Professor Matthew Hilton MA, PhD, FRHist

Photograph of Dr Matthew Hilton

Department of History
Professor of Social History

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am currently Professor of Social History. My work focuses on the history of humanitarianism, consumer society and on the history of social activism and non-governmental organisations, both in Britain and globally.


I did my PhD at Lancaster University and have been at Birmingham since 1997. In 2002 I was a winner of the Philip Leverhulme Prize  and I have been a visiting scholar at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard.  I sit on the editorial boards of Past and Present, Contemporary British History, Journal of Consumer Culture and History Compass.

Postgraduate supervision

Listed below are the fields in which Matthew Hilton is able to offer supervision of research postgraduates.

  • Consumer society in Britain and the rest of the world
  • British popular culture
  • Non-government organisations and civil society groups
  • Humanitarianism


Previous and current students and topics include:

  • Matthew Anderson, History of the Fairtrade Movement
  • Kieran Connell, Handsworth in the 1980s
  • Amy Edwards, A Cultural History of Thatcherism
  • Andrew Jones, Humanitarianism and the Media 
  • Alex Mold, Treatment of Heroin Addiction in Britain
  • Chris Moores, Civil Liberties in Britain
  • Daisy Payling, Social Activism in Sheffield
  • David Richardson, Pro- and Anti-European Pressure Groups in Britain
  • Chris Shelley, The Co-operative Movement in Birmingham and Bristol
  • Sophie Skelton, Women’s Groups and Internationalism in Postwar Britain
  • Rebecca Wynter, The material culture of disciplinary institutions


Matthew Hilton's background is in the social and cultural history of modern Britain. His first book was on the history of smoking in British popular culture. Since then he has examined many different aspects of the history of consumer society and the politics of consumption in Britain, Malaysia and at the global level. He is currently associated with three main research projects

NGOs in Britain
( )

I have recently completed a history of non-governmental organizations in Britain in collaboration with Professor Nicholas Crowson.  to research the role of non-governmental organizations in Britain since 1945. This was a Leverhulme Trust funded project built on the online Database of Archives of Non-Governmental Organisations and was made up of the same team of researchers: Dr James McKay and Dr Jean-Francois Mouhot. Its principal findings are contained in The Politics of Expertise  and A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain, though all the data from the project is freely available on the project website.

Matthew talks about his research into Non-Governmental Organisations

  • Transcript


The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
( )

In this AHRC project, working with Kieran Connell , we will create an archive of the world-famous Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Set up in 1964 and led by figures such as Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall, the CCCS was one of the first academic bodies to take ‘mass’ culture – pop music, television programmes, fashions – seriously. By creating an archive of Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies material, as well as staging an exhibition and conference to mark the 50th anniversary, this project seeks to learn more about the Centre’s research and practices and the way it helped to shape the development of an international discipline.


Non-state humanitarianism
( )

From the actions of nineteenth century missionaries and colonial officials to the recent food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa, non-state humanitarianism has become one of the defining characteristics of international action. In collaboration with Kevin O’Sullivan at the National University of Ireland, Galway, we have created a ‘Non-state humanitarianism’ network, funded by the AHRC, which will investigate humanitarianism’s past and the uses of that past in a pan-European framework. We are hosting a series of workshops in 2013 and 2014 in Birmingham, Galway, the ZZF in Potsdam and the HCRI, Manchester.


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  • (with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson & Jean-Francois Mouhot), The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain (Oxford  University Press, 2013) Sample chapter
  • (with Jean-Francois Mouhot, Nicholas Crowson & James McKay), A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain: Charities, Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector since 1945 (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2012). Sample chapter
  • Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalisation
    (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).  
    Read an interview about this book
  • Choice and Justice: Forty Years of the Malaysian Consumer Movement
    (Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia Press, 2009).
  • Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement  
    (Cambridge University Press, 2003).  Sample chapter
  • Smoking in Briti sh Popular Culture 1800-2000 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000).  

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Edited Collections

  • (with Rana Mitter) Transnationalism, Past and Present supplement, 2015
  • (with Rana Mitter) Transnationalism and Contemporary Global History, Past and Present Supplement 8, 2013. Read introduction 
  • (with James McKay), The Ages of Voluntarism: Evolution and Change in Modern British Voluntary Action (Oxford: British Academy/Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • (with James McKay and Nicholas Crowson) NGOs in Contemporary Britain: Non-state Actors in Society and Politics since 1945  (London: Palgrave, 2009). Sample chapter
  • (with Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel and Alain Chatriot, The Expert Consumer: Associations and Professionals in Consumer Society (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). 
  • (with Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel and Alain Chatriot) Au nom du consommateur: la consommation entre mobilisation sociale et politique publique dans les pays occidentaux au xx siecle (Paris: La Decouvert, 2004).
  • (with Martin Daunton) The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America (Oxford: Berg, 2001). 

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  • (with Jean-François Mouhot and James McKay), ‘Le greenrush. Essai d’interprétation de la « bulle verte » au Royaume-Uni dans les années 1980’, Vingtième Siècle, 113, January-March 2012, pp. 67-81. 113, January-March 2012, pp. 67-81.
  • ‘International aid and development NGOs in Britain and human rights since 1945’, Humanity, Winter 2012, pp. 449-472, special issue on social rights edited by Paul Betts, Stefan-Ludwig Hoffman, Andreas Eckert, Sandrine Kott and Malgorzata Mazurek.
  • ‘Politics is ordinary: non-governmental organisations and political participation in contemporary Britain’, Twentieth-Century Britain, forthcoming, 2011
  • The death of consumer society Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 18, 2008, pp211-236
  • The consumer movement and civil society in Malaysia, International Review of Social History, 52, 2007, pp. 373-406.
  • Social activism in an age of consumption: the organised consumer movement, Social History, 32:2, 2007, pp. 121-143.
  • Consumers and the state since the Second World War, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 611, 2007, pp. 66-81.
  • (with Malgorzata Mazurek), Consumerism, Solidarity and communism: consumer protection and the consumer movement in Poland, Journal of Contemporary History, 42:2, 2007, pp. 315-343
  • 'Consumer protection in Britain', Jahrbuch fur Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1, 2006, pp. 45-60 
  • Globalising consumers: the history of consumers as a socio-political movement', Forschungsjournal Neue Soziale Bewegungen, 4, December 2005 pp. 18-29.
  • Michael Young and the consumer movement, Contemporary British History, 19:3, 2005, pp. 311-319.
  • The duties of citizens, the rights of consumers, Consumer Policy Review,  15:1, 2005, pp. 6-12.
  • Which is Which?: consumerist or anti-capitalist magazine?', History Today, 54:9, 2004, pp. 37-39.
  • The legacy of luxury: moralities of consumption since the eighteenth century, Journal of Consumer Culture,  4:1, 2004, pp. 101-123.
  • The fable of the sheep; or private virtues, public vices: the consumer revolution of the twentieth century, Past and Present,  176, 2002, pp. 222-256.
  • The female consumer and the politics of consumption in twentieth-century Britain�, The Historical Journal,  45:1, 2002, pp. 103-128.
  • (with Chris Bonell), Consumerism in health care: the case of a Voluntary sector HIV prevention organization, Voluntas International Journal of Voluntary and Non-Profit Organizations,  13:1, 2002, pp. 27-46
  • Retailing history as economic and cultural history: strategies of survival by specialist tobacconists in the mass market, Business History,  40:4, 1998, pp. 115-137.
    Tabs, Fags and the Boy Labour Problem in Late Victorian and Edwardian England, Journal of Social History, 28:3, 1995, pp. 587-608.
  • The banality of consumption, in Frank Trentmann & Kate Soper (eds.), Citizenship and Consumption (London: Palgrave, 2008), pp. 87-103

Policy papers

  • (with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson and Jean-Francois Mouhot), Civic Participation and Social Responsibility, Briefing paper for meeting with Strategy Unit of Cabinet Office, 15 June 2010. Revised version published as ‘“The Big Society”: civic participation and the state in modern Britain’, History and Policy website.  

Witness seminars

  • (with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson & Herjeet Marway), ‘The voluntary sector in 1980s Britain’, Contemporary British History, 25:4, 2011, pp. 499-519.


  • Online searchable database of the archives of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UK (; first launched January 2008; currently 1,977 entries or approximately 750,000 words.


19th and 20th century Britain; contemporary global history; the history of consumer society; social movements; NGOs; civil society