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Perkin, Harold James



  • Existence: 1926 - 2004


Harold James Perkin was born on November 11, 1926 to Robert James and Hilda May Dillon Perkin in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. His father worked in building construction. Harold attended Methodist services during his childhood. He began school in 1929 at Cannon Street Infants School followed by Shelton Junior Church of England School. Harold received a scholarship to attend Hanley High School from 1938 to 1945.

Harold attended Jesus College, Cambridge on a history scholarship from 1945 to 1948. He graduated with a B.A. in History with first-class honors with distinction in 1948. He married Joan Griffiths on July 3, 1948, having met her four years earlier while attending the Stoke-on-Trent Youth Conference on Post War Reconstruction in the fall of 1944. He served as an Education Officer in the Royal Air Force from August 1948 to May 1950.

After being denied admission to the History PhD program at Cambridge in 1950, he accepted a position as the Staff Tutor of the University of Manchester Extra-Mural Department in 1950. The Department of History hired him as Assistant Lecturer in Social History in 1951 and later promoted him to full Lecturer in Social History. He reapplied for the Cambridge history MA program and graduated in 1952. While at the University of Manchester in 1958, Harold began editing the Routledge Studies in Social History series. Harold and Joan’s daughter, Deborah Jane, was born on November 9, 1958 in Manchester. Beginning in 1963, Harold wrote and presented two history series for Granada Television, The Age of the Railway and The Age of the Automobile. The couple’s son, Julian Robert, was born on May 17, 1964 in Manchester.

Harold accepted the position of Senior Lecturer at the new University of Lancaster, Lancashire, England, in 1964 and began teaching in 1965. The Department of History appointed him to Professor of Social History in 1967, the first chair of Social History in Britain. He became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1969. While at the University of Lancaster, he served one term as President of the Association of University Teachers from 1970 to 1971 and two terms as Vice-President from 1969 to 1970 and 1971-1973. He served as Head of the Department of History from 1974 to 1979 and Director of the Centre for Social History from 1976 to 1984. He founded the Social History Society of the United Kingdom in 1976 and served as Chairman until 1985. He was a visiting research fellow at Princeton University from September 1979 to September 1980 and at the National Humanities Center in Durham, North Carolina from September 1982 to June 1983. He was a Mellon Distinguished Visiting Professor at Rice University from January to May 1984.

He accepted the tenured position of Professor of History at Northwestern University in January 1984 and moved to Evanston, Illinois, in January 1985. He began teaching in the Winter Quarter of 1985. While in the United States, Harold and Joan maintained a residence in London, England, and frequently traveled back to Britain for research and to visit family and friends. Harold maintained a position as Visiting Professor in Social History at the University of Lancaster. In 1987, he received a joint appointment as Professor of Higher Education at Northwestern. At Northwestern, he taught undergraduate British history survey and popular culture courses; and graduate courses on the history of twentieth century Britain, industrializing societies, higher education, and modern European literature.

Harold used funding from a John Simon Guggenheim Research Fellowship to live in London and research in Europe, Russia, and Japan from 1989 to 1990. Harold took a sick leave for pneumonia from Northwestern in the Fall and Winter Quarters 1992-1993. He retired from Northwestern on August 31, 1997 and moved with Joan to London the following day. He accepted an appointment as Professor Emeritus of History at Northwestern. Harold remained active in the academic community after retirement, visiting the British Library for research and the Institute of Historical Research for seminars. He continued to mentor graduate students who started their education at Northwestern while he was a professor. He remained a Visiting Professor in Social History at the University of Lancaster. He accepted an Honorary Professorship at the University of Wales, Cardiff, in 1998 and became an Emeritus Professor of the University of Lancaster in 2000. The couple annually visited Chicago and Evanston.

Harold had a stroke in March 2003. He served on the editorial board for the inaugural 2004 edition of Cultural and Social History: The Journal of the Social History Society. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in September 2004 and underwent surgery. Harold died in London on October 16, 2004 at age 77. He is memorialized by the Northwestern University Department of History Harold Perkin Prize for best dissertation.

Harold’s major published monographs include Origins of Modern English Society, 1780-1880 (1969), New Universities in the United Kingdom (1969), Key Profession: The History of the Association of University Teachers (1969), The Age of the Railway (1970), The Age of the Automobile (1976), The Rise of Professional Society: England since 1880 (1989), The Third Revolution: International Professional Elites (1996), and his autobiography, The Making of a Social Historian (2002).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Harold (1926-2004) and Joan (1926-2015) Perkin Papers

Identifier: 11/3/16/27
Abstract The papers of British social historians Harold and Joan Perkin fill 61 boxes and contain 6.28 megabytes of born-digital files. The collection documents their academic careers and personal lives in England and the United States, spanning dates 1905-2015, with bulk dates 1970-2015. Harold Perkin was one of the leaders in the British social history movement of the 1960s-1970s and a professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University from 1985 to 1997. Joan Perkin was a lecturer in...
Dates: 1905, 1930s-2015; Majority of material found within 1970 - 2015