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History Notes > British History VII (Since 1900) Notes

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Culture Past Paper Questions:


Why have the British been so alarmed by the advent of Americanisation?


Did the mass media lead to a homogenisation of culture?


Why did youth culture become so visible in the 1960s?


Did Britain develop a fully democratised culture?


Was popular culture a force for social cohesion?

General Ideas: The extent to which culture provided an impetus for change, was a genuinely representative, egalitarian phenomenon, or whether tensions continued to manifest themselves conspicuously throughout the twentieth century. General Definitional difficulties.

* 'Popular' as defined against the 'high' culture of the elite.

* Commercial vs. constructive.

* Culture as a way of life as contrasted with Arnoldian understandings of 'the best which is said and thought'.

* Culture a force for positive change or a disruptive phenomenon. o Heuristic definition through which assessments of culture in the twentieth century can be made - Williams proposed an equality of being. For culture to be common it has to embrace the whole range of activities which make up a society. In practice, the existence of economic inequality and the subjectivity of what constitutes common experience in a multicultural society means such a concept is in practice unfeasible. Emergence of 'cultural relativity'. John Reith's understanding of culture differed from commercial self-interest.

* Early output of the BBC focused on refining and developing the public's appreciation of cultural canon.

* Rational/irrational recreation. Dissemination of literature on a mass scale and at low prices spurred Leftist intellectuals to write inexpensive books for the masses.


Wartime synthesis of intellectualism and public spirit. J.B. Priestly embodiment of traditional moral values for a vast public during a period of economic dislocation and rapid technological change.

Dichotomy between 'self-interested' commercial interests and the 'altruistic' need to promote culture that cultivated mass democracy. Houlbrook - ' The centripetal and centrifugal nature of modern British culture---
homogenizing and differentiating at the same time' Culture is understood both as:


A way of life encompassing ideas, attitudes, languages, practices, institutions and structures of power. o Working-class? E.P. Thompson - focuses on the rituals of artisans, the place of fairs in 'the cultural life of the poor', the symbolism of food and the iconography of riots, from banners or loaves of bread on sticks to the effigies of hate-figures on the streets. o Importance of sport.


And a whole range of cultural practices: artistic forms, texts, canons, architecture, mass produced commodities and so on.

Two cultures controversy.

* Science vs. the arts (high culture, H.G. Wells)

* 'mass civilisation vs. technocratic modernity Cary Nelson, Paul Treichler and Larry Grossberg (eds.), Cultural Studies (1992) After 1918 'what culture was appropriate for that democracy became a question pitting the forces of the market place against the influence of an articulate minority' o 'Giving the public what it wants' o Standardization and mass production o Erosion of individuality o Debasement of 'taste' o Trivialization of cultural life o 'Our sensation-sodden democracy' ('Exploiting the Gallows', Saturday Review, 30 August 1924, 209) o Erosion of social boundaries

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Interwar developments (1) LeMahieu on 1930s o Depression = growing intellectual sensitivity to public needs o Improvements in new technologies and techniques 'raised the aesthetic standards of the commercialised mass media' o Result = emergence of 'genuinely national culture' Houlbrook - 'Ordinariness' of modernity. Freely accessible, open and demotic facilitated by shorter working hours and rises in disposable income. Aspirations towards emerging celebrity culture facilitated by cosmetics industry, cinema, etc. A 'candy floss' culture of consumption, seen by Hoggart as eroding working-class understandings of 'culture' as a system of values. o Still dependent on wealth and income. Unemployed and the destitute do not have access to 'popular culture'. Consolidation of north/south divide. How did the 'roaring 20s' become the 'hungry 30s'?
Leisure Victoria Baths - Rational recreation, but reflective of heterogeneous British culture. Opened Manchester 1906, common pursuit of healthiness, culture as way of life. Though divided into first and second class pools, access was near-universal, and the Baths helped foster local loyalties and sense of cohesion in the Arnoldian sense. Poor children unable to afford bathing suits - visible class distinctions. o Encapsulates nature of emerging common culture in twentieth century. Hobsbawm - mass leisure culture led to a common way of life and political solidarity amongst working class. Too simplistic a model.


Facilitated by economic developments. o By 1919, average working-week dropped from pre-war levels of 54 hours to 48 hours a week, though this varied according to occupation, gender and region (difference within difference - cannot consider culture in monolithic terms) Holiday with Pay Act (1938) did not substantially change experiences of leisure, but established legally the right of citizens to a holiday from work with pay.


'Spare time' as aspect of leisure contestable. o Unemployed, for example, had substantial spare time, but this was rarely pleasurable ('Love on the Dole') Gendered expectations - young men 'courting' assumed financial burden of going out.


Class tensions.

o Rational vs. rational recreation - concerns about the 'illogical frivolity and instant gratification' of a working-class culture based on consumption rather than traditional values prompted initiatives to promote constructive leisure time. o Women's League of Health and Beauty offered exercise classes, beauty tips and stressed health - can be read through multiple paradigms. Patriarchal constructions of women, imperial need for 'fit mothers', classconsciousness of female immorality and susceptibility to vice. o Interwar developments in commercial leisure fostered shallow pleasure at the expense of values, supposedly. Reflective of religious decline in society. o Walton - places like Blackpool retained British identity (though American influences visible) and traded on notions of the good humour and vitality of he common people enjoying a justified break after a year of hard labour. Affirmation of working-class culture as 'values system'.


Home became a spatial focus of leisure in interwar period, though with different connotations depending on social and economic status. o Culture of escapism and insularity saw the emergence of the hobby. Reading enjoyed a boom, aided by mass publication. Magazines were intrinsically gendered, with men's magazines appealing to sensibilities about the home as castle, 'DIY' and man as active producer. Home now a location for the formation and confirmation of manliness.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Post-1945 Patricia Waugh - 'The cultural ideal of welfare capitalism was the maintenance of a common culture through education, good literature and state subsidies for the Arts. The righties, however, saw the emergence of a plurality of voices, the acceptance of irreconcilable difference, the acknowledgement of a multiplicity of cultures each with its own order of value and social and aesthetic norms'. Understandings of culture as the 'best that has been said or thought' was closely tied to a class-based understanding of social formation in which culture consisted of that which most beautifully captured the human condition. Loss of identity in twentieht century?

* Contrasted with working-class culture as way of life, a system of values and a model of community which some historians deem was compromised by the advent of consumer culture.

* Williams proposed an equality of being. For culture to be common it has to embrace the whole range of activities which make up a society. In practice, the existence of economic inequality and the subjectivity of what constitutes common experience in a multicultural society means such a concept is in practice unfeasible. Emergence of 'cultural relativity'.
- Mass culture, via sport, television, film, came to provide the co-ordinates for shared experience.

Americanisation Becomes an unsettling shorthand for changes in the cultural sphere.


Burke, 1934 - major part of many changes Britain has suffered may be traced to America. Crass Americanisation challenges pillars of cultural cannon.


Enthusiastically attempts to integrate high and popular culture, primarily consumed through the cinema. Represents opportunity to escape constrictions of everyday life in Britain.


'Shiny barbarism' of Americanisation contributes to its attraction defined against 1950s austerity. Escapism and classlessness of meta-narratives of America, especially in cinema, contrast with British output, which tended to be didactic and morally edifying. Superseded outdated imperial narratives.


Facilitates youth culture - 60% of chart music in 1960s from America. Countered by British cultural products? Hitchcock, the Beatles. Sport remained a fundamentally British (read - English) preserve. Television monopolised output, and contributed to construction of, common identity centred on domestic understandings of the nation.

Must bear in mind agency.


American influences rarely passively consumed - assimilated into AngloAmerican hybrid. Distinguish between cultural consumption and cultural appreciation. Those most likely to understand American culture among the least likely to enjoy its exports. No binaries here. America consumed within distinctively British paradigms.


'Chicago gangsterism in Glasgow', Andrew Davies. Reconfiguration of the 'hero', feminisation of public life may have inspired young, assertive men to adopt the postures of aggressive gangsterism.


'Unprecedented cultural upsurge within the working class...derive much of its strength from American commercial culture, and would seek to bride the gap between the two cultures. from below'


'American disdain for restraint, an enthusiasm for the new and a genuine sense of what democracy might mean in social life...led English elites to rail in alarm and disgust against their influence'


Again, we must not consider Americanisation as a hegemonic discourse Horn has argued that these influences were mediated through British social and economic conditions to create 'style fusions that were distinctive and particular to Britain at that time'


Change from a culture for youth to a culture of youth. New values of Western youth initiated by the young people themselves - most conspicuously as a result of the expansion of higher education in the 1960s. Definitions and understandings of youth have varied over time. It can be defined in legal terms (school age), culturally, economically or a synthesis of the three. Regional variations were also prevalent before 1945. Inseparable from the institutionalisation of a distinction between childhood and adulthood.

* 1870 - childhood a legally defined identity, 1944 Education Act recognises necessity of adolescent education.

* Boarding schools developed unique cultural practices as a result of long-term segregation, reinforcing divisions in the experience of youth depending on class & income. Entering the working world helped define a distinctive adolescence in inter-war period.

* Economically constructed. Expansion of light industry and clerical work facilitated greater employment (difference within difference, regional variation)

* Relative affluence from disposable income, though often employment was insecure.

* Unemployment raised concerns about 'juvenile delinquency', intensely a class concern and symptomatic of wider fears of decline, but also institutionalises legal understandings of adolescence.

* Gendered - female youth employment subject to needs of the family structure. Fowler argues youth culture was evident in the 1920s and 30s. Osgerby - 'youth-as-fun/youth-as-trouble' model increasing pervasive after 1945. National media attention Osgerby - WW2 a 'watershed' for youth culture.

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