Dr Helen McCarthy

Reader in Modern British History

Location Arts Two 3.05

Email: h.mccarthy@qmul.ac.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 2684

I joined Queen Mary in September 2009.

I studied History as an undergraduate at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, followed by a frenetic year at Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar.

I worked briefly for the think-tank Demos before completing my doctoral studies at the Institute of Historical Research. In 2008-9, I held a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge. 


I am a historian of modern Britain with broad research interests. My first book, The British People and the League of Nations, was a study of internationalism in Britain in the 1920s and 30s. My second book, Women of the World: The Rise of the Female Diplomat (Bloomsbury, 2014) is the first serious attempt to explore the place of women in British diplomatic life since the 19th century, tracing their influence and experiences as wives, patrons, experts and eventually as diplomats in their own right. I am currently working on a history of working motherhood in twentieth-century Britain. As part of this project, I collaborated with the photographer Leonora Saunders in the creation of this unique website bringing together oral history and photography: www.workingmothersproject.com

I also serve as Deputy Director of the Mile End Institute and as Managing Editor for Twentieth Century British History

Current PhD Students

  • Sara Hiorns – "Representing and Belonging: Social and Cultural Change in the British Diplomatic Service since 1945"
  • Kerrie Holloway – Britain's Political Humanitarians: The National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and the Spanish refugees of 1939
  • Eleanor Lowe – 'Married to the party?' - marriage, gender and politics in in interwar Britain
  • Paul Sims – Disaster, memory, and the emergence of environmentalism in Britain, 1967-88
  • James Southern (Co-supervised with Dr James Ellison) – Diversity, Difference and Generational Change in the British Diplomatic Service

Undergraduate teaching

Postgraduate teaching

Postgraduate supervision 

I welcome applications from candidates interested in the following areas of late nineteenth/twentieth-century British history:

  • popular politics
  • voluntary action, especially internationalism and peace activism
  • feminism and women’s movements
  • gender and work
  • diplomacy and diplomatic culture



Women of the World: The Rise of the Female Diplomat (London, Bloomsbury 2014)

The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c.1918-1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011) ISBN 9780719086168, x + 282pp

Articles in peer-reviewed journals

'Social Science and Married Women's Employment in Post-War Britain' Past & Present, (2016), 233 (1), pp. 269 - 305

'Women, marriage and work in post-war Britain' Women's History Review, published online, February 2016

'The Diplomatic History of Global Women’s Rights: The British Foreign Office and International Women’s Year, 1975’ Journal of Contemporary History, 50 (2015), pp833-853 

'Women, Marriage and Work in the British Diplomatic Service’ Women’s History Review 23(6), 2014, pp853-873

‘Parties, Voluntary Associations and Democratic Politics in Interwar Britain’ Historical Journal, 50(4), December 2007, pp891-912

‘Service Clubs, Citizenship and Equality: gender relations and middle-class associations in Britain between the wars’ Historical Research, 81(213), August 2008, pp531-552

‘Leading from the Centre: The League of Nations Union, foreign policy and “political agreement” in the 1930s’ Contemporary British History, 23(4), 2009, pp527-542

‘Petticoat Diplomacy: The Admission of Women to the British Foreign Service, 1919-1946’ Twentieth Century British History, 20(3), 2009, pp285-321

‘Democratising British Foreign Policy: Rethinking the Peace Ballot, 1934-5’ Journal of British Studies 49 (2), 2010, pp358-387

‘The League of Nations, Public Ritual and National Identity in Britain, c.1919-1956’ History Workshop Journal 70 (2010) pp108-132

(with Pat Thane) ‘The Politics of Association in Industrial Society’ Twentieth Century British History 22(2), 2011, pp217-229

‘Whose Democracy? Histories of British political culture between the wars’ Historical Journal 55(1), 2012, pp221-238

Chapters in Books

‘Gender’ in Pat Thane, ed., Unequal Britain: Equalities Since 1945 (London, Continuum: 2010) pp105-123. ISBN 97801847062987, xi + 228pp

‘The Lifeblood of the League? Voluntary Associations and League of Nations activism in Britain’ in Daniel Laqua, ed., Internationalism Reconfigured: Transnational Ideas and Movements between the World Wars (London: IB Tauris, 2011), pp187-208. ISBN 9781848854697, xvii + 255pp

‘Associational voluntarism in interwar Britain’ in Matthew Hilton and James McKay, eds., The Ages of Voluntarism: How we got to the Big Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2011), pp47-68. ISBN 9780197264829, xi + 188pp

‘Shut Against the Woman and Workman Alike’: Democratising Foreign Policy between the Wars’ in Julie Gottlieb and Richard Toye, eds., The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender and Politics in Britain, 1918-1945 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp.142-158


Extended review of Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford, 2015) in American Historical Review, (2016), 121 (5), pp. 1619-21

The Strange Survival of Liberal England: Political Leaders, Moral Values and the Reception of Economic Debate, ed. EHH Green and DM Tanner in Reviews in History (No. 661, 2008)

Gender, Professions and Discourse: Early Twentieth-Century Women’s Autobiography by Christine Etherington-Wright in Twentieth-Century British History, 20 (2009), pp275-7

Parties at War: Political Organisation in Second World War Britain by Andrew Thorpe in Journal of British Studies, 49(1), 2010, pp219-20

Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press by Adrian Bingham in Twentieth Century British History, 21(1), 2010, pp123-125

Nine Wartime Lives: Mass Observation and the Making of the Modern Self by James Hinton, in Reviews in History (No.937, 2010)

Behind Enemy Lines: Gender, Passing and the Special Operations Executive in the Second World War by Juliette Pattinson in Journal of Contemporary History, 46 (2011), pp217-219

Varieties of Anti-Fascism: Britain in the Inter-War Period, edited by Nigel Copsey, and Andrzej Olechnowicz in English Historical Review, CXVII (524), 2012, pp235-236

On the Fringes of Diplomacy: Influences on British Foreign Policy, 1800-1945, edited by Anthony Best and John Fisher in Reviews in History (no.1210, 2012)

Membership of professional associations or societies

Fellow, Royal Historical Society

Member, Social History Society

Editorial and Professional Appointments

Member, Editorial Group of History and Policy

Member, Public Policy Committee, British Academy

Member, Editorial Board, The History of Parliament Trust 

Appearances in the media

I have extensive media training, having been selected from over 2000 applicants for the BBC’s high-profile female experts training day in January 2013. I was also a finalist in the AHRC/Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers Scheme 2012.  I blog at http://pastnotes.blogspot.co.uk/ and you can find me on Twitter @HistorianHelen