: The Social Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925’, Journal of British Studies, 33 (1994), 54-98; Panikos Panayi, Immigrants, Ethnicity and Race in Britain 1815-1945 (1994); P. Panayi, Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1993); P. Vasili, The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865-1920 (1998).
    • On Edwardian and interwar anxieties about the health of the race and the rise of eugenics; Greta Jones, Social Darwinism and English Thought (1980); Greta Jones, Social Hygiene in Twentieth Century Britain (1986); G. Searle, The Quest for National Efficiency (1971); G.R. Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900-1914 (1976); Soloway, Demography and Degeneration (1990); M. Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Social Policy and Democracy in Britain, 1970-1959 (1998); Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (2010); Dorothy Porter, ‘Enemies of the Race: Biologism, Environmentalism, and Public Health in Edwardian England, Victorian Studies, 34 (1991), 159-78; Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, ‘Building a British Superman: Physical Culture in Interwar Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41 (2006), 595-610; Anna Davin, ‘Imperialism and Motherhood’, History Workshop Journal, 5 (1978), 9-65
    • You can access the Eugenics Review electronically at:
    • On the links between concerns over national efficiency and the youth movements of the era: John Springhall, Youth, Empire and Society: British Youth Movements, 1883-1940 (1977); Michael Rosenthal, The Character Factory: Baden Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement (1984)
    • The thesis of a ‘strange death of Liberal England’ was originally put forward in George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (first published 1936) – ebook. For analysis of the challenges to Conservatism in this moment: E.H.H. Green, The Crisis of Conservatism, 1880-1914 (1994); E.H.H. Green, ‘Radical Conservatism: the Electoral Genesis of Tariff Reform’, Historical Journal, 26 (1985); G. Searle, 'Critics of Edwardian Society: The Case of the Radical Right', in A. O'Day (ed.), The Edwardian Age: Conflict and Stability, 1900-1914 (1979). For analysis of the limitations of a challenge from the radical left: Ross McKibbin, ‘Why was there no Marxism in Great Britain?’, English Historical Review, 99 (1984), 297-331.