A Social History of England by Asa Briggs

A Social History of England - Asa Briggs

Social histories are tricky, in that you're often going to be dealing with lots of statistics and Big Issues - and by spending less time with individuals often readers can feel really disconnected from the flesh and blood history. It can turn into all numbers and not enough humanity. Briggs manages the balance really well by tossing in specific details and the occasional (brief) individual biography. While the text can be a bit dry in places, the images tend to make up for those moments. The artwork and photos, which the author stresses are important and were chosen carefully to illustrate the text, are well worth checking out even if you decide not to read the entire book.


What's really impressive about this book is that it covers the history of early man settling in the islands up through the Thatcher government, in only 320 pages (including index). Which made it a helpful "suggested text" in the Brit lit class I was taking, eons ago.


Because I'm a Doctor Who fan I have to add here that I was particularly pleased to see a Dalek in the chapter on the modern era.





Unwritten History

Invasion, Resistance, Settlement and Conquest

Dependence, Expansion and Culture

Order and Conflict

Problems, Opportunities and Achievements

Revolution, Restoration and Settlement

The Quest for Wealth, Power and Pleasure

The Experience of Industrialization

Webs of Communication

Victorianism: Prelude, Expression, Aftermath

The Divides of War

Poverty and Progress

Ends and Beginnings





Random quotes:


p 188: "...The enthusiastic foundry-owner John Wilkinson, who helped make England iron-conscious, had an iron boat, which was as well-known as his iron coffin. After Wilkinson's death the story spread that he would rise out of the coffin and visit his blast furnaces seven years later, and a large crowd gathered for the resurrection."


And there's nothing more in the text about Wilkinson's resurrection-no-show - so no idea what the crowd's response was.


p 217-218: "...There were also restrictions on the freedom of the motorist: the Red Flag Act of 1865, extended with limited amendments in 1878, restricted speeds to four miles an hour in the country and two miles an hour in the towns and required every 'road locomotive' to have three attendants, one to walk not less than six yards in front carrying a red flag."


I'll let you pause here to contemplate traveling at the blazing speeds of 4 and 2 miles an hour.


p 242: "...One particularly illuminating mid-Victorian book on sex, the first edition of which appeared in 1857, was Dr Acton’s Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Youth, in Adult Age, and in Advanced Life, Considered in their Physiological, Social and Psychological Relations. Acton...stated categorically - and he was not alone in this appraisal - that ‘intellectual qualities are usually in an inverse ratio to the sexual appetites. It would almost seem as if the two were incompatible; the exercise of the one annihilating the other.’ “


Here's a link to Functions and Disorders - and no, I'm not going to even pretend I'm going to read it. ...Ok later I might skim it for further humor - but it looks like a lot of dullness to dig through.