The Institute of Contemporary British History's Anniversary Conference: Britain 1945-95

July 7, 1995

Britain has changed profoundly in the 50 years since the end of the second world war. When the Institute of Contemporary British History was founded in 1986 by Peter Hennessy and myself, serious historical study of the period was comparatively slight. Peter and I had both been fired by a vision given us by that great educationalist Lord Boyle that the near past was a "twilight zone", forgotten by the contemporary media, but too recent for the history profession to take seriously.

The past ten years have seen a tremendous burgeoning in the study of postwar Britain, reflected in next week's anniversary conference from July 10-14 at Queen Mary and Westfield College, London at which over 150 academics, writers and former policy-makers will speak. The best of the papers are reflected in this Perspective Special - revealing a broad field of interest, with some articles given a topical impetus by the Conservative leadership contest.

Samuel Beer opens with an analysis of the rise and fall of party government in the US and the UK. In the pages that follow Peter Hennessy discusses the changing nature of the premiership, David Cannadine examines the House of Lords, Correlli Barnett dismantles postwar civil servants and Ben Pimlott writes on political biography. Jose Harris offers a paper on political thought and the postwar state, while Nicholas Timmins summarises the findings of his new book on the welfare state. John Charmley delivers his latest attack on Winston Churchill, and Lord Roll on errors in British economic policy.

The articles are not all gloom, though decline is undoubtedly an enduring theme of postwar British history. We hope that the articles that follow will shed light on the twilight zone.

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