Between the 1850s and the 1930s in Britain, women political writers and journalists saw a dramatic development in the opportunities available to them. As Victorian censorship laws changed in the mid century and as divorce and property laws became ever more contested and unjustifiable, political writing that linked women’s civil rights with their political rights abounded. The first titles for women that were not written by men or that were more than merely a lady’s column in a national newspaper emerged. The extent to which this writing was truly egalitarian and aimed at women of all social classes,
not just ‘ladies’ was very limited. The suffrage movement did not for the most part embrace a particularly classless ethos and the question of votes for the working classes divided the movement. As the 19th Century came to an end, however, publications such as Votes For Women, edited by Emmeline and Frederick Pethwick Lawrence, were far more explicit in their ideological content and their arguments, whereas earlier publications such as Barbara Bodichon’s English Woman’s Journal were forced to skirt around the topic of suffrage altogether.
For more on the suffrage movement and its journals watch the video below:
In the inter war years both the British and French empires, the last two major colonial players after the First World War, struggled to contain economic and ideological storms that threatened to tear them apart. These sometimes allied, sometimes antagonistic imperial systems were fundamentally different from one another on an organisational and ideological level, watch the video below for more on how France’s empire operated:
By early 1943, Adolf Hitler was an increasingly remote and reclusive figure in Germany. His health had declined due to the stresses of the war and he had begun to suffer from Parkinson’s disease. The Nazi government attempted to suppress the defeat at Stalingrad of the German Sixth Army (which had marched triumphantly into Paris three years earlier), but by February it was announced that the army had been lost, sacrificing itself for the Reich.
The catastrophe, combined with Hitler’s diminished presence became an opportunity for his propagandist Goebbels to increase his role and make a bid to be a de facto wartime leader under the auspices of a new policy ‘Total War’. Goebbels was still deeply loyal to Hitler and whilst he never usurped him, he increasingly became the public face of the regime.
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In 1947 British rule in India came to an end and the subcontinent was partitioned into a Muslim East and West Pakistan and a majority Hindu India. The British Judge who drew the new borders of these states was Cyril Radcliffe, a secretive and territorial figure who had no prior knowledge of India. The result was catastrophic bloodshed as communities were divided, ancestral lands were lost and millions had to flee ethnic violence or the prospect of being stranded in a state where they would be a minority. Conventional accounts of the end of the British Empire and Indian Nationalist accounts of the struggle for liberation place the partition as a footnote in an otherwise palatable tale. British historians sympathetic to the imperial project have often presented the end of empire as an ordered and civilised affair. The reality was far different. It was an immense human catastrophe that Britain could distance herself from as she did not take part in the violence. However, the divide and rule politics of the raj, combined with an astonishing indifference and in some quarters, incompetence, led to mass bloodshed along the ‘Radcliffe Line’.
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In August 1941, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Roosevelt met along with their top military and diplomatic advisors at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland. Their discussions shaped the western allied war aims and laid the foundations of a post war order based on the United Nations. American intervention in the war seemed increasingly likely following the introduction of lend-lease and the barely conceal naval war that was being waged between American warships and German U-boats in the Atlantic. The meeting at Placentia Bay was not simply a love-in for the two leaders but a chance for Roosevelt to assess the terms on which America would come to Britain’s aid. In particular, the Americans were keen to know what
kind of post w
ar economic order would emerge and what the British Empire would look like after the war, as there was understandable reluctance across the American political classes to fight a war against Nazism merely for the preservation of British imperialism.
For more on the historic meeting and the Atlantic Charter watch the video below:
In 1928 the Soviet economy experienced a moment of massive change. For four years, as power struggles between Stalin and the ‘troika’ of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev left Russia in a period of confused collective leadership, the biggest question had been one of economic direction. It was unclear how long Lenin’s New Economic Policy that had been introduced in the aftermath of the civil war and allowed a limited amount of free enterprise in Russia was meant to continue. Lenin, who died in 1924 after several strokes robbed him of speech did not make clear how long it should be, though he implied it might last many decades. Stalin decisively answered the question of when the NEP should come to an end by introducing the Five Year Plans, the massive state led industrialisation of Russia. It was inevitably the Russian people who would bear the economic and social burdens of the plans, which created a massive influx of labour from the countryside to the towns and cities. There was very little housing provision to begin with but overcrowding and shanty towns (Magnitogorsk was being built during this period and began life essentially as a tent city in the arctic north) defined the era for many Russians. Poverty and hunger became epidemic problems during the first plan, with only the civil war years to rival them in terms of hardship.
For more on Stalin’s first Five Year Plan see the video below:
At the end of the Second World War, the United States of America emerged as the wealthiest society in human history. The contrast from the 1930s was stark; Britain, France and Germany had emerged from the great depression between 1933 and 1934, whereas mass unemployment was still prevalent in America in 1939. New industries, massive government help in the guise of the GI Bill for returning servicemen and a youthful population that had been unique across the world in actually experiencing rising living standards during the war all created the conditions for an enormous post war boom. America’s competitors in Europe and Asia were either physically devastated or, like Britain, mired in debt. The fact that America also emerged as a creditor nation meant that the post war generation would be fortunate to benefit from decades of prosperity. Many who had lived through the depression did not see it that way and there were fears of a return to depression once the war had ended and government orders for armaments dried up. By 1948, when no downturn had occurred, a shift in public attitudes was recorded and consumer confidence lifted America into a consumer boom, buoyed by cheap oil and credit that eventually fell away into recession in the 1970s.
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America in 1945