The twentieth century in Europe was an urban century: it was shaped by life in, and the view from, the street.
Women were not liberated in legislatures, claims Leif Jerram, but liberated themselves in factories, homes, nightclubs, and shops. Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini made themselves powerful by making cities ungovernable with riots rampaging through streets, bars occupied one-by-one. New forms of privacy and isolation were not simply a by-product of prosperity, but because people planned new ways of living, new forms of housing in suburbs and estates across the continent. Our proudest cultural achievements lie not in our galleries or state theatres, but in our suburban TV sets, the dance halls, pop music played in garages, and hip hop sung on our estates.
In Streetlife, Leif Jerram presents a totally new history of the twentieth century, with the city at its heart, showing how everything distinctive about the century, from revolution and dictatorship to sexual liberation, was fundamentally shaped by the great urban centres which defined it. Below are three videos in which Leif talks about women’s rights, sexual liberation, and the anonymous history changers.
Leif Jerram was born in Woolwich in south-east London in 1971, and lived there until he went to study history at university. After having lived in San Diego, Bremen, Munich, and Paris, he settled in Manchester to do his PhD – the first industrial city. There he has remained, barring a brief stint as a fellow at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is currently a lecturer in urban history in the School of Arts at Manchester University, as well as being involved in community politics and activism. He has published widely in the field of cultural and urban history, including most recently Streetlife: How Cities Made Modern Europe. You can read Leif’s previous OUPblog post here.