Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
The Aftermath: The Great War and the Making of 1920s Britain is my attempt to write a new cultural history of this turbulent decade. If Prince of Tricksters used the lives of one man to explore the 1920s and 1930s, this book takes a panoramic view of British culture after the Great War. Bringing together the research, teaching, and thinking I’ve done throughout my career, it teases out the importance of the 1920s in the making of modern Britain. The book is under contract with Profile Books and I’ve now written around half of the manuscript.
Britain was irrevocably and dramatically transformed in the decade after the Great War. The Aftermath tells the story of how a recognisably modern culture emerged from the upheaval of war – a culture that defined the contours of the world we inhabit today. The paradox of the 1920s, however, was that the path to modernity was shaped by the trauma of the recent past as much as optimism for the future.
In the 1920s British culture took shape through the contradictory pressures exerted by the tragic legacies of war and the possibilities and problems of peace. Just as Britons tried to come to terms with the loss of a generation, rapid and often unnerving social, economic, and cultural changes marked what one journalist called ‘our welcome to the new century’. Just as Britain looked back to remember the Great War, it seemed hell bent on embracing the pleasures of the ‘Long Weekend’. Just as a devastating global conflict caused some commentators to turn inwards as they reflected on what it meant to be British, others were drawn outwards by the insistent call of Empire, the allure of the United States, and the promises of a new internationalism. A nation that sought to forget conflict was convulsed by new and often violent struggles between classes, races, genders and nations. Exploring these tensions and their transformative effects, The Aftermath explores both the nature of British culture in the 1920s and its importance in the making of modern Britain.