The Society was inspired and initiated by Harold Perkin, who was justly proud of being appointed the first Professor of Social History in Britain, at the new Lancaster University in 1967, having been Lecturer in Social History at Manchester, 1951-65 and Senior Lecturer Social History at Lancaster 1965-67, a career which suggests that social history was not invented in the 1960s as is sometimes thought. He became nationally prominent among historians in 1969 with the publication of The Origins of Modern English Society, 1780-1880.

In the Preface he described his vision, embodied in the book, of ‘social history as a vertebrate discipline built around a central organizing theme, the history of society qua society, of social structure in all its manifold and constantly changing ramifications’. The book explored ‘the emergence…of that modern class society we…have inherited from our Victorian predecessors and are engaged in reshaping’ on the assumption that ‘the Industrial Revolution was no mere sequence of changes in industrial techniques and production but a social revolution with social causes and a social process as well as profound social effects’. The ‘heart of the book [was] …the growth of a new social structure based on the horizontal solidarities of class … into the viable class society of its mid-Victorian maturity’, examined in terms of social, cultural and political changes as they affected all classes.

It was a clear challenge to the influential Marxist paradigm which was influential at the time, especially since the publication of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963) and represented by History Workshop Journal, which focussed upon material life and class conflict, mainly from the working class perspective, with less attention to other classes or to broader features of culture and the means whereby the classes had evidently managed to co-exist despite differences and constant tensions.”

– From Pat Thane’s  Forty Years of the Social History Society, 1976-2016

Key Publications