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The rise of urban history in Britain c.1960-1978

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posted on 08.08.2014, 14:01 by Gary W. Davies
The advent of urban history is noteworthy for its early success, longevity, and the dominant personality of H.J. Dyos. Much that has been written on the rise of urban history in Britain emerged following Dyos’ death in 1978. These texts do not provide a neutral assessment of Dyos’ role, nor do they consider the underlying factors behind the emergence of the field. The establishment of the Urban History Group and urban history in Britain are inextricably linked. A distinct sub-field of History, urban history emerged in the post-war decades that saw aspects of British society undergoing rapid transformation. Higher education opened up to previously under-represented sectors of society. Scholars arrived wanting to explore a wider range of topics that reflected their diverse social and economic backgrounds. To cope with the increased range, the discipline of History underwent a period of fragmentation into specialist subject areas. Urban history was one such area. Past urban societies provided historians with a location in which they could study class structure and social mobility. The built legacy of Britain’s urban past underwent reassessment, with formerly ignored remnants subject to contemporary valorisation and demands for protection. For some, the urban was a neutral location in which to study social systems. For urban historians, the urban milieu and the processes of urbanization were the determining factors that fashioned urban society. The establishment of the Urban History Group and the rise of urban history was a reflection of increased interest in the urban past and urban society. Unravelling the underlying factors behind the appearance of urban history revealed the process of disciplinary sub-field formation, the main actors, their role, their motives, and the importance of academic structures. The research places the post-war formation of urban history within the wider context of Britain’s shifting social structures and urban agenda.



Gunn, Simon; Sweet, Rosemary

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School of Historical Studies

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University of Leicester

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