Page 2 - summer 22
P. 2


            SESSION ONE

            Introduction: Shape of the century, wars and rebirth

            Last year I asked members for their suggestions on what they’d  like included in this
            year’s topic, and I’ve tried to incorporate these. They included “the century of two
            halves” (wars and rebirth), social class and labour relations, the bomb, women, the

            sixties, culture and the arts, popular culture (Hollywood, television, popular music
            and jazz), sport, medicine and health.

            I’ve grouped these under three broad themes: culture, war and revolutions. I
            proposed to start with culture because I’ll suggest that the 20  century was above all
            “a century of culture”. It opened with a big cultural bang: the birth of Modernism.
            Alongside this artistic revolution, mass popular culture emerged as new media like

            photography, film, radio, records and later television were invented. These triggered
            huge debates as to what culture and art actually meant. There was also a cultural
            revolution in politics. Marx was a towering figure, but the 20  century did not bear
            out his predictions. This led to a major re-think of his theories, resulting in a new
            form of “cultural politics” which was profoundly influential and still resonates today
            in areas like populism, identity politics, anti-racism, feminism,  and even ideas like
            political correctness, and “woke”.

            War is clearly a major theme. The “shape” of the century is often seen as two halves,
            the first half dominated by wars, the second by recovery, rebirth and prosperity. We
            will focus on the Second World War, the policy of appeasement leading up to it, the
            moral dilemmas that the war threw up, the atom bombs which ended it, and the Cold
            War that grew out of it. The Cold War dominated the pattern of world politics for so
            long, including the decades in which we grew up, that no one was sure what might
            replace it; maybe we still aren’t. Eric Hobsbawm called the 20  century “The Age of
            Extremes”, by which he meant the extreme contrast between horrors like the
            trenches, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, and the unprecedented progress and
            prosperity of the post-war decades. Edwin Brook wrote a rather bitter poem about
            the “mid-20  century crisis” called Five Ways to Kill a Man in 1990:

            There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
            You can make him carry a plank of wood
            to the top of a hill and nail him to it.

            To do this properly you require a crowd of people
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