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Marwick was appointed the first Professor of History at the Open University in 1969, after lecturing at Edinburgh for ten years. He held visiting professorships at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Stanford University, Rhodes College and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He was a left-wing social and cultural historian but critical of Marxism and other approaches to history that he believed stressed the importance of metanarrative over archival research. He was also a critic of postmodernism, seeing it as a "menace to serious historical study". It was also the methodology of the postmodernists to which he was opposed, "the techniques to deconstruction or discourse analysis have little value compared with the sophisticated methods historians have been developing over years".
One of his most influential books, "The Deluge", dealt with the transformations in British society brought about by world war one. Published in 1965, its main thesis, a provocative one at the time, was that the war had brought about positive and lasting social changes (in the rôle of women, in the acceptability of state intervention for social reasons, and so on). Despite its terrible tragedies, Marwick believed that the sum result of the war was that Britain was a better place to live in in the twenties than in the period before the war.
In putting forward this thesis, he was scathing about many previous histories of the war; he accused many of them of being infected with "naivety of analysis", or coming down simply to "patriotic polemic".
His books were particularly concerned with the changes in the lives of "ordinary people", and he felt it was important not to overgeneralize, but always to distinguish the effects of a social event on different social classes.
He taught a particular theory in history called 'Marwicks Principle' which meant that if total war was active then it needed four components :
- Destruction- Test- Psychological- Experience
- The Explosion of British Society, republished as The Explosion of British Society 1914-1970 (1971)
- The Deluge, British Society and the First World War (1965)
- Britain in the Century of Total War (1968)
- The Nature of History (1970 1st Ed.)
- War and Social Change in the Twentieth century
- Total War and Historical Change, Europe 1914-1955
- British Society since 1945 with J.H. Plumb (1982)
- The New Nature of History (2001)
- Windows on the Sixties with A. Aldgate and J. Chapman
- A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914-1999
- The Arts in the West since 1945
- It: a History of Human Beauty
- Europe on the Eve of War, 1900-1914
- World War II and its Consequences
- Class: Image and Reality
- Culture in Britain since 1945
- Princes and Peoples: Parliaments and Kings
- An Introduction to the Humanities
- Arts, Literature and Society
- Illustrated Dictionary of British History
- Britain in Our Century
- Class in the Twentieth Century
- Social Change in Britain, 1920-1970
- The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958-c. 1974 (1998)
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