The Aftermath: the Great War and the making of 1920s Britain

Dr Matt Houlbrook is currently working on his book The Aftermath: the Great War and the making of 1920s Britain which is under contract with Profile Books.

In many ways this represents the culmination of all the research and teaching and thinking I’ve done on the 1920s throughout my career as a historian: it’s my attempt to offer a new cultural history of this remarkable yet misunderstood decade. The Aftermath tells the story of how Britain was irrevocably transformed in the decade after the Great War. Out of the upheaval of war emerged a recognisably modern nation that defined the outline of the world we inhabit today.

Yet the paradox of the 1920s was that Britain’s path to modernity was shaped as much by the trauma of the recent past as a sense of optimism for the future. The aftermath was a remarkable historical moment at which 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 and cultural and economic changes marked what one journalist called ‘our welcome to the new century’. Just as Britain looked back and tried to remember the Great War, it also seemed hell bent on embracing the pleasures of what was called 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 inexorably 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 influence on British culture in the 1920s and beyond, The Aftermath argues that the 1920s were the most radical and transformative decade in twentieth century British history.