Powell, David 1956-

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Powell, David 1956-


Born March 24, 1956.


Office—York St. John University, Lord Mayor's Walk, York YO31 7EX, England.


York St. John University, York, England, senior lecturer in history. Formerly senior lecturer, University College at Ripon.


British Politics and the Labour Question, 1868-1990, Macmillan (London, England), 1992.

The Edwardian Crisis: Britain, 1901-14, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

What's Left? Labour Britain and the Socialist Tradition, Peter Owen Publishers (London, England), 1999.

Nationhood and Identity: The British State since 1800, I.B. Tauris (New York, NY), 2002.

British Politics, 1910-35: The Crisis of the Party System, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.


University professor David Powell specializes in the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British politics and society, with an emphasis on the history of British political parties and the evolution of identity within the British state, including Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as England. The latter issue is the subject of his study Nationhood and Identity: The British State since 1800. The question of statehood within the United Kingdom has been particularly poignant in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, since each of the components (with the exception of England) has acquired its own parliament or assembly, with autonomy over affairs of local interest. The story of the growth and development of the United Kingdom "is important," stated a Contemporary Review contributor, "as that state appears, to some at least, to be unravelling in the light of Euro-fanaticism and Celtic devolution." "Until very recently, as David Powell notes, it has often been assumed by … historians that they had little need to attend to issues of nationhood and identity," wrote Keith Robbins in Nations & Nationalism. "The focus of what purported to be British historiography was firmly centred upon the state's dominant component, namely England, and the periphery was properly peripherical." "That perspective," Robbins added, "has now changed substantially."

Powell argues that the emergence of national identities within the United Kingdom was virtually assured by the way in which that kingdom was assembled. "The pre-history of its accumulated elements ensured that, if it was to endure, there could be no absolute uniformity in the union that was created," Alan Sykes wrote in Nationalism & Ethnic Politics. "Indeed, Powell argues that there was little disposition to deny or seek to eradicate the identities of Scotland, Wales or Ireland. ‘Britishness’ could comprehend all the elements, indeed whatever it was rested upon with its elusive catholicity. The state was not ‘greater England’." "Further," Sykes continued, "the existence of an empire that was ‘British’ added another crucial element in this respect." Differences between the different parts of the union were minimized from the perspective of a British empire that stretched to all the corners of the globe. It has only been since the breakup of the British empire following World War II that these elements have begun to reassert their own national identities. Powell "succeeds in providing a lucid account of the constitutional impact of the Act of Union in 1801 and the subsequent challenges that growing Irish dissatisfaction with that settlement would pose to politicians at Westminster," declared Frans Coetzee in Albion. "Powell also deftly sketches the gradual, uneven, but seemingly inexorable development of a national, British political system, and he traces the cumulative impact of franchise reform, the political mobilization of radical movements, and the extension of a centralizing governmental apparatus, with assurance and authority."

The Edwardian Crisis: Britain, 1901-14, looks at the history of the nation between the end of the Victorian period and the outbreak of World War I. "Crisis" is not usually a word associated with the period, which to later observers looked like a final period of calm before the world-changing impact of the First World War. To contemporaries, however, the period following the death of Queen Victoria was riven with a "pervasive atmosphere of stress and ferment," explained Frans Coetzee in History: Review of New Books. "Pregnant with ‘a sense of impending clash,’ this Edwardian mood (evoked in George Dangerfield's classic Strange Death of Liberal England) anticipated that long-cherished traditions of civility and parliamentary sovereignty would be incapable of containing unprecedented levels of militancy on the part of suffragettes, organized labor, and Irish nationalists." All these changes were resolved or faded into insignificance because of World War I; but, Powell concludes, most of the stresses faced by the Edwardians were the result of the spread of modernity and democracy that had been ongoing throughout the Victorian period and would continue through the remainder of the twentieth century.

One of the elements in this Edwardian sea-change was the beginning of a revolution in British party politics that saw the rise of the Labour party (breaking a tradition of Conservative-Liberal domination of government that had lasted for about two hundred years) and the corresponding decline of the Liberal party. British Politics, 1910-35: The Crisis of the Party System traces this change and suggests reasons why the change took the form it did. "The changing party balances of this period, along with the experience of coalition politics from 1915 to 1922 and following the creation of the National Government in 1931," declared Ewen A. Cameron, writing for the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, "can be seen as symptomatic of deeper problems as the political classes struggled to cope with the difficulties of war and economic crisis."



Albion, March 22, 2004, Frans Coetzee, review of Nationhood and Identity: The British State since 1800, p. 162.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 1, 1993, L.J. Satre, review of British Politics and the Labour Question, 1868-1990, p. 1370.

Contemporary Review, April 1, 2003, review of Nationhood and Identity, p. 256.

History: Review of New Books, June 22, 1997, Frans Coetzee, review of The Edwardian Crisis: Britain, 1901-14, p. 158.

Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, July, 2005, Ewen A. Cameron, review of British Politics, 1910-35: The Crisis of the Party System, p. 63.

Nationalism & Ethnic Politics, autumn, 2003, Alan Sykes, review of Nationhood and Identity, p. 145.

Nations & Nationalism, July, 2003, Keith Robbins, review of Nationhood and Identity, p. 464.

Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 1993, review of British Politics and the Labour Question, p. 19; February 1, 2003, review of Nationhood and Identity, p. 100.

Times Higher Education Supplement, February 19, 1999, Eric Shaw, review of What's Left?, p. 33.

Times Literary Supplement, August 7, 1998, Gerald Kaufman, review of What's Left?, p. 28.


York St. John University Web site,http://www2.yorksj.ac.uk/ (May 29, 2008), author profile.