The get-to-know: Matthew Grant

Matthew Grant is a Senior Lecturer in Modern British History, Department of History, University of Essex. Grant studied studied history at Queen Mary, University of London, receiving his PhD in 2006 named ‘Civil Defence Policy in Cold War Britain, 1945-68’.

From Grant’s presentation webpage at University of Essex:
”I am currently working on a new book charting the impact of the cold war on concepts and experiences of citizenship, to be called The Cold War and the Remaking of British Citizenship. This will examine the changing ways the public interacted with the state in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, in particular the importance of uniformed service, peace activism, and the experience of communism and anti-communism. Along with my colleague, Dr Peter Gurney, I am conducting a oral history project on the experience of National Service in postwar war Britain funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In addition to this research, I have recently completed am preparing an edited collection, with Professor Benjamin Ziemann of the University of Sheffield, on international responses to nuclear conflict: Understanding the Imaginary War (Manchester University Press, 2016).

Research interests:
My research covers the history of Britain since 1939, focusing on the cultural and political impact of war and conflict on the home front. I have written on cold war civil defence and security, the cultural impact of nuclear weapons, and murder in the Second World War. In general, I am interested in the transformation of British life in the mid-to-late twentieth century, and the way historical memory shapes people’s sense of the world.”

Selected articles of interest with regard to workshop theme:

M. Grant, ‘The Imaginative Landscape of Nuclear War in Britain, 1945-65’, in M. Grant and B. Ziemann (eds), Unthinking the Imaginary War: Culture, Thought and Nuclear Conflict, 1945-1990 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2016 – 10,000 words).

M. Grant, ‘Images of Survival, Stories of Destruction: Nuclear War on British Screens from 1945 to the Early 1960s‘, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 10:1 (2013), pp.7-26.

”This article discusses a range of depictions and discussions of nuclear war, which appeared on British screens in the first half of the Cold War, in order to understand the changing way nuclear weapons were viewed within British culture. Using such screened images to understand how nuclear war was constructed and represented within British culture, the article argues that the hydrogen bomb, not the atomic bomb, was the true harbinger of the nuclear revolution that transformed cultural understandings of warfare and destruction. Although the atomic bomb created a great deal of anxiety within British popular culture, representations of atomic attack elided atomic destruction with that experienced in 1939–45, emphasising the ‘survivability’ of atomic war. In the thermonuclear era, the Second World War could not undertake the same symbolic work. The image of the city-destroying bomb was an imaginative as well as technological step-change. Screened representations stressed that a thermonuclear war would literally end the world. As such, they preceded, and indeed provided the cultural climate for, the rise of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The Campaign exploited and further popularised this idea of the apocalyptic nuclear war as a key aspect of its political and moral standpoint. The article concludes, however, that the cultural hegemony of this vision of nuclear war equally helped underpin notions of nuclear deterrence. The basic assumptions about the nature of nuclear war constructed and circulated on British screens therefore formed part of CND’s ‘cultural’ victory but the article also explains why this did not translate into the political realm.”

M. Grant, ‘Civil Defence and British Deterrence, 1956-64: Strategic Imperative and Political Expediency’, in his (ed.), The British Way in Cold Warfare: Diplomacy, Intelligence and the Bomb (London: Continuum, 2009), pp.51-68.

M. Grant, ‘Home Defence and the Sandys Defence White Paper, 1957’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 31:6 (2008), pp.925-49.

”Long understood as the key document in Britain’s Cold War history, the Duncan Sandys Defence White Paper of 1957 nevertheless has a largely forgotten context: home defence. This article argues that understanding this context allows important new conclusions to be drawn concerning the drafting, presentation and the reception of the document and the deterrent strategy it expounded. It argues that the Paper failed to establish a new doctrine for civil defence which reconciled the policy with the wider deterrent strategy. In doing this, the Paper presented a muddled policy to the public: one which failed to justify the reductions in civil defence provision but which stressed the destructive power of thermonuclear weapons. This had the effect of encouraging the critics of the government’s nuclear strategy to flag up the absence of adequate civil defence measures and highlight the ‘admission’ that there was no defence against the hydrogen bomb.”

M. Grant and B. Ziemann (eds), Understanding the Imaginary War: Culture, Thought and Nuclear Conflict, 1945-1990 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016; in Press, 120,000 words).

M. Grant, After the Bomb: Civil Defence and Nuclear War in Britain, 1945-68 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 249+xiipp.