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Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley 

Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer

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I am a feminist historian of twentieth century Britain, with particular focus on decolonization and how this has shaped British society and culture. I also write on the Labour Party, and overseas aid and development programmes, with particular interest in the intersections between politics, “ordinary people” and transnational organisations.

I am a new imperial historian in approach – I believe that Britain can only be understood as a metropole, and that British history needs to be understood as an imperial history. I am currently writing a book, Imperial Island, which tells an alternative history of Britain's relationship with its empire from the Second World War to present day. The book traces the ways that empire and decolonisation have left their mark on British history, society, politics and culture, and tells the story of how ordinary people's lives have been shaped by the messy, complex, brutal, and surprising history of British imperialism. I am writing this book for Bodley Head and it will be published in 2022.

I am also committed to communicating history beyond the academy, and regularly write for popular outlets such as the Guardian, Tribune, the Washington Post, New Humanist, Popula, New Statesman, Dazed and BBC History magazine. I have appeared on podcasts (No Country for Young Women, Chatham House Undercurrents), and on television and radio (Sky News, Radio New Zealand, BBC Radio 4 Analysis, BBC Radio 4 Sweet Reason, BBC Rethink) as a historical expert.


Appointments held 

I am interested in the social, cultural and political histories of Britain in the twentieth century. I take a 'new imperial history' approach to this topic: I believe we can only write histories of Britain if we take the intersections between Britain and empire seriously.

My PhD thesis, entitled 'Monstrous Predatory Vampires and Beneficent Fairy-Godmothers: British Post-War Colonial Development in Africa', explored the Attlee government's approach to colonial development in the African empire in the transnational context of post-war reconstruction. I have worked on the history of British aid and development programmes and am especially interested in exploring this history through a gendered analysis. My work in this area has taken a transnational approach, including the work of USAID and the Population Council alongside British state and non-state actors.

I am also interested in the broader history of the Labour Party, especially through the prism of gender and the cultural politics of the left; I have a particular interest in the role of women on the British left, with an on-going project exploring the hate mail received by female politicians, such as Barbara Castle. Overall, my work explores the intersections between foreign and domestic policy, state and non-state actors, and politics and popular culture in twentieth century Britain.

I would be interested in hearing from prospect research students on these or related topics.

PhD supervision

  • Emily Burnett, Agency of the “fallen women” in the later nineteenth century Portsmouth and Plymouth.
  • Mike Brackpool, The New Information and Communications War: theBritish public, media, Ministry of Information and the controlof news during the Phoney War of 1939/40
  • Esther Knight, The Czech national movement, gender and identity
  • Daniel Frost (SWWP co supervised with Matt Worley at University of Reading) Labour and the Left in a suburban context: politics, identity and culture in Croydon, 1956-1994
  • Will Law, Decolonising the Master's Gift: Britain's Railways, Decolonisation, and the International Market 1945-1975, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award

Equality and Diversity Officer, World Histories Convenor

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Book Chapters

I teach across a variety of topics in modern British social, cultural and political history, including women's history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history and memory of the Second World War, the 1960s as a British cultural moment, and the long and tangled history of the Labour Party. I would be interested in supervising research students across these topics and my research interests more widely. I also convene our first year core course, World Histories: Contact, Conflict and Culture from Ancient to Modern.

Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley
Building 65, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Southampton SO17 1BF, United Kingdom

Room Number : 65/1047

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