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Asa Briggs

The Right Honourable
Asa Briggs
Born (1921-05-07) 7 May 1921 (age 93)[1]
Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire
Nationality British
Occupation Historian
Spouse(s) Susan Anne Banwell (1955-)

Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs (born 7 May 1921) is an English historian, one of the most respected historians who has written on the Victorian era. In particular, his trilogy, Victorian People, Victorian Cities, and Victorian Things made a lasting mark on how historians view the nineteenth century. He was made a life peer in 1976.


Born in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1921, he was educated at Keighley Boys' Grammar School before gaining a BA from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1941, and a BSc in Economics from the University of London External Programme, also in 1941.[2]

From 1942 to 1945 during World War II, Briggs served in the Intelligence Corps and worked at the British wartime codebreaking station, Bletchley Park. He was a member of "the Watch" in Hut 6, the section deciphering Enigma machine messages from the German Army and Air Force.[3]

After the War, he was elected a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford (1945–55) and was subsequently appointed University Reader in Recent Social and Economic History (1950–55). He was Faculty Fellow of Nuffield College 1953-55 and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey 1953-54.

From 1955 until 1961 he was Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds. From 1961 until 1976 he was Professor of History at the University of Sussex, while also serving as Dean of the School of Social Studies (1961–65), Pro Vice-Chancellor (1961–67), and Vice-Chancellor (1967–76). On June 4, 2008 the University of Sussex Arts A1 and A2 lecture theatres, designed by Basil Spence, were renamed in his honour.

In 1976 he returned to Oxford to become Provost of Worcester College until 1991.

He was Chancellor of the Open University 1978-1994 and in May 1979 was awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of the University. He has been an Honorary Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge since 1968, of Worcester College, Oxford since 1969, and of St Catharine's College, Cambridge since 1977. He also held a visiting appointment at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University in the late 1980s and again at the renamed Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia in 1995-96. In 1976 he was created a life peer as Baron Briggs, of Lewes in the County of East Sussex.

He has written a five-volume text on the history of broadcasting in the UK (essentially, the history of the BBC) from 1922 to 1974.

In 1987, Lord Briggs was invited to be President of the Brontë Society, a literary society established in 1893 in Haworth, England. He presided over the Society's centenary celebrations in 1993 and continued as President until he retired from the position in 1996.[4]

He married Susan Anne Banwell in 1955 and they have two sons and two daughters.

A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet

Briggs wrote this book with Peter Burke in 2002, exploring the social impacts of the media. A particular focus is the initiation of cultural changes by the printing press, or its effect as a catalyst for change within society. The authors point out that the invention of the printing press impacted on occupations within European cities, changing the traditional structure. As printers came to exist, so did a new a new social group. Similarly, jobs became available for proof readers, followed by a rise in book stores and positions available at libraries. Elizabeth Eisenstein too has argued that printing is an underestimated “agent of change”. She laid down that "print standardised and preserved knowledge" but also stimulated new ideas, including the critique of authority and society, allowing for the establishment of a diversity of ideas and voices.

The printing press and what followed commercialised leisure, with reading being broken up into five kinds, as Briggs and Burke discuss, “critical reading…dangerous reading…creative reading…extensive reading…private reading…”(Briggs and Burke, 2002).

Select bibliography

  • The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom 5 volumes (Oxford University Press)
  1. The birth of broadcasting - 1961
  2. The golden age of wireless (1927–1939) - 1965
  3. The war of words (1939–1945) - 1970
  4. Sound and vision (1945–1955) - 1979
  5. Competition (1955–1974) - 1995
  • The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867 (Harlow: Pearson, 1959, 2nd edn 2000)
  • The Channel Islands, Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945, Batsford Books, London, ISBN 0-7134-7822-5
  • A Social History of England
  • Victorian People
  • Victorian Cities
  • Victorian Things
  • Marks & Spencer Ltd A Centenary History, Marks & Spencer 1884 - 1984
  • Marx in London, An Illustrated Guide
  • A Social History of the Media 2002
  • Secret Days: Codebreaking in Bletchley Park: A Memoir of Hut Six and the Enigma Machine (Frontline Books, ISBN 978-1-84832-615-6, May 2011)
Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Gardiner
Chancellor of the Open University
Succeeded by
Betty Boothroyd
Preceded by
Oliver Franks, Baron Franks
Provost of Worcester College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Richard Smethurst


External links

  • WorldCat catalog)

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