Dr Lesley Whitworth
Scholarly biography and interests
Dr Lesley Whitworth gained first class honours in the pioneering history of design degree at the University of Brighton in 1988. She studied for her doctorate at the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwick, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (1993-1996). Having worked at Coventry University and at Goldsmiths Hall, with the Library and Archive of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, she returned to Brighton to take up one of two new founding posts in the University’s Design Archives, where she is Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Curator. She is presently also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Business History Unit of the London School of Economics.
Between 2003 and 2005 Whitworth completed a project within the ESRC-AHRC funded Cultures of Consumption research programme. She has been an officer of the Design History Society, Women’s Committee of the Economic History Society, and Social History Society, and has co-organised a number of workshops, symposia and seminar series. She organised the third in the international, inter-disciplinary ‘Living in a Material World’ conference series (University of Brighton, 2001) and recently inaugurated the Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History Conference. She has presented her research in France, Holland, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Estonia and the US.
Whitworth is a twentieth-century social historian whose primary focus is the shaping of material environments. She is interested in the evolution of shopping habits particularly with reference to issues of class, gender and locality. Allied to this is an interest in retail spaces and practices; the reception of products; and the early development of the design profession in the British context. She was a founding member of the University’s ‘Gender and Built Space’ research group, and initiated the Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History conference. Her research has engaged with aspects of institutional history, an interest fostered by her curatorial role with the University’s Design Archives and her research relationship with the Business History Unit, LSE. This has led to publication in the areas of Design Council history, Mass-Observation history, Co-operative history, and an ongoing investigation of the relationship between the design reform community and the radical independent think-tank, Political and Economic Planning (PEP) after 1931.
Recent work has been predominantly concerned with the (UK) Council of Industrial Design / Design Council's history of consumer engagement, following participation in the major ESRC-AHRC funded Cultures of Consumption network. Many aspects of this research have now been published.
Whitworth is interested in supervising research which engages with issues of design, or design-related propaganda, in domestic, educational, retail and industrial settings in the twentieth century; and investigations of consumption from the same period which foreground issues of gender, class and locality.
Whitworth, Lesley (2013) Selling the University of Brighton Design Archives to retail historians Business Archives: Sources and History, 106. pp. 31-48. ISSN 0007-6538
Breakell, Susan and Whitworth, Lesley (2013) Émigré designers in the University of Brighton Design Archives Journal of Design History, 28 (1). pp. 83-97. ISSN 0952-4649
Whitworth, Lesley (2012) Collective responsibility: the public and the (UK) Council of Industrial Design in the 1940s In: Edquist, Harriet and Vaughan, Laurene, eds. The design collective: an approach to practice. Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 9781443840279
Whitworth, Lesley (2009) Promoting product quality: the Co-op and the Council of Industrial Design In: Black, Lawrence and Robertson, Nicole, eds. Consumerism and the Co-operative movement in modern British history: Taking stock. Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 174-196. ISBN 9780719076848
Whitworth, Lesley (2008) The Design Archives at the University of Brighton: a resource for business historians Business Archives: Sources and History (96). pp. 69-82.
Whitworth, Lesley (2007) Getting beneath the surface of things: mass observation and material culture Mass Observation Online.
Whitworth, Lesley (2007) Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950 Ashgate Publishing Company. ISBN 9780754651857
Whitworth, Lesley (2005) Inscribing design on the nation: the creators of the British Council of Industrial Design Business and Economic History Online, 3. ISSN 0849-6825
Whitworth, Lesley (2004) Men changing allegiance: from workshop to shopper in 1930s Coventry In: Lahtinen, Anu and Vainio-Korhonen, Kirsi, eds. History & Change. SKS (Finnish Literature Society), Helsinki. ISBN 951-746-580-7
Whitworth, Lesley (2003) Accounting for the Customers? A Tale of Public Transport in 1930s Coventry In: Suburbanizing the Masses: Public Transport and Urban Development in Historical Perspective. Ashgate , pp. 211-230. ISBN 0 7546 0775 5
Other research activities
Guest Editor, Journal of Design History, 16:3 (2003), special issue 'Anxious Homes'.
‘Collective Responsibility: The public and the (UK) Council of Industrial Design in the 1940s’ in Harriet Edquist and Laurene Vaughan (eds), The Design Collective: An Approach to Practice (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2012).
‘Introduction: Making Space and Re-making History’, (with Elizabeth Darling), in Elizabeth Darling and Lesley Whitworth (eds), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1860-1950 (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2007).
Commissioned contributor, Mass-Observation Online, Whitworth: ‘Getting Beneath the Surface of Things: Mass-Observation and Material Culture’, launched Spring 2007.
‘Anticipating Affluence: Skill, Judgement and the Problems of Aesthetic Tutelage' in Lawrence Black and Hugh Pemberton (eds), An Affluent Society? Britain's Post-War 'Golden Age' Revisited (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).
'Men Changing Allegiance: From Workshop to Shopper in 1930s Coventry', in Anu Lahtinen and Kirsi Vainio-Korhonen (eds), History & Change (Helsinki: SKS / Finnish Literature Society, 2004).
‘Accounting for the Customers? A Tale of Public Transport in 1930s Coventry', in Colin Divall and Winstan Bond (eds), Suburbanising the Masses: Public Transport and Urban Development in Historical Perspective (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).
J. Purcell, Domestic Soldiers: Six Women's Lives in the Second World War (London: Constable: 2011), in Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone, Spring 2012
A. Kervanto Nevanlinna (et al), Industry and modernism: companies, architecture, and identity in the Nordic and Baltic countries during the high-industrial period, (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society: 2007), in Business History, 51: 6 (2009). J. Benson and L. Ugolini (eds), Cultures of Selling: Perspectives on Consumption and Society since 1700 (Aldershot: Ashgate: 2006), in Economic History Review, 60:2
- A. Chatriot, M. Chessel, M. Hilton (eds), The Expert Consumer: Associations and Professionals in Consumer Society (Aldershot: Ashgate) in Journal of Design History,
- M. Hilton, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), in Business History 47:1
- B. Beaven, Leisure, Citizenship and Working-class Men in Britain, 1850-1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005) in Urban History 32:3
- Invited speaker in the Centre for Contemporary British History (CCBH) seminar series, Institute of Historical Research, May 16
- Co-organisation and Paper. ‘Constraint as Opportunity. Austerity, product standards and consumer education: the British case from 1945’ at 'Consumption Constrained: Austerity and Rationing in the 20th Century', an international workshop, University of Tartu, Estonia, 26–28 August
- ‘School Children, Domestic Skills and Future Consumption in a British Midlands City: a 1930s case study’, at the European Social Science History Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 22-25 March
- 'Almost Protecting Consumers: the Council of Industrial Design 1945-1965', at the Social History Society annual conference, University of Reading, 31 March – 2 April
- ‘Alternative Hedonism: Some Possible Antecedents’, at ‘Countering Consumerism: Religious And Secular Responses’ international, inter-disciplinary conference, London Metropolitan University, 20 - 22 April
- ‘Department store shopping: retail environments, product knowledge and customer satisfaction (1946-1966)’, at annual conference of the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD), University of Wolverhampton, 20 September
- ‘Marking Quality, Marking Time: a missing episode in British consumer politics’, Social History Society Annual Conference, Trinity College, Dublin, Eire, 7-9 January
- ‘Re-Investing Design with Hope: The Creation of the British Council of Industrial Design’, Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Leicester, 8-10 April
- Respondent, Fashion's World Cities Conference, London College of Fashion/Museum of London, 29-30 April
- ‘Getting on Board: Industrial Design and the Co-operative Movement at mid-Century’, at ‘Taking Stock: The Co-Operative Movement In British History’, People’s History Museum, Manchester, 13-14 May
- ‘Inscribing Design on the Nation: the British Council of Industrial Design and its Early Public’, at ‘Reinvention and Renewal’, Business History Conference annual meeting, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, US, 19-21 May
- ‘”Design Fair” and design fare: exhibiting British design excellence to the nation’, at ‘Commercial Histories: Perspectives on Retailing and Distribution History’, annual conference of the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD), University of Wolverhampton, 14-15 September
- 'The “Buying Public” and the “Shopping Public”: Defining the audience for early Council of Industrial Design consumer initiatives' at the Social History Society Annual Conference, Rouen, 7-10 January
- 'The Texture of Shopping: retailers, customers and the Council of Industrial Design', at 'Re-thinking Britain, 1918-1959', Institute of Historical Research, London, 18-19 March
- 'The 'D-' word: Design, an indispensable tool in the formation of a participatory consumer democracy', at 'Consumers as Citizens', workshop of the ESRC-AHRB 'Cultures of Consumption' research programme and the National Consumer Council, The Treasury, 22 April
- 'The Language Of Discrimination: Skill And Discernment At Work And At Home', at 'Mass Consumption And The Development Of The Modern Mass Consumer In Twentieth Century Britain', workshop of the Centre for International Business History, University of Reading, 21 May
- 'Shops, shoppers, government and commerce: the consumer education work of the Council of Industrial Design', at 'Buyer Beware! The Business, Politics and Pleasures of Commerce', annual conference of the Committee for the History of Retail and Distribution (CHORD), University of Wolverhampton, 15-16 September
- ‘Marking Quality, Marking Time: a missing episode in British consumer politics’, at the first annual ‘Cultures of Consumption’ workshop, University of Manchester, 30 September - 1 October
- Invited speaker in the Business History Unit seminar series, London School of Economics, 8 November, 'Training the pre-affluent consumer: Could the Council of Industrial Design ever have succeeded?'
- Invited speaker in the ‘Domestic Consumption Regional Seminar Series’, Winchester School of Art, 4 June
- ‘The Housewives' Committee of the Council of Industrial Design: a short-lived experiment in domestic reconnoitring’, at ‘Desire and Design in a Gendered World’ the Design History Society annual conference, Norwich School of Art, 11-13 September
- ‘Serving the Customers: Defining audiences and messages in the Council of Industrial Design's early years’, at 'Organised Consumers' Symposium, St Hilda's College, Oxford, 14-15 September
- ‘Fabricating Modernity. Unexpected Retail Arenas: Coventry in the 1930s’. Shopping for Modernities: Annual Dorich House Conference, Kingston University, 10-11 May
- ‘The Affluent Worker as Discriminating Shopper’. Paper delivered to 'Affluent Britain? Conference', Department of Historical Studies, University of Bristol, 24-25 May
- 'The Housewives’ Committee of the Council of Industrial Design: A short-lived experiment in domestic reconnoitring', at ‘Women and Built Space, 1860-1960’, Second Annual Workshop of the Centre for the Study of Urban Culture, University of Nottingham, 31 May - 2 June
- 'Schooling Tastes. Design production, consumption and education in an industrial city: a 1930s case study', Symposium on Design and Technology, University of Turku, Finland, 4-6 September
- ‘Selling it to The Women: Aspects of the Early Work of the British Council of Industrial Design (1944-)’, Conference on Consumption, University of Sussex, 26-28 March
- Invited speaker in the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD) seminar series, University of Wolverhampton, April 25
- Interviewed by Professor Amanda Vickery for Radio 4 series on the history of shopping, ‘Just Looking’, broadcast September
- Contributor, Ethics of Consumption exhibition, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, June. End of programme event for ESRC-AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme
- Curator, Pink as a Soft Idea, multi-media exhibition, University of Brighton Gallery, to accompany the international, inter-disciplinary conference ‘Navigating the Material World (Living in a Material World III)’, June
Initiator of the Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History conference (major European meeting place for historians and social scientists; typical attendance 2,000). Co-convenor with Harm Nijboer and Hester Dibbits of the Maertens Institute, Amsterdam, of its first programme at the next ESSH conference in Lisbon, 2008.
- With Dr Orit Rozin, Tel Aviv, and Dr Olaf Mertelsmann, Tartu, of the international workshop ‘Consumption Constrained: Austerity and Rationing in the 20th Century’, University of Tartu, Estonia, 28-29 April 2007
- With the University of Brighton Gender and Built Space research group, of ‘Gender and Built Space in Historical Perspective’, Annual Workshop of the Women’s Committee of the Economic History Society, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London, 18-19 November, 2005
- With Dr Elizabeth Darling, of the closed symposium, ‘Men Making Homes’ University of Brighton, 23-24 January, 2004
- With Dr Elizabeth Darling and Professor Helen Meller of ‘Women and Built Space, 1860-1960’, Second Annual Workshop, Centre for Urban Culture, University of Nottingham, 31/5-2/6, 2002
Organiser of the 2001 international, inter-disciplinary ‘Navigating the Material World’ conference (University of Brighton), the 3rd in the ‘Living in a Material World’ conference series originated at Coventry School of Art and Design.
Citations and reviews
"Women and the Making of Built Space brings women into new relationships with the built environment, in vivid vignettes of class, architectural and modern history."
(Sally Alexander, Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths College, University of London [Book jacket, 2007])
Of 'An Affluent Society? Britain's Post-War 'Golden Age' Revisited,' Professor Fred Leventhal (Boston) wrote: "Illuminating essays on political culture, consumerism, industrial design, youth marketing and economic policy offer a persuasive reinterpretation of Britain's new 'golden age'. This is a valuable scholarly addition to the literature on the period." - it has also been reviewed by Joy Cushman in The Economic History Review, volume LVIII, 2005, p612, and on EH.NET.
Reviews of 'Suburbanizing the Masses: Public Transport and Urban Development in Historical Perspective' include: Gregory Lee Thompson in Technology and Culture, 46:3 (2005), pp662-664, and Colin Chant in Journal of Transport History, 25:2 (2004), pp140-159.
Stefan Schwarzkopf, 'They do it with Mirrors: Advertising and British Cold War Consumer Politics,' Contemporary British History Vol 19, No 2 June 2005, p145.
Selina Todd, 'Young Women, Work, and Family in England,' 1918-1950 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp 9, 134, and 218.
National Consumer Council, Consumer Empowerment and Competitiveness London: National Consumer Council, 2004, p2.
Matthew Hilton, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p202.
Economic History Review Review 1999 Vol. 52 Issue 3 pp 563-567 (Blackwell) ISSN 0013-0117, Bowden, S and Offer, A. eHousehold Appliances and systems of provision:' a reply.
Grants and awards
2003 - 2007
- Circa £13,000 from University of Brighton Faculty of Arts & Architecture Faculty Research Support Fund in support of own and ‘Gender & Built Space’ research group initiatives
- British Academy Conference Grant on behalf of the University of Brighton ‘Gender and Built Space’ research group
- Design History Society small event award
- ESRC-AHRC Award No. RES-143-25-0037 for project within the jointly funded Cultures of Consumption research programme (with Dr. Terry Gourvish, LSE)
- Research award, Salaman Fund of the Tool & Trades History Society
- ESRC Research Studentship Award No. R00429334382 (full-time doctoral study, 1993-1996). Centre for the Study of Social History, University of Warwick
Juries, committees and editorial boards
- Honorary Secretary, Social History Society, 2006 - 2008
- Chair, Social History Society Conference Committee, 2006 - 2008
- Inaugural Convenor, ‘Material and Consumer Culture Network’, European Social Science History Conference, 2006 - 2008
- Member, ESRC-AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme, 2002 - 2007
- Member, Editorial Advisory Board, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), 2003 - present
- Member, Advisory Group, ‘Shopping Routes: Networks of Fashion Consumption in London's West End 1945 - 1979’, project within ESRC-AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme, 2003 - 2006
- Inaugural judge, CHORD (Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution, University of Wolverhampton) ‘New Research’ prize, 2007
- Guest Editor, Journal of Design History, 2001 - 2003
- Officer, Women’s Committee, Economic History Society, 2000 - 2002
- Officer, Executive Committee, Design History Society, 1997 - 2002
- Member, Steering Group, Living in a Material World international, interdisciplinary conference series, 2000 - 2003
- Faculty Academic Board, Faculty of Arts & Architecture, University of Brighton, 2007 - 2010
- Faculty Board, Faculty of Arts & Architecture, University of Brighton, 1998 - 2000