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HIST3179 When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the 1970s, Part 2: 1974-1979

Module Overview

Was British society reconceptualised in the mid-to-late 1970s? Did Britain's status in the world fundamentally shift? Was Britain now a de-industrialising or even a post-industrial society? If so, how should British culture and history be understood? Were, as punk band the Sex Pistols proclaimed, institutions like the monarchy, now culturally and spiritually devoid? Was it time, as some revolutionary feminists argued, to see men as the enemy? Was religion any longer a meaningful force in society? This module explores questions like these as we focus on the dynamic developments in political, social, economic and cultural life in the years between 1975 and 1979. The module will conclude by examining two key episodes in the popular memory of the late-1970s: the Winter of Discontent and Margaret Thatcher's victory at the May 1979 election. How significant were these episodes to the way the 1970s would be remembered?

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

 analyse the 1970s as a key decade in post-1945 British history  develop your chronological understanding of the history of 1970s Britain by taking the study up to 1979  deepen your understanding of Britain’s history in this decade by including examination of Britain’s relationship with Europe and the role of the United Kingdom  introduce you to key historical and historiographical narratives about Britain 1974-1979, to how these develop or differ from narratives about Britain 1970-1974, and to the ways in which these have shaped thematic discussions of the 1970s as a whole  study interconnections and overlaps between high politics, social and cultural developments and everyday life in the years between 1974 and 1979  encourage you to consider the relationship between political, social and cultural developments in the 1970s and the preoccupations of contemporary British society

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • major political events, economic, social and cultural developments in Britain (including Northern Ireland) 1974-1979, and recent historiographical debates surrounding their interpretation
  • the wider context of these events and developments in post-1945 British history
  • a range of primary sources and evidence, pertaining to topics of study, that indicate different viewpoints and areas of controversy in this period
  • key areas of debate across the 1970s which shed light on developments in contemporary British history after 1979
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • contribute effectively to group discussion
  • further refine your skills in time-management
  • identify and utilise relevant textual, visual and oral history sources in the library and on-line
  • display your presentation skills
  • research historical questions and present your case persuasively in written reports
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • contribute effectively to small and large group discussions, presenting arguments that build upon your reading, knowledge and understanding
  • analyse critically a variety of textual, visual and oral history evidence from the period
  • marshall the arguments and evidence you find in your research into well-organised presentations and essays
  • understand and contextualise primary source material and apply this in assessed exercises
  • engage critically with the burgeoning secondary literature on 1970s Britain, and contribute to recent historiographical debates about the significance of the decade in the history of post-war Britain


What was it like to live in Britain in the 1970s? When governments were nervous, rubbish went uncollected, the unity of the UK was questioned, but when Britons – in general – were better off than ever before? In this Special Subject you will consider this central question through examining key political, social, economic and cultural debates and developments of this decade. You will interrogate discussions about the erosion of post- war political consensus, evidence of popular protest and of shifting cultural norms. Contemporaries confronted the often conflicting pressures of the decade; historians are coming to understand the 1970s as a pivotal hinge in the history of post-1945 Britain. Through close readings of primary sources alongside historians’ writings, you will have the opportunity to contribute to a developing field of enquiry about this turbulent decade in recent British history. In the second semester, you will focus on the history of Britain between 1974 and 1979. You will continue to explore political policy, popular protest (feminism and the widespread strikes of winter 1978-79) and measures of public morality (in debates about religion and education and youth cultures). In addition, you will focus upon Britain’s relationship with Europe and the threat to the United Kingdom posed by terrorism in Northern Ireland. Through analysing the social, economic, political and cultural conditions underpinning these issues you will reach your own interpretation of this period: was it the interrupted road to anarchy or the inevitable rise of Thatcher? As well as undertaking close study of primary sources – including election manifestos, political speeches, memoirs, books, newspapers, magazines, films – you will also have the opportunity to visit the British Library to listen to its oral history collections pertaining to the 1970s. Topics to be covered in the second semester: 1. Britain and Europe 2. Workshop at British Library Sound Archive (voluntary) 3. Feminism and the Feminist Press 4. Jubilee Year (1977): The Monarchy and Society 5. ‘The Troubles’: Northern Ireland in the 1970s 6. Religion and The New Age Movement 7. Playing on the Public’s Mind: Public Information Films 8. Education and Youth Cultures 9. ‘The Winter of Discontent’ 10. 1979 General Election: A Victorious Mrs. Thatcher

Special Features

In this module learning and teaching activities focus on facilitating your exploration and examination of the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in tutor-directed and self- directed study, for example through the reading you do in preparation for seminar classes and through research in the library and on-line. The presentations (given by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary textual, visual and oral history sources, including the opportunity to go on a field trip to the British Library to listen to relevant oral history collections. These activities will allow you to prepare for the essay and examination exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include:  presentations by students on secondary reading and primary sources  small and large group discussions  structured in-depth reading and analysis of the module texts  active film viewings  voluntary field trip to British Library Learning activities include:  preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class  preparing and delivering short presentations relating to aspects of the module, as directed by the tutor  close study of textual, visual and oral history primary sources  participation in small and large group discussion

Independent Study260
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

B. Moore-Gilbert (ed.) (1994). The Arts in the 1970’s: Cultural Closure?. 

F. Wheen (2009). Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia. 

M. Tracey and D. Morrison (1979). Whitehouse. 

A. Oakley (1974). Housewife. 

G. Owen (1999). From Empire to Europe: The Decline and Revival of British Industry Since the Second Word War. 

H. Young (1998). This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair. 

J Diski (2009). The Sixties. 

P. Whitehead (1985). The Writing On The Wall: Britain in the Seventies. 

R. Coopey and N. W. C. Woodward (eds) (1996). Britain in the 1970s: The Troubled Economy. 

J. McIlroy, N. Fishman and A. Campbell (eds.) (2007). The High Tide of British Trade Unionism: Trade Unions and Industrial Politics, 1964-1979. 

C. Hay (1996). Narrating the Crisis: The Discursive Construction of the “Winter of Discontent”. Sociology. ,30 , pp. 253-277.

D. Sandbrook (2012). Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979. 

D. Butler and D. Kavanagh (1974). The British General Election of February 1974. 

A. Beckett (2009). When The Lights Went Out: What Really Happened to Britain in the Seventies. 

D. Butler and U. Kitzinger (1976). The 1975 Referendum. 

S. Bruce (1995). Religion in Modern Britain. 

K O. Morgan (1997). Callaghan: A Life. 

J. Callaghan (2004). Industrial Militancy, 1945-79: The Failure of the British Road to Socialism?. Twentieth Century British History. ,15 , pp. 388-409.

K Dunnell (1979). Family Formation, 1976: A Survey Carried Out on Behalf of Population Statistics Division 1 of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys of a Sample of Women (Both Single and Ever Married) Aged 16-49 in Great Britain. 

P. Thane (ed.) (2010). Unequal Britain: Equalities in Britain Since 1945. 

J Moran (2010). ‘“Stand Up and Be Counted”: Hughie Green, the 1970s and Popular Memory’. History Workshop Journal. ,70 , pp. 172-198.

L. Black (2012). 'An Enlightening Decade? New Histories of 1970s Britain'. International Labor and Working-class History. ,82 .

H. Sounes, Seventies (2006). The Sights, Sounds and Ideas of a Brilliant Decade. 

J. Campbell (2001). Margaret Thatcher, Vol. 1: The Grocer’s Daughter. 

R. Clutterbuck (1978). Britain in Agony: The Growth of Political Violence. 

M. Phillips and T. Phillips (1998). Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. 

L Forster and S. Harper (eds) (2010). British Culture and Society in the 1970s: The Lost Decade. 

S. Ball and A. Seldon (eds) (1996). The Heath Government, 1970-1974: A Reappraisal. 

D. Sandbrook (2011). State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain 1970-1974. 

J. Bowyer Bell (1993). The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence, 1967-1992. 

A. W. Turner (2008). Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback:  individual and group oral presentations (non-assessed)  tutorials to provide consultation on assessed essays  guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments  regular work with primary sources to prepare for the essay and examination exercises


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Examination  (3 hours) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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