I studied History at Manchester before writing a PhD on British communism in the University's then Department of Government. For some years I worked in archives and have been involved with various bodies dealing with labour and political archives including the cataloguing and subsequent digitisation of the archives of the British communist party (CPGB). I was appointed Lecturer in Government at Manchester in 1993 and am currently Professor of Politics and Contemporary History and recipient of an AHRC Fellowship for the project ‘Communism and the cult of the leader’.
Throughout my time at Manchester I have been heavily involved in collaborative projects including five edited collections of essays and a series of international collaborations. From 1999-2006 I edited the journal Socialist History and in 1996 I launched at Manchester the Communist History Network Newsletter
, which after twenty-two issues was succeeded in 2009 by Twentieth Century Communism: a journal of twentieth century history
, of which I remain an editor (http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/twentiethcenturycommunism/about.html
) . I am also a trustee to the Communist Party of Great Britain Archives Trust and the Working Class Movement Library.
My main research interests are in the social, cultural and political history of the left in Britain and Western Europe. Beginning with a focus on the communist movement in Britain, this has extended through a series of collaborations to the comparative study of communist movements, particularly those of Britain, France and Germany.
Interest in the broader impact of the Russian revolution on movements and ideas of the left is reflected in my three-volume study Bolshevism and the British Left which deals extensively with currents like Fabianism, syndicalism and the mainstream British Labour tradition.
In all of my research I have had a particular interest in biographical and life-history methods. As well as publishing a number of full-length biographical studies, in 1999-2001 I was principal award-holder on the ESRC-funded CPGB Biographical Project, and have interviews or interview transcripts of around a hundred interviews deposited in the National Sound Archive and other repositories.
My principal current research project, ‘Communism and the cult of the leader 1917-64’ brings together a number of these themes in an international comparative study and is supported by an AHRC Fellowship. I am also working on two projects to be completed in the longer term: ‘Leadership in democracy? Thomas Carlyle and the British labour tradition’ and ‘Craft, conservatism and the Weir steel house: the politics of new technology in the British housing industry 1914-45’. Aspects of both these projects have appeared as articles, conference papers or book chapters but both are eventually envisaged as book-length projects.
Among the PhD topics I have supervised or co-supervised to successful completion are Counter memories of the Chile Coup (Shirin Hirsch, 2013); Kropotkin, Read and Anarchist-Communism (Matthew Adams, 2011); The Conservative Party and comprehensive education (Piers Legh, 2011); The British birth control movement between the wars (Clare Debenham, 2011); Margot Kettle: On being young and left-wing in the thirties (Joseph Maslen, 2010); Tocqueville and Marx on England (Constantin Davidescu, 2007); Conservative party campaigning in the north of England (Peter Stafford, 2002); The Communist Party of Great Britain and the 'collapse of socialism' (Richard Cross, 2002); The character and implantation of working-class activism in the Manchester area (Andrew Flinn, 1999); Reflections on the Labour Party's 'ruling doctrine' 1987-92 (Rob Copeland, 1997).
I teach undergraduate modules on modern British politics and Political Ideologies, and a postgraduate module on Archival Research.
I have interviewed and written for radio, television and the national press.
Political ideas and ideologies, 20th-century British politics, European communism, labour movements and the radical left, political biography, interviewing and life-histories