BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Sex, Drugs and Shopping: Readdressing Inter-war Britain

Unit code HIST31341
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


Britain’s inter-war period has been characterized as the “Long Weekend” and the “Devil’s Decades”, as contemporary writers and historians have both stressed stark divisions and contrasts in society. Images of hunger marches and dole queues have been placed alongside flappers and glamorous mill girls in ‘cheap artificial stockings, cheap short-skirted frocks, cheap coats, cheap shoes, crimped hair, powder and rouge’ (Walter Greenwood, ‘Love on the Dole’). However, more current research suggests the inter-war period was unique because of the possibilities and opportunities offered and, for instance Matt Houlbrook suggests there was a ‘profound fascination with individuals who faked it – who masqueraded as something or someone they were not–or who crossed boundaries of class, gender, race, ethnicity, or age in other ways.’ In particular, new opportunities in consumer culture provided methods of self-fashioning that were previously unavailable.


HIST31342 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  1. To explore the impact of World War One on British society by focusing on identity and culture 
  2. To examine the role of consumer culture in self-fashioning and offering individuals opportunities to perform new forms of selfhood. 
  3. To consider how identities could be transcended, disrupted or obscured in inter-war Britain. 
  4. To assess how far certain social identities were seen as problematic or dangerous and why anxieties about gender, race and sexuality were so acute in inter-war society.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to;



War and its Impact on Gender

The Flapper and her Enemies

A Crisis of Class?

Dope Girls

Love and Murder

Reading Week

The Shady Nightclub: Women of the Underworld

The Pursuit of Married Love

Homes for Heroes and Housewives: The Suburban Dream

Oh dreamland!

Working-class Glamour

Conclusion and Revision


Teaching and learning methods

Lectures – students will be provided with an overview lecture of each topic that introduces the key historiographical debates and analytical frameworks. The lecture will set up the independent study and reading that each students are expected to undertake in preparation for the following week’s seminar topic (usually three academic chapters/journal articles.) The lectures include images and often contemporary film clips or songs.

Seminars – seminars encourage students to develop their skills in analytical and critical thinking and team working and presentational skills. Tasks include historiographical debate; group presentations; using primary sources; discussion and developing skills of persuasion. There are also dedicated exercises on essay writing skills; using feedback; and exam preparation.

Intellectual skills

Have a wide-ranging and imaginative understanding of inter-war English society and culture 
Possess a detailed knowledge of the implications of mass consumer culture, especially in terms for social identities and self-fashioning 
Understand why and how social identities could be obscured and boundaries of class, race and gender could be transcended or disrupted in inter-war society 

Practical skills

Produce informed, well-written and well-researched pieces of academic prose. 
Work effectively and creatively with a range of primary source materials, especially literary and visual sources. Consider the historical specificity or uniqueness of inter-war Britain, especially in terms of the new consumer opportunities and the implications for self-fashioning. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Possess excellent communication and presentation skills by contributing to seminar tasks and group discussion. Synthesise historical data and offer informed, analytical insights based on research. Offer persuasive and convincing interpretations that are presented clearly to others

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Thinking and presenting critically, with sophisticated analytical thinking
Group/team working
Effective communication and team-working skills
Project management
Working to deadlines and effective time management skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Summative feedback: Written feedback will normally be provided within 15 working days after the final submission deadline. Students also receive a ‘What to do with feedback’ mini lecture following the first assessment, targeted to help with the second assessment. Students are also invited to additional feedback meetings in office hours or by appointment.

Recommended reading

Adrian Bingham, Gender, Modernity, and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain, (Oxford, 2004).

Lucy Bland, Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper (Manchester, 2013).

Carol Dyhouse, Glamour: Women, History, Feminism (2011).

Matt Houlbrook, ‘“The Man with the Powder Puff” in Interwar London’, Historical Journal, 50, 1, 2007, 145 – 171.

Marek Kohn, Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground, (London, 1992). 

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, (Originally written 1928, first published London, 1961).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Charlotte Wildman Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Source-based essay, summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay, summative, 2500 words, 30%

Exam, summative, 2 questions in 2 hours, 50%


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