Back to the future: 1979-1989


A decade of big hair and big business. But is that the real story of the 1980s?

About this website

This 1980s website begins in 1979, a dramatic year in itself, but one that also began a process of change that lasted throughout the following decade. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the first time, the Iranian Revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The end of the decade in 1989 saw the Tiananmen Square massacre, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and the invention of the World Wide Web.

Those are just some of the main headlines. Hallmarks of the decade, amongst other things, include a radical shift in economic thinking, considerable societal change, technological transformation, complex changes to international relations, changing relationships between individuals and communities, and a notable impact on the environment. It is a decade that we perhaps don't know as well as we could, where sharply contrasting events and experiences exist at the same time, both nationally and globally. So let's take a look behind the shoulder pads and beyond Scotland, to look in detail at some of the events and trends that shaped the world that we all live in today. Let's go back to the future.

Thought-provoking reads

By trying to understand the recent past we can hopefully better understand our world today. We know that we cannot hope to cover all of the topics that the 1980s presents. Through six diverse themes, this website presents just a small range of essays on some topics, which we hope you will find interesting and stimulating. Some are short and some are long. Some have a narrow focus; others take a broader view of the decade. All the essays reference items in our collections, and have been added throughout our 1980s season.

The 1980s on film

Videos from the Library's Moving Image Archive bring the 1980s to life. In our 'Watch and listen' section, you can reminiscence with nostalgic sights and sounds of Scotland and understand some of the defining issues of the decade. From amateur documentaries and group films to programmes from Grampian Television and STV, these films offer a window into 'the way we were', and in the process provide food for thought for 'how we could be' in the future.

Use Library collections and resources to learn more

Most importantly, we would like to invite you to rediscover the '80s for yourselves. You can do that by reading the essays and watching the film archive footage. But you can also do it by using our collections to follow up the stories that you are interested in, the stories that we haven't covered. To help you do that, we have created a resources page. If you are a registered reader then you can access an enormous amount of content that relates to the 1980s from home.

To get started and go back to the 1980s, you can read this long essay on the events of 1979. Or for a shorter trip back in time, read about the joy of the Sony Walkman, or watch a 1980s documentary about Alex Ferguson.

The themes
The contributors