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Politics, Economics and Strategy: Britain’s European Dilemma 1951-75 - 30 credits (HS1839)

Module Tutor: Professor Scott Newton The Global Economy

Course Description

This course examines the dilemma posed by west European unification for postwar British governments and analyses how the process of strategy formulation is influenced by domestic political and economic choices. These themes will be illustrated by exploration, first, of Britain’s triangular relationship with the Commonwealth, the USA and Western Europe up to the 1975 referendum, secondly, of the dwindling benefits to be gained from close association with the Commonwealth, and thirdly, of the national economic strategies developed by the two main political parties during the period under review. A basic knowledge of and/or interest in economics is helpful for students taking this course.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year


Necessary for

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures, seminar discussion of major issues and workshops for the study of primary source material. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes which are sub-divided into principal topics. The aim of the lectures is to establish the salient features of major course themes, introduce the principal topics and to provide historiographical guidance. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The seminars and source workshops for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to discuss topics or issues introduced by the lectures and to analyse different types of primary sources available, discussing the principal ways in which they can be used by historians.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one essay relating to primary sources [20%], an assessed essay [30%] and an examination paper [50%].

Course assignments:

The Assessed Essay relating to primary sources will contribute 20% of the final mark for the module and must be no longer than 1,000 words.

The Assessed Essay will contribute 30% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words.

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

The course will cover a wide range of topics including:
Britain and Europe: the long view
The rise and fall of European Defence Community (EDC)
Britain, Europe, sterling and ‘one world’, 1951-55
Messina: the 'relaunching of Europe'
Britain and the European customs union
The Treaty of Rome and the free trade area
1956-58: a great reappraisal?
The conversion of the establishment
Macmillan, Conservative modernization and the EEC
The first application, the Nassau conference and de Gaulle's veto.
Harold Wilson, Labour’s ‘New Britain’, and the second application
Heath takes Britain in: the EEC and corporate capitalism
British Conservatism and Europe, 1951-72
The Left, the Community and the referendum, 1975

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module a student will be able to:

  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of the key principles underpinning the conduct of Britain’s external relations between 1951 and 1975;
  • identify the shifting balance between Europe, the wider world and the Atlantic area in British national strategy
  • demonstrate an understanding of how debates about the modernization and reinvention of Britain became located within different visions of the country’s international position;
  • demonstrate an in-depth and critical understanding of (a) key concepts and debates governing the formulation of British national strategy within the appropriate secondary literature and (b) key primarysources on British politics, economic affairs and foreign policy for the period under review;
  • demonstrate an ability to assess the significance of both primary and secondary source material.

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will extend their ability to:

  • explain and analyse the influence of economics on the formulation of a modern nation-state’s international strategy;
  • identify problems, assess evidence, and reach conclusions consistent with them
  • present their arguments accurately, succinctly and lucidly, and in written or oral form, in accordance with appropriate scholarly conventions in assessed essays and unseen examinations.
  • evaluate a range of arguments of alternative historical/historiographical interpretations;
  • to demonstrate an understanding of some of the primary sources and an appreciation of how historians have approached them.
  • manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.    

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Oliver Daddow, Britain and European Integration since 1945: historiographical perspectives on integration (2004)
Martin Dedman, The Origins and Development of the European Union, 1945-2008 (2010)
Alan S. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State (2000)
John W. Young, Britain and European Unity 1945-1999 (2000)