British academy


Reassessing the 1970s

23 September 2009, 7.00-8.30pm
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH

Convenors: Professor Pat Thane FBA, Institute of Historical Research, University of London; Dr Lawrence Black, University of Durham; and Dr Hugh Pemberton, University of Bristol

It is clear that the 1970s were a watershed in post-war British history, but why does that decade continue to resonate so strongly in contemporary British politics, and in debates about economic, social and cultural change?

An understanding of what happened in the 1970s is essential to understanding Britain as it developed in the 1980s and 1990s and how it continues to develop today. Thirty years on from the ‘winter of discontent’ and the election of Margaret Thatcher, and with the official papers virtually fully open, the time has come for contemporary historians to begin to reassess the 1970s and the decade’s place in post-war history as a whole.

This discussion addresses a series of important questions about this crucial decade:

  • Why did the decade see such a polarisation of British politics and such social and cultural discord?
  • Was the ‘crisis’ in the 1970s as bad as it has been (and was at the time) painted?
  • Was ‘the long march of labour’ halted in the 1970s, and did the decade mark the ‘end of social democracy in Britain’?

More generally, the panel considers the significance of the 1970s in the broad sweep of post-war British history.


Chair: Professor Laurie Taylor, Birkbeck, University of London, and presenter, Radio 4

Dr Lawrence Black, University of Durham

Professor Frank Mort, University of Manchester

Professor Pat Thane FBA, Centre for Contemporary British History and Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Professor Jim Tomlinson, University of Dundee

Illustration: Garbage piling up in the street during a sanitation workers strike: Photograph by © Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images