My next major project is a ‘big’ book on Britain and the Second World War, combining the social, cultural and military history of the war (and much else besides). One of the great pleasures of starting a project such as this, at least for me, is the ability to range widely over a broad field, much of which is new to me. But one of the frustrations is that I’ve already encountered a number of areas which seem to deserve more study, or in which I’d like to make some speculative suggestions in the certain knowledge that I won’t have time to launch an in-depth research project. So here are the projects that, were there but world enough and time, I’d like to pursue. If anyone knows of specific material that already exists on them, then please let me know. If anyone wants to pursue one, just let me know what you find out. If anyone would like to be supervised for a PhD – just ask!
1. Gambling and the black market 1935-1945
In the interwar years, Britain developed a huge gambling industry, both legal and illegal. As Mike Huggins points out, much of this related to horse racing. Off course cash betting was illegal, but hugely popular. Working class communities in particular had to develop a version of socially sanctioned illegality – where policemen turned a blind eye to bookmakers, or bookies made sure that they were seen positively by the communities around them – in order that this entertainment could continue. The advent of the Second World War disrupted the sporting programme on which bookies depended. I wonder to what degree they therefore transformed themselves into black-marketeers – similarly a socially sanctioned form of illegality, and one occupying a similar precarious status in communities. The sources for this study would be police records, local newspaper reports, memoirs and oral history. It would be a means of exploring how pre-war society adapted itself to the needs of war. (I think you could do a similar study on the way that inter-war cigarette coupons pre-figured the experience of rationing in the Second World War).
2. The British Police and Technology 1918 to 1945
Many of the debates which military historians have with regard to British attitudes towards, and acceptance of, technological change could equally be explored through the study of different police force’s use of technology from the end of the First to the end of the Second World War.
3. The British Army’s Experience of COIN in post 1918 Europe.
Studying the Middlesex Regt recently, I was astonished (perhaps foolishly) to see that they had been involved in comparatively heavy fighting against rioting Polish miners in Silesia in 1922 (and they had Ireland in 1921 to judge against it). I am not aware of any unit-by-unit studies of the British army’s experience of COIN outside Ireland and the Empire after the First World War. But such a study might tell us a good deal about the problems of demobilisation (cultural and military) and the wide range of roles filled by the army after 1918 (which feeds into how it prepared for the Second World War). It also has a good deal of contemporary relevance – a post-conflict society, with a heavily armed, ethnically divided population, policed by a multi-national force (the Middlesex CO had Italian Grenadiers and French Chasseurs under command).
4. A good social history of allotments, grounded in local council archives (perhaps one or two case studies). Thanks to my good friend James Crabtree, desperately searching for a present for his dad, for highlighting this gap in the market to me. There are a couple of sources out there which I haven’t had a chance to read: D. J. Humphreys, The Allotment Movement in England and Wales. D. Crouch and C. Ward, ‘ “The Allotment” – Its Landscape and Culture’, Allotment and Leisure Gardener. Issue 3 1996. (thanks to www.kitchengardens.dial.pipex.com) for the material.
5. A cultural history of speedway in Britain between the wars. Again, the rapid rise of the sport could tell us a lot about attitudes towards, and familiarity with, technology. There is a least one article in the journal Sport History about speedway, but there’s got to be at least a thesis’ worth of material at the cultural level. One of the things I remember about researching the representation of the First World War in British boys’ papers in the 1920s and 1930s is the sudden appearance, in the mid 30s, of speedway as a location for heroic exploits.
I’ll add to this list as I go on. And perhaps link it from my (soon to be rewritten) departmental page, since we’re all being encouraged to say specifically what we’d like to supervise at a postgraduate level).