Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Class, Protest and Politics: South Wales, 1918-39 - 30 credits (HS1868)

Module Tutor: Dr Stephanie Ward

Course Description

The years between the two World Wars was one of the most tumultuous periods in Welsh history. Socially, economically and politically Welsh society faced upheaval and transformation in an era marred by industrial strife and economic dislocation. This module will explore the nature of class, politics and protest in south Wales during the interwar period. It examines how the working-class responded to the industrial and economic situation. Emphasis will be placed upon primary source analysis and historiographical debates. Students will use their own skills as historians to draw conclusions about a period that remains hotly contested. They will question why the General Strike began and the impact of industrial lockouts; why so many unemployed people volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War; why the Labour Party grew to prominence; and, whether the Depression was as bad as contemporaries perceived it to be. Issues of race, including the 1919 race riots, gender and instances of mass protest organised by the Communist Party will form part of key topics the course examines. Exploring the effects of the Depression helps determine whether parallels can be drawn with the current economic situation and to question, more broadly, how government and journalists have portrayed the interwar depression. 

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of each approach. They provide a a starting point for individual reading, seminar discussion and critical reviews. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

Seminars allow students to develop and test their understanding of particular approaches, and to examine the ways in which they work in set examples of historical writing.  

The primary aim of source workshops will be to provide the student with guidance on how to critically approach the various types of primary source material.


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

  • Introduction: Historians and the Interwar Period
  • From Boom to Bust: Welsh Society at the End of the First World War
  • A Forgotten Episode? The 1919 Race Riots in South Wales
  • Votes For the Workers! Votes For Women! Politics, Class and Gender in the Early 1920s
  • 1926: The General Strike
  • 1926: The Lockout
  • The Great Depression in South Wales: The Forgotten Region
  • The Social Impact of the Great Depression
  • Concerned and Curious: Social Investigators and Documentary Makers in Depressed Wales
  • Documenting the Depression
  • ‘We Refuse to Starve in Silence’: The Response to Mass Unemployment
  • A Welcome in the Hillside? Immigration in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Why Not Trust The Tories! Labour Men and Labour Women in the Depression
  • An International Proletariat: The Communist Party in the 1930s
  • Fighting Fascists: Welsh Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War
  • Culture and Education in the twenties and thirties
  • Miners at Play! Sport and cinema
  • Back to Work? Stay Down Strikes, Scab Unions and the South Wales Miners’ Federation
  • Conclusion and Revision Session

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to: 

  •  Demonstrate a critical and systematic knowledge of society in south Wales in the interwar period and an understanding of protest movements, industrial action, and the effects of economic depression and mass unemployment. 
  • Critically identify the main trends in the response to and effects of the aftermath of the First World War and depression.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth and critical understanding of the debates about the key concepts of class, protest, gender, race and nationalism within the historiography of both Welsh and British social history.
  • Evaluate the relative merits of a range of key primary sources on working-class men, women and children, including the unemployed and immigrant populations, and key political parties in south Wales and their significance.
  • Identify the nature and scope of the issues raised by studying the working-class, mass unemployment, race riots and strikes in modern Wales
  • Summarise and critically evaluate the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations about the nature of the interwar depression and evaluate their significance.

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will extend their ability to:

  • formulate and justify their own arguments and conclusions in seminar discussions.
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, with supporting evidence, in class discussion and in writing
  • modify as well and defend their own position.
  • think critically and challenge assumptions
  • use information technology for research and assignment presentation.
  • 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 preparatory reading

Beddoe, Deidre, Back to Home and Duty: Women Between the Wars 1918-39 (London, 1989)
Beddoe, Deirdre, Out of the shadows (University of Wales Press, 2000).  
Burnett, John, Idle Hands: The Experience of Unemployment, 1790-1990 (London, 1984).  
Constantine, Stephen, Unemployment in Britain Between the Wars (London, 1980)  
Davies, John, A History of Modern Wales (London, 2007).  
Evans, Gareth D., A History of Wales 1906-2000 (Cardiff, 2000)  
Glynn, Sean and Alan Booth (eds), The road to full employment (London, 1987).
Glynn, Sean and John Oxborrow, Interwar Britain : a social and economic history (London, 1976).  
Herbert, Trevor, and Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), Wales Between the Wars (Cardiff, 1988).    
James, Leighton S., The politics of identity and civil society in Britain and Germany: miners in the Ruhr and South Wales 1890-1926 (Manchester: 2008).
Jenkins, Philip, A history of modern Wales, 1536-1990 (London, 1992).  
John, Angela V. (ed.), Our Mothers' Land: Essays in Welsh Women's History (1991)  
Laybourn, Keith, The evolution of British social policy and the welfare state, c. 1800-1993 (Keele University Press, 1995).
McKibbin, Ross, The ideologies of class: social relations in Britain, 1880-1950 (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1990).  
Morgan, Kenneth O., Rebirth of a nation : Wales 1880-1980 (Oxford University Press, 1982).  
Perry, Matt, Bread and Work: The Experience of Unemployment, 1918 – 1939 (London, 2000).
Smith, Dai, Aneurin Bevan and the World of South Wales (Cardiff, 1993).  
Stevenson, John, and Chris Cook, Britain in the Depression: Society and Politics 1929-39 (London, 1994).  
Thompson, Steven, Unemployment, poverty, and health in interwar South Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006).   
Williams, Chris, Capitalism, Community and Conflict: The South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947 (Cardiff, 1998)  
Williams, Gwyn A., When was Wales : a history of the Welsh (Penguin Books, 1985).
Mari Williams, '"In the Wars": Wales 1914-1945' in Gareth Elwyn Jones & Dai Smith (eds),
The People of Wales (Cardiff, 1999).