Briggs, Asa 1921-
BRIGGS, Asa 1921-
PERSONAL: Born May 7, 1921, in Keighley, Yorkshire, England; son of William Walker and Jane (Spencer) Briggs; married Susan Anne Banwell, September 1, 1955; children: Katharine, Daniel, Judith, Matthew. Education: Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, B.A. (with first class honors), 1941; University of London, B.Sc. (with first class honors), 1941. Religion: Anglican. Hobbies and other interests: Travel.
ADDRESSES: Home—The Caprons, Keere St., Lewes, E. Sussex, England. Office—Humphrey, 26 Ockmede Way, Rigmer, East Sussex, England, BN8 SJL.
CAREER: Writer, historian, academic, and administrator. Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow of Worcester College, 1945-55, university reader in recent social and economic history, 1950-55; University of Leeds, Leeds, England, professor of modern history, 1955-61; University of Sussex, Sussex, England, dean of School of Social Studies, 1961-65, pro-vice-chancellor, 1961-67, vice-chancellor, 1967-76; Oxford University, Oxford, provost of Worcester College, 1976-91. President, European Institute of Education (Paris, France), 1975-1996; governor, British Film Institute, 1970-77; chairman, Committee on Nursing, 1970-72, Heritage Education Group, 1976-86; vice-chairman, United Nations University Council, 1974-80. Trustee, Civic Trust, 1976-86. Created Life Peer, 1976. OECD consultant on Danish higher education, 1977-78. Open University, Milton Keynes, chancellor, 1979-1995. Military service: British Army, Intelligence Corps, 1942-45.
MEMBER: Workers Education Association (president, 1958—), Oxford Union Society (senior treasurer, 1952-55), Royal Historical Society, Royal Economic Society (member of council), Sociological Association (member of council), Victorian Society (member of council, president, 1983), Pavilin Brighton Trust, chairman, 1983—; National Council for Economic and Social Research, Society of Authors, British Social History Society (president), William Morris Society (president, 1989-92), Brorke Society, 1987-96.
AWARDS, HONORS: Marconi Medal, 1975, for communications history; Medaille de Vermeil de la Formation, Fondation de l'Academie de Architecture, 1979; Wolfson History Prize, 2000; honorary doctorates from University of East Anglia, University of Strathclyde, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, Florida Presbyterian University (now Eckerd College), York University (Canada), University of Cincinnati, Bradford, Sussex University, Open University, and University of London.
(With D. Thompson and E. Meyer) Patterns of Peacemaking, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1945.
History of Birmingham (1865-1938), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1952.
Victorian People, Odhams, 1954, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1955, revised and illustrated edition published as Victorian People: A Reassessment of Persons and Themes, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1973, 3rd revised edition, Folio Society, 1986.
Friends of the People, Batsford (London, England), 1956.
The Age of Improvement, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1959, published as The Making of Modern England, 1783-1867: The Age of Improvement, Harper (New York, NY), 1965, published as The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867, Longman (London, England), 1979, 2nd edition, 1999.
(Editor) Chartist Studies, Macmillan (Londond, England), 1959.
(Editor) They Saw It Happen: An Anthology of Eyewitnesses' Accounts of Events in British History, Volume IV: 1897-1940, Basil Blackwell (London, England), 1960.
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), Volume I: The Birth of Broadcasting, 1961, Volume II: The Golden Age of Wireless, 1965, Volume III, 1970, Volume IV: Sound and Vision, 1979, Volume V: Competition: 1955-1974, 1995.
A Study of the Work of Seebohm Rowntree, 1871-1954: Social Thought and Social Action, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1961.
Victorian Cities, Odhams, 1963, revised edition, Folio Society, 1996.
(Editor, with John Saville) Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G.D.H. Cole, Macmillan (London, England), 1967.
William Cobbett, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1968.
(Editor and contributor) The Nineteenth Century, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1970.
(Editor and author of introduction) William Morris: Selected Writings and Designs, Penguin (New York, NY), 1973.
(Editor) Essays in the History of Publishing: A Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the House of Longman, 1724-1974, Longman (London, England), 1974.
The Power of Steam: An Illustrated History of the World's Steam Age, M. Joseph, 1982.
Marx in London: An Illustrated Guide, British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1982.
Social History and Human Experience, Grace A. Tanner Center for Human Values, 1984.
A Social History of England, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1984.
(With Anne Macartney) Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1984.
(Editor and author of introduction) Gladstone's Boswell: Late Victorian Conversations, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1984.
(Consultant editor) Alan Isaacs and Elizabeth Martin, editors, Longman Dictionary of 20th Century Biography, Longman (Essex, England), 1985.
(Editor and author of text) The Nineteenth Century: The Contradictions of Progress, Bonanza Books (New York, NY), 1985.
The BBC: The First Fifty Years, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1985.
The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1985.
Wine for Sale: Victoria Wine and the Liquor Trade, 1860-1984, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1985.
(Editor, with Julian H. Shelley) Science, Medicine, and the Community: The Last Hundred Years: Proceedings of the Fifth Boehringer Ingelheim Symposium, Held at Kronberg, Taunus, 8th-11th May 1985, Excerpta Medica (Princeton, NJ), 1986.
(With Joanna Spicer) The Franchise Affair: Creating Fortunes and Failures in Independent Television, Century (London, England), 1986.
Victorian Things, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1989, reprinted, Sutton Publishing (Stroud, Gloucestershire, England), 2003.
(With Archie Miles) A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen through the Work of Studio Photographers, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1989.
(Consultant editor) A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World Biography, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Victorian Cities, foreword by Andres and Lynn Hollen Lees, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.
(Editor, with Jonathan Andrews, Roy Porter, Penny Tucker, and Keir Waddington) The History of Bethlem, Routledge (London, England), 1997.
(With Patricia Clavin) Modern Europe 1789-1989, Longman (London, England), 1997, 2nd edition, 2003.
Chartism (pocket edition), Sutton (Stroud, Gloucestershire, England), 1998.
(Consultant editor) Who's Who in the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Michael Young: Social Entrepreneur, Palgrave (New York, NY), 2000.
Go to It: Working for Victory on the Home Front, 1939-1945, Beazley (London, England), 2000.
(With Peter Burke) A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2001.
Also author of Governing the BBC, London, 1979; Haut-Brion: An Illustrious Lineage, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1994; and The Channel Islands: Occupation and Liberation.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Additional volumes for The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom; editing Social and Economic History of England, nine volumes, for publication by Longman.
SIDELIGHTS: A quick glance at the considerable oeuvre of British historian Asa Briggs shows his interests are wide, but a closer look determines that his particular interests are Victorian social history and culture—titles include Victorian People, Victorian Cities, and Victorian Things—and communications history, particularly that of the British Broadcasting Corporation, on which he wrote a five-volume history. He was awarded the Marconi Medal in 1975 for his work in that field. Briggs also has been the consulting editor on several dictionaries and reference books, including the Longman Dictionary of 20th Century Biography, Who's Who in the Twentieth Century, and A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World Biography, and has edited collections of essays on a variety of topics, such as Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G.D.H. Cole, Gladstone's Boswell: Late Victorian Conversations, and They Saw It Happen: An Anthology of Eyewitnesses' Accounts of Events in British History, Volume IV: 1897-1940. He has tackled broad topics: The Nineteenth Century, Social History and Human Experience, and Modern Europe 1789-1989, as well as more narrow ones: A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen through the Work of Studio Photographers, Marx in London: An Illustrated Guide, and Michael Young: Social Entrepreneur.
This body of work was produced by a man born in 1921 in Keighly, Yorkshire, an industrial town on the edge of the moors, to a working class family whose members had neither university education nor interest in history. Briggs, however, attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, earning first-class honors in history in 1941, the year that he also earned first-class honors in economics at the University of London. He has had a distinguished academic career, teaching in English, Australian, and American universities, as well as holding several administrative positions. He was a founder and the first dean of the University of Sussex's School of Social Studies, as well as vice-chancellor, and was chancellor of the Open University beginning in 1979. He was made a Life Peer in 1976 with the title Baron.
A. J. P. Taylor of the Observer Review wrote of The Nineteenth Century, "The volume edited by Asa Briggs is . . . substantial in every sense," yet warned, "The book is not suited to bedtime reading." Taylor continued, "Professor Briggs himself, with three essays, is a universal provider, a historian's Marks and Spencer." A Times Literary Supplement critic described the book as a "lavish survey" and a "formidable volume which, with certain reservations, is an outstanding achievement in popularization." The reviewer criticized the "fragmented" integration of ideas throughout the essays and would have preferred to see a greater scope of nineteenth-century world history encompassed, yet enjoyed Briggs's comments and supporting evidence.
The Power of Steam: An Illustrated History of the World's Steam Age brings the power of illustrations to an examination of industrial history. Beginning with descriptions of the way steam was used in manufacturing about one hundred years before James Watt invented the steam engine, particularly in textile mills, the book works its way up to modern times and the development of internal combustion and electronics. "The book seeks to 'bridge the gulf' between the pictorial albums and the austere volumes of economic history," commented Scientific American reviewer Philip Morrison. "Briggs is a distinguished cultural historian of the period; his text is supple and persuasive, although it is more a fragrant broth than a savory hot pot."
Wine for Sale: Victoria Wine and the Liquor Trade, 1860-1984 recounts the efforts of Victoria Wine company founder W. H. Hughes to market wine to the lower-and middle-class London citizens considered uninterested in wine by other wine sellers. He started the business in 1865; by his death, he controlled ninety-eight shops, and he introduced a variety of innovations, including importing the wine himself to cut out the middleman and hiring women as branch managers because he considered them more reliable. Hughes passed the thriving business to his widow, and it continued its success as an independent company until it was purchased by brewing company Taylor & Walker in 1929. By the mid-1980s, it was a subsidiary of Allied Lyons but still had more than nine hundred stores with the Victoria name. "The development of the Victoria Wine business . . . is traced in terms of British contemporary culture and social history," described Business History Review contributor R. P. T. Davenport-Hines. "The company's history is intertwined with the evolution of both national palate and of the British class structure." Concluding his review, Davenport-Hines declared, "Asa Briggs writes with grace and wit: his quotations are felicitous, and every page is luminous. Dour mechanicans in the business history community may despise this book; others will delight in it."
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume V: Competition is a "splendid book" about the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), observed Business History contributor Michael Sanderson. The period covered is from 1955-1974, and the competition of the title begins with the development of Independent Television, established by the Television Act of 1954, and the resulting advent of commercial television paid for by advertising. The BBC's radio and television branches both are discussed, and Briggs examines people, such as director general Hugh Carleton Green and his innovations, and technological changes and challenges, such as the hand-held transistor radio in 1956 and color television in 1967. Concluded Sanderson, "At 1,133 pages, the book may initially daunt the reader. Have no fear. It is not only an impressive scholarly achievement but a rich, absorbingly readable story told by a master social historian with driving enthusiasm." Anthony Smith, in New Statesman & Society, commended the scholarship Briggs has put into his BBC history. "This volume has both short-term and long-term value. It provides a vast cornucopia of information on people, policies, programmes, and for the patient reader, re-evokes the era during which the BBC turned itself from a self-worshipping monopoly into the responsive apparatus of a national culture. . . . The real long-term value of Briggs's project is the way he outlines the issues emerging from the vast mound of . . . files at the BBC's Caversham archives."
Briggs coedited with Daniel Snowman Fins de siecles: How Centuries End, 1400-2000. Experts in each period address the history and the historiography of England in the last ten years of each century. Historian contributor Robert W. Butler regarded it the most "well written [and] wonderfully illustrated" of the host of books published on the theme. "There are many strong points to this fascinating book," Butler wrote. "Most significant perhaps, is the sense of change over centuries that it evokes. . . . The book bridges the gap [between centuries] not by means of a plodding narrative, but by creating what are actually short biographies of a nation. . . . The result is a riveting and remarkable achievement." He warns, however, that it "is not a book for beginners." Arthur Marwick, reviewing the book for English Historical Review, was less favorable, but he did allow that "The good news is that there are just over ten absolutely brilliant pages by Briggs opening the penultimate chapter, 'The 1890s: Past, Present and Future in Headlines,' a truly scholarly discussion of the origins of notions about 'centuries,' 'the future,' and 'fin de siecle.'" Commented Francis Fukuyama, a Foreign Affairs contributor, "More compelling are the sharp social transitions that occur from one century to the next, and the growth of historical consciousness."
Modern Europe 1789-1989, which Briggs cowrote with Patricia Clavin, is the final portion of an illustrated three-volume series on Europe since the fifth century. Clare Griffiths, in English Historical Review, remarked that it "tackles its two centuries relatively efficiently," and "in general, the book presents a fairly conventional and dominantly political approach."
Briggs was a coeditor of The History of Bethlem, which was published to commemorate the 750th anniversary of this British mental institution. The many site changes, treatment methods, and the patients through the centuries are examined in different essays. "Asa Briggs takes the reader through the age of reform from 1783 to 1900 with characteristic command and panache," noted reviewer Paul Slack in English Historical Review.
New Statesman reviewer John Gray referred to Briggs's Michael Young: Social Entrepreneur as "one of the liveliest and most engrossing biographies of a living public figure to have been published for some time." Young, head of the Labour Party's research department in the 1940s, helped develop the Consumer's Association, the Open University (where Briggs was eventually chancellor), the Social Science Research Council, the University of the Third Age, and the School of Social Entrepreneurs, but he is most famous for writing The Rise of the Meritocracy, a dystopian satire responsible for making the concept of meritocracy very unpopular in British political circles. Gray noted that Briggs "suggests at several points that Young's attitude to meritocracy may be more complex than most of his readers have supposed."
In A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, Briggs's and coauthor Peter Burke's examination of media history, the authors make comparisons between different ages to show how each has had its concerns over the repercussions of its emerging communication technology—the twenty-first century is worried about the dangers of television and the Internet, the sixteenth century worried about the harmful emotions generated by widespread reading. Reviewing the book for Library Journal, Susan M. Colowick commented, "Given [the author's belief in the nonlinear evolution of the media, the text moves dizzyingly back and forth, at times verging on stream of consciousness. . . . A meticulous chronology should help to alleviate confusion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, review of The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume IV, p. 132.
Booklist, November 1, 1992, review of Dictionary of 20th Century World Biography, p. 545.
Books & Bookmen, October, 1984, review of Gladstone's Boswell: Late Victorian Conversations, p. 7.
Business History, April, 1996, Michael Sanderson, review of The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume V: Competition: 1955-1974, pp. 112-113.
Business History Review, winter, 1986, R. P. T. Davenport-Hines, review of Wine for Sale: Victoria Wine and the Liquor Trade, 1860-1984, pp. 694-695.
Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1986, review of The BBC: The First Fifty Years, p. B3.
Economic History Review, November, 1989, Harold Perkin, review of Victorian Things, pp. 604-605.
Economist, December 21, 1985, review of Wine for Sale, p. 116; December 7, 1996, review of Fins de Siecles: How Centuries End, 1400-2000, p. S6.
English Historical Review, June, 1998, Clare Griffiths, review of Modern Europe 1789-1989, pp. 771-772; September, 1998, Arthur Marwick, review of Fins de Siecles, pp. 1044-1045; November, 1998, Paul Slack, review of The History of Bethlem, p. 1260.
Foreign Affairs, March-April, 1997, Francis Fukuyama, review of Fins de Siecles, p. 174.
Historian, winter, 1999, Robert W. Butler, review of Fins de Siecles, p. 485.
History Today, August, 1985, John Burrows, review of Toynebee Hall: The First Hundred Years, p. 60; November, 1985, review of The BBC, p. 58; May 1993, Ian Bradley, review of The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs, Volume 3: Serious Pursuits, Communications and Education, pp. 57-58.
Journalism Quarterly, spring, 1987, review of The Franchise Affair, p. 242.
Journal of Communications, spring, 1981, review of Governing the BBC, p. 212; summer, 1992, review of Serious Pursuits, p. 207.
Library Journal, March 15, 1990, Barbara J. Dunlap, review of Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen through the Work of Studio Photographs, p. 88; January, 2002, Susan M. Colowick, review of A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, p. 118.
Literature and History, autumn, 1986, review of The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs, Volimes 1 and 2, p. 262.
London Review of Books, June 6, 1985, review of The Nineteenth Century, p. 3.
New Scientist, February 2, 1991, Ian Stewart, review of The Longman Encylopedia, p. 64.
New Statesman, October 15, 2001, John Gray, "A Reputation of Merit," p. 54.
New Statesman & Society, May 29, 1992, David Widgery, review of Dictionary of 20th Century World Biography, p. 38; June 2, 1995, Anthony Smith, review of The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume V: Competition: 1955-1974, pp. 39-40.
New Yorker, June 18, 1984, review of A Social History of England, p. 116.
New York Review of Books, April 3, 1980, review of Iron Bridge to Crystal Palace: Impact and Images of the Industrial Revolution, p. 35; February 15, 1990, David Cannadine, review of Victorian Things, p. 25.
New York Times, March 15, 1983, R. W. Apple, "London Recalls Marx on Centenary of Death," p. C14; April 1, 1984, R. K. Webb, review of A Social History of England, pp. 9-10; April 15, 1984, "On the Medieval Menu," (excerpt from A Social History of England), p. 43.
New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1983, review of The Power of Steam: An Illustrated History of the World's Steam Age, p. 27.
Observer Review, November 29, 1970, A. J. P. Taylor, review of The Nineteenth Century.
Scientific American, March, 1983, Philip Morrison, review of The Power of Steam, pp. 39-40.
Social Science Quarterly, December 1983, review of Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G. D. H. Cole, p. 820.
Times Educational Supplement, July 12, 1991, Maureen O'Connor, "The History Man," p. 22.
Times Literary Supplement, October 30, 1970, review of The Nineteenth Century; April 10, 1981, review of Iron Bridge to Crystal Palace, p. 396; May 2, 1986, review of The Franchise Affair, p. 471.
Victorian Studies, summer, 1990, R. H. Super, review of Victorian Things, pp. 651-652.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, March, 1986, review of Wine for Sale, p. 4.
Washington Post Book World, November 28, 1982, review of The Power of Steam, p. 13.*