Research Professor in Contemporary British History, King’s College London

In 2016, Pat Thane became the second honorary president of the Social History Society, following the death of Asa Briggs, who served in the role for forty years from the founding of the Society in 1976.

After studying at Oxford and then the LSE, Pat has spent her career at Goldsmiths, Sussex, the Institute of Historical Research and now King’s College London. She has served in numerous high-profile roles in the historical profession, including Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society and on the editorial boards of numerous journals including our own. She has been an active member of the Social History Society through much of its history and was Chair from 2001 until 2008.

Reflecting on the place of the SHS in the story of social history in an essay for the society’s 40th anniversary, she commented: “There is a persistent belief that social history in this country really began in 1963 with publication of EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class and its main drive was left oriented, focussed on class and class conflict. This strand was hugely important, but social history had a longer, more diverse history back to at least the beginning of the century including the Webbs and Hammonds outside academic life, those who blended economic and social history within universities, like Labour Party activist RH Tawney, then GM Trevelyan, Prof. at Cambridge, both of whom were influential and had broader interests than class, though they didn’t ignore it. And from 1964 Peter Laslett ran the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure which transformed our understandings of the history of the family and population, important dimensions of social history. This diversity has continued…

Perkin established the SHS as an inclusive Society, open to a range of ideologies and perspectives and to new approaches. These included the recognition that was emerging in the 1970s that class was not the only significant identity and source of division in society. Recognition that gender, race, sexual orientation were and long had been centrally important categories for analysing societies influenced the writing of social history as it did much else internationally, as a result of the new social movements that flourished in the 1970s. The SHS was open to these new approaches from the beginning. A reason for its continued great success and growth has been its continuing openness to new ideas and new people and it’s great, and a great tribute to Harold Perkin, that the Society has carried on so successfully for so long.”

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