School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Staff Profile

Dr Matt Perry

Reader in Labour History



Matt Perry has taught broadly across Twentieth Century European History. He has research interests in British and French labour and social history, particularly in the fields of protest and social memory. He has also published on questions of general historiography in particular the Marxist school of history.


Research Interests

Twentieth-century French and British social and labour history. The history of the protests of the unemployed, particularly in the interwar period. British and French labour history. Social movements and protest. Social memory and oral history. Biography, intellectual itineraries, obituaries and cultural afterlives.  Transnationalism. France and the experience of the two world wars.

Intellectual trajectory

My first degree and PhD were in European Studies, namely French language and the social sciences. I have retained my commitment to an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach since that point. My work is theoretically informed by engagements with Marxism and post-68 social theory. My PhD was in the comparative measurement of unemployment in Britain, France and Poland in the post-war era, understanding unemployment data - and official statistics more generally - as a social construction prone to political manipulation. The dissertation historicised both the state's statistical apparatus and the emergence of unemployment as modern phenomena.

On gaining my first permanent academic job in the History department at Sunderland University, I turned more systematically to the history of unemployment and in particular, though not exclusively, to the history of the protests of the unemployed, a relatively neglected field of history, particularly in the French context. Monographs followed on the Jarrow Crusade, the French hunger marches as well as editing a special edition of the Labour History Review and an Oxford University Press book on the contentious history of the unemployed. I have tried to blend social movement theory with Marxist approaches to scrutinize patterns of protest and the conscious experience of the unemployed. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin, I have also developed an interest in the visual representations of the unemployed and the generation of documentary photographers and photojournalists of the 1930s for whom the jobless were a major preoccupation.

I then wrote a monograph on a little known French novelist César Fauxbras as a vehicle for a microhistory of the period of the two world wars. It was based on Fauxbras's novels, journalism, correspondence, diaries and social investigation. This work cut across the debates about the validity of the testimony of witnesses to the Great War, the social constructions of death during wartime (particularly in the maritime setting), the experience of veterans in interwar France, unemployment, the Popular Front, the defeat of France and everyday life during the German occupation of Paris.

My next project was a biography of Ellen Wilkinson, MP. It engaged with the emerging scholarship of ‘new biography’ to push at the boundaries of this conventional form. I tried to challenge to the assumptions of the unitary or consistent self, revealing compartmentalisations of political ideas and practices and the chronological thresholds of her outlook. I adopted a transnational approach examining how her ideas and activity could not be fully understood within national boundaries. I re-examined her death, memorialisation and myth linking this with the gendered problematic of the hero(ine). Using social movement theory, I sought to connect together the history of her political ideas with cycles of contentious politics. Alongside this methodological innovation, an imaginative and resourceful approach has secured a rich weave of primary materials located internationally (Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Madrid, London). Use was also made of oral testimony regarding Ellen Wilkinson. All this has prised open many new insights into a figure who played a significant role in transnational activist networks, social movements (Labour, anti-fascism, pacifism, anti-imperialism, women) and in the wartime and Attlee governments (1940-7). There have been spin-off articles about Wilkinson’s transnationalism using social network analysis and intellectual history and in on her death and myth-making using obituaries as a historical source.

Current Work

I am currently research the Black Sea Mutiny of 1919 from the perspective of the subjectivity of the mutineers. It is a project that scrutinizes mutineer testimony for their reasoning and emotions, their sensory experience, their appreciation of time and place. I take a multidisciplinary stance situating the account in terms of social movement theory, the scholarship on emotions (attempting to transcend disciplinary boundaries and dualistic approaches) and the concept of social memory.

Research Roles

Convenor of the Labour and Society Research Group

Deputy Director of Research, School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Current Supervisions

Ben Partridge, The Entangled sites of Memory: The Significance of Photography for the Contentious Movements of May 1968 and June 1936. (Northern Bridge funded scholarship).

Jack Hepworth, The Heterogenity and Evolution of Irish Republicanism, c. 1969-1994

Bill Paxton, An Examination of the Decline of Shipbuilding on the North East Coast of England the West Coast of Scotland in the interwar period, 1919-39


Undergraduate Teaching

HIS3022 Jarrow Crusade
HIS3025 May 68
HIS2086 Twentieth Century France
HIS2116 French Communism

HIS2219 Oral History

Postgraduate Teaching

HIS8041 Love on the Dole a cultural history of unemployment in the 1930s