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Celebrating the 'everyday'

Historical reflection on what may seem mundane or routine has deepened public understanding and promoted debate about the daily life of Britain’s recent past.

On Roads book coverProfessor Joe Moran, a researcher in the Department of English is also an author, cultural historian, blogger and newspaper columnist. In bringing together these different roles, Joe has both defined and theorised the everyday as an emergent field of academic work and done this in a way that ignites broader public interest. Through his books, he has recovered histories of the everyday which were obscured and neglected because of their seemingly routine and mundane nature.

These books combine archival and historical research with wit, lyricism and style. Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Life from Breakfast to Bedtime (2007) is a postwar history of British daily habits, such as queuing, commuting and office life; On Roads: A Hidden History (2009) explores the historical development and cultural resonances of Britain’s road system; Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the Television (2013) is a social and cultural history of television viewing which explores how it has changed us as a nation. The historian David Kynaston has said that Joe is ‘single-handedly transforming the history of everyday life in Britain’.

Armchair Nation book coverThe wider public reception of Joe’s work is testimony to its appeal. For example, Queuing for Beginners was Radio 4 Book of the Week (May 2007); Armchair Nation was extracted in the Radio Times and The Guardian (June/August 2013); On Roads was a book of the year selection in the Financial Times, Sunday Times and Sunday Herald.

On Roads was also used by traffic experts to address topics such as road safety and the aesthetics and environmental impact of roadbuilding; Theresa Villiers, then Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, referenced it in a speech at the New Civil Engineer’s Road Summit in 2010.

Alongside his published work, Joe’s extensive media appearances (BBC1 Breakfast, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, 6 Music) have amplified interest in and dialogue around the unusual topics of his research. He has published over 150 newspaper and magazine articles on the history and politics of daily life, writing for The Guardian, the New Statesman, the Financial Times, The Observer, The Times and other publications. He also writes a blog which he uses to communicate informally with readers…it is, according to one of them, “one of the best word mills in the web world”.

Reviews of On Roads:
“a beautifully written, quiet masterpiece” – Sunday Times
“a beautiful little book” – Mail on Sunday
“a richly enjoyable read” – The Times
“a superb cultural history” – Independent

You can find out more about Joe’s work from his profile, on his blog and on Twitter. You can also find out about the wider research taking place within the Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History.

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