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The University of Southampton

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 the end of 1974 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

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 c. 1974-1979, and recent historiographical debates surrounding their interpretation
  • the wider context of these events and developments in post-1945 British history, and perspectives upon them
  • 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
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • 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 essays and arguments
  • 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
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • further refine your skills in time-management
  • identify and utilise relevant textual, visual and oral history sources in the library and on-line
  • research historical questions and present your case persuasively in written reports


In the second semester, you will focus on the history of Britain between the end of 1974 and 1979. You will continue to explore political policy, popular protest (feminism and the widespread militant industrial action 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 place within European politics, focusing on the critical debate of 1975 on whether Britain should remain in the EEC. Through analysing the social, economic, political and cultural conditions that came together in these events, you will reach your own interpretation of this period: was it the interrupted road to anarchy or the inevitable rise of Thatcher? Our study on this module will incorporate close examination of primary sources including election manifestos, political speeches, memoirs, books, newspapers, magazines, films, oral history collections and other online sources. Topics to be covered include: 1. Britain in Europe: the 1975 referendum 2. Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement 3. History and Culture: new approaches and studies in the late 1970s 4. Jubilee Year (1977): the Monarchy and Society 5. Laughing at religion? revisiting Monty Python’s Life of Brian 6. The politics of punk 7. ‘The Winter of Discontent’ 8. 1979 General Election

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Oakley (1974). Housewife. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J Diski (2009). The Sixties. 

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


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%


MethodPercentage contribution
Repeat of module 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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