Research in LA&PS:
Professor Profile - STEPHEN BROOKE
British sex and photography in the 20th Century
History Professor Stephen Brooke has always been fascinated by the human influence on major events and how they shape societies. He has recently published a book exploring how socialist politics in Britain impacted on sexuality from the 1880s to the present day.
"What has always interested me as an historian is how ordinary people understand, represent and sometime change the world in which they live," he said.
His new book Sexual Politics: Sexuality, Family Planning, and the British Left from the 1880s to the Present Day is an exploration of the ways political action and sexual issues such as birth control access, abortion and homosexuality intersected in Britain between the 1870s and the present day.
Professor Brooke explains that "it is the story of often unknown champions of sexual rights working at the grassroots of Labour party politics in Britain to change not only party policy, but also what politics was about, bringing to the centre issues of the private sphere that were often marginalized in mainstream politics."
Sexual Politics is also an account of how critical working class issues, women's rights and homosexual rights were to the reshaping of British politics in the 20th Century.
In particular, there are three main areas that Professor Brooke focuses on in his book:
"First of all, many of the changes we think of belonging to the sexual revolution of the 1960s in fact are rooted much farther back in the 20th Century, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s; secondly, class continued to influence the political treatment of issues like abortion, birth control and same sex sexuality late into the 20th Century in Britain; and, finally, many of these issues were championed within political parties and movements not by leading politicians, but at the grassroots by ordinary people - in other words, it is a great example of grass-roots democratic action."
His interest in British society and its changes in recent history extend to his new research project – Photography Post World War II.
"The photography in the '50s and '60s provides a fascinating landscape of the changing working-class people in Britain," he said. "I've been researching what is known as "slum photography" here for quite a few years now. This theme is popular among photographers in the US and UK and, in particular, I've focused on the work of Roger Mayne who photographed London and Shirley Baker who shot in Manchester.
"They're wonderful (black-and-white) photographers and it's quite striking to see their pictures of children playing in the street – no cars, no parents watching, not like today. You can also see the fashions changing and the backgrounds of open streets being replaced by housing estates, what we would call housing projects here."
Professor Brooke is currently working directly with these photographers and samples of their work can be found here:
Stephen Brooke is a Professor of History in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies specializing in Twentieth-century Britain: social, cultural and political history.
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