Charity & Voluntary Action

A great deal of confusion has been caused in attempting to define and distinguish between charity and philanthropy, mutual aid and self-help, volunteering and voluntary action, community association and social action, campaigning and protest… and that’s before we get to whether or not there is any such thing as the voluntary sector.

These distinctions are important but it is also worth remembering that combined these activities, which we might broadly understand as those times when people come together in attempts to collectively address the social problems they see around them, have made a major contribution to modern British society.

The pre-NHS voluntary hospitals of my home city, Bristol, were my first extended case study in this, which set me up for my investigations into the role of charity in the history of British healthcare (which you can find out more about here). More recently, I’ve been looking at the long history of charities running shops, which have not always been charity shops quite as we know them today (for more on that, click here). But there have also been times when my research and writing, as well as my teaching, have involved stepping back and thinking about the big picture of the role played by charity and voluntary action in modern Britain’s social history. Along with fellow committee members of the Voluntary Action History Society, this was the focus of a collection I edited whilst working on my PhD, which was published as Understanding the Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy by Sussex Academic Press in 2011.

How to bring these broad themes into the university-level teaching of History is something I have also been interested in. This has been the focus of a paper I gave to the Higher Education Academy’s annual conference in 2011 and a roundtable discussion I organised for the Social History Society’s annual conference in 2018. Jointly with Dr Helen McCarthy, I convened and hosted a one-day conference on Teaching the History of Voluntary Action at the University of Liverpool in 2013.

Click here for blog posts on the history of charity and voluntary action

Academic publications

GC Gosling, Eine Neubewertung der „Gift Relationship“ in der britischen Geschichte zum Freiwilligensektor [Rethinking the Gift Relationship in the British History of Voluntary Action] in Freiwilligenarbeit und gemeinnützige Organisationen im Wandel: Neue Perspektiven auf das 19. und 20. Jahrhundert [Volunteering and charitable organizations in flux: New perspectives on the 19th and 20th centuries], Historische Zeitschrift, supplement no. 76 (2019), pp. 33-64.

C Rochester, GC Gosling, A Penn and M Zimmeck (eds) Understanding the Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy (Sussex Academic Press, 2011)

Book review of The Charity Market and Humanitarianism in Britain, 1870-1914 by Sarah Roddy, Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe by, EH.net (March 2020)

Book review essay on Can the Welfare State Survive? by Andrew Gamble; The Big Society Debate: A New Agenda for Social Welfare edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter; and Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century edited by Peter Ackers and Alastair ReidCultural and Social History, vol. 17, no. 1 (2020), pp. 131-134

Book review of The Logic of Charity: Great Expectations in Hard Times by John Mohan and Beth BreezeVoluntary Sector Review, vol. 5, no. 3 (2017), pp. 355-356

Book review of Almost Worthy: The Poor, Paupers, and the Science of Charity in America, 1877-1917 by Brent RuswickVoluntary Sector Review, vol. 5, no. 3 (2014), pp. 417-418

Book review of The Ages of Voluntarism: How we got to the Big Society edited by Matthew Hilton and James McKayContemporary British History, vol. 26, no. 2 (2012), pp. 255-256