Film, trade and empire workshop, Exeter, June 2015 report

Film, trade and empire workshop, Exeter, June 2015 report

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A very receptive audience for a tour of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum with Phil Wickham!

 

It was a pleasure to recently welcome a range of experts to discuss aspects of the depiction of empire and trade in British and French film culture in collaboration with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Tom Rice (St. Andrews) kicked off proceedings with a paper which discussed the role of film in imperial education in the UK considering the significance of the Empire Marketing Board and British Instructional Films, as well as figures such as William Sellers and Mary Field, in promoting colonial instructional films. As Rice notes, such figures are often overlooked- with significantly more critical attention paid to (atypical) ‘prestige’ films such as Grierson’s Drifters. Patrick Russell (BFI) explored the changing culture of industrial films over the longue duree highlighting connections between documentary networks and trade. Russell the need for more study of the relationship between industrialists and film-makers in understanding the production of these films. Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of the ‘golden age’ of industrial film production between 1945 and the early 1970s and the challenges of understanding how such films became ‘Africanised’ through processes of decolonisation and the internationalisation of production.

 

Bill Douglas CInema Museum exhibition, Exeter
Bill Douglas CInema Museum exhibition, Exeter

Image from current exhibition on empire and trade at the BDCM curated by our SCP intern Katy Moon

 

The second panel focused on film-making in Southern Africa. Jacqueline Maingard (Bristol) explored the idea of the ‘colonial imaginary’ in Donald Swanson’s films, considering the networks he operated in within Britain and eastern and southern Africa, and how they affected his depiction of race and colonial space. Emma Sandon (Birkbeck) focused on documentary films produced in South Africa between the 1920s and 1940s, exploring the role of African Film Productions in promoting trade with Britain. Sandon considered the various audiences for such documentary films, both in Britain but also in South Africa where they played an important role in promoting an English-speaking South African identity at a time of Afrikaner cultural revival.

 

In the final panel David Thackeray (Exeter) discussed the connections between imperial documentary film networks and the rise of internationalist development projects in the 1940s, focusing on the activities of John Grierson and Norman McLaren at UNESCO. Berny Sebe (Birmingham) offered comparisons between the depiction of French and British imperial heroes in film culture during the inter-war years, and Will Higbee (Exeter) explored ideas of imperial memory and the problematic nature of the colonial past in contemporary France through a study of Rachid Bouchareb’s Hors-la-loi (2010) and its popular reception.

 

Over the course of the day, a number of common themes emerged such as-

 

  • the importance of non-fiction educational/trade films and their relevant neglect in academic literature
  • the need to interrogate more thoroughly issues of circulation and viewership (in imperial networks) in terms of understanding the reach and appeal of individual documentary productions, but also the very varied practices of viewership (particularly in colonial contexts)
  • the contested nature of the ‘colonial imaginary’ in film-making, and the need to interrogate the role of the film-maker and industrial/ government sponsors in shaping film production
  • the value of using documentary film sources to understand ideas of ‘imperial modernity’ (eg. promoting modern techniques of industry, agriculture and education)
  • the value of these sources for understanding processes of decolonisation and nation forming

 

The workshop was accompanied by an exhibition curated by Katy Moon which will provide a basis for teaching with Exeter WP Residential and International Summer School classes and is currently on display at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

 

David Thackeray

In Wilson’s Shadow: Why the 1975 Europe Referendum Still Matters

Margaret Thatcher,  William Whitelaw and Peter Kirk, at a referendum conference. June 1975. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

 

Cross-posted from Imperial and Global Forum

Richard Toye and David Thackeray
University of Exeter

Forty years ago today Britain went to the polls to decide a crucial question: would the country remain in the European Economic Community (EEC)? It had only joined the EEC, the EU forerunner organisation, two years previously, and this was the first UK-wide referendum. When the votes were counted the results were emphatic. The nation had voted ‘yes’ to Europe by a two to one margin. The Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson hailed the result, noting that no one in Britain or the wider world could be in doubt about its meaning. Margaret Thatcher, the recently-chosen Tory leader, observed that the ‘massive “Yes” vote could not have come about without a massive Conservative “Yes”.’ Today, as the British people prepare for a new European plebiscite, what lessons can be learned from the experience of 1975?

Some things have remained constant over the last four decades. Even back then, David Dimbleby was one of the faces of TV politics; he hosted a Panorama debate on the EEC. Other things have changed, though, not least the fact that in those days it was the Labour Party that suffered the worst splits over Europe. Anti-European socialists such as Tony Benn and Barbara Castle found themselves at loggerheads with Europhile social democrats such as Roy Jenkins. The 1974 Labour manifesto tried to square the circle, condemning the Heath government’s ‘profound political mistake’ in entering the Community ‘without the consent of the British people’ yet keeping the door open for continued UK membership if the terms could be renegotiated. Although a different party was in charge, the parallels with David Cameron’s current strategy are obvious.

Wilson’s renegotiation did succeed, and the British gained concessions on the EEC budget, on the Common Agricultural Policy, and on food imports from Commonwealth countries. Some would argue that the changes that he secured were more nominal than real; today some Eurosceptic Tories fear that Cameron is planning to ‘do a Wilson’ and will use whatever cosmetic reforms he can secure as an excuse to campaign vigorously to stay in the EU. Be that as it may, it is worth noting that many of the key issues have changed, along with the political and economic context. In 1975 Scotland was the most Eurosceptic part of Britain and the SNP campaigned in support on an exit from the EEC. 1970s Europhobes harped on about food prices and the threat to the balance of payments. Little attention was paid to questions of freedom of movement for European workers during the referendum. After all, the EEC was then a club of nine wealthy European nations and Britain’s economy was fairing worse than many of its European neighbours at the time. Now, Cameron’s wish-list focuses on welfare, immigration and political integration.

There is, however, also an underlying continuity: the deeper issue in both the old-style and modern debates is that of sovereignty, and the degree to which it should be sacrificed in the interests of other benefits such as access to markets.

Yes girls: Pro-EEC campaigners back Brussels at the 1975 referendum

As in 1975, the ‘yes’ campaign is likely to receive significantly greater funding than the supporters of an exit from Europe. Business was overwhelmingly in favour of continued EEC membership in the 1970s, based on perceptions that access to European markets would enable Britain to improve labour productivity and promote high-tech industry.[1] Some opponents of EU membership now argue that the British economy would be better served by having a free hand to develop relationships with emerging markets such as India and China. However, the leading business organisation, the CBI, made clear its keen support for a ‘yes’ vote last week.[2]

In the light of the recent announcement that the Bank of England is organising a taskforce to make contingency plans in the event of a British exit from the EU it is worth noting that government departments organised similar operations forty years ago.[3] A Treasury memo produced in 1975 claimed that ‘a swift withdrawal is extraordinarily difficult to reconcile with the facts of international political life’. Some ministers called for a withdrawal from the Community no later than 1 January 1976. And yet, behind the scenes civil servants raised the concerns about the viability of negotiating an early exit, meaning that Britain’s budget commitments would remain in place for another year.[4] There was no legal basis for the withdrawal of a member state, so the logistics of renegotiating trade relationships and implementing exit were uncertain.

If the British electorate decides to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum, the example of 1975 suggests that it would only be the beginning of a complex process of renegotiating a new relationship with Europe.

———

[1] http://gladstonediaries.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/business-and-europe-1975-referendum.html

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32805539

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/may/22/secret-bank-of-england-taskforce-investigates-financial-fallout-brexit

[4] C.W. Fogarty, Treasury memo., 30 May 1975 and attached undated Cabinet Office memo. ‘Referendum ‘No’- Contingency Planning Report’, , T355/275, National Archives, London

Imagining Markets workshop report, Exeter, April 2015

Imagining Markets 1st workshop, Exeter, April 2015
Report
Reed Hall1A chilly start at Reed Hall, Exeter!

 

We were delighted to welcome Imagining Markets network participants to Exeter for our first event last week. This is the first of a series of three academic workshops, with subsequent events to be held in London and Cambridge over the next year, exploring various facets of Britain’s economic culture and its relationship with key markets.
Paul Young opened proceedings with a paper exploring how the growth of the refrigerated meat and beef stock industries led to new understandings of the South American environment in Victorian literature such as the eco-romance The Purple Land and in advertising, where the Uruguay-based Leibig’s company had to compete with the imperial populism of Bovril.
Alan Booth introduced a new project exploring the development of the Rowntree business lectures, which emerged after World War I in a context of growing global economic competition to British business, and interest in new American methods of industrial psychology and management consultancy.

 

Reed Hall2

 

Lawrence Black explored the changing practices of shopping in mid-twentieth century America and Britain, such as the growth of self-service, and attempts to reshape market relations through consumer activism. Groups such as the National Consumers League expressed anxiety about the conservatism of shoppers and their concern with the ‘cheapness’ of goods.
Glen O’ Hara discussed how European competitors were imagined during the 1950s and how this influenced Britain’s subsequent applications to join the EEC and perceptions of the country’s relative economic ‘decline’. Glen paid particular attention to how changing practices in compiling economic statistics and graphically representing the economy reshaped ideas of markets.

 

Reed Hall3
The unlikely ‘Get Britain Out’ alliance in 1975, a portent for 2017 EU referendum?

 

Robert Saunders gave a taste of his project on the 1975 EEC referendum, exploring business organisations’ efforts in support of the campaign to keep Britain in the EEC. As Robert showed, in 1975 there was widespread business enthusiasm for expanding trade via the EEC, which appeared to offer opportunities to develop high-tech industries, and rationalise practices.
Piers Ludlow concluded the workshop with a plenary paper on the theme of ‘Economics and Britain’s European Choices’ which explored how government views of the UK’s most desirable economic future changed over the course of the 1950s with the rapid growth of EEC economies.
The day gave us an opportunity to discuss how various actors have politically constructed ideas about Britain’s economic future from the late nineteenth century onwards, from government, business, and civil society groups. Key themes to emerge include the importance of public debate about economic culture: the Rowntree business lectures emerged in a context of anxiety about mass suffrage and the growth of labour, consumer activism reflected anxiety about shoppers not behaving in an economically ‘rational’ fashion, and the 1975 referendum hinged on the idea of educating the public to support particular visions of Britain’s economic future. Coupled with these debates were anxieties about Britain’s world economic standing and its relative economic ‘decline’. We look forward to continuing the debates in London and Cambridge in the following months.

 

Reed Hall4
Not so typical Exeter weather!

Imperial History at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

 

Imperial history and documentary culture at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter

 By Dr.David Thackeray and Students at the International Summer School 2014

 

Cross Posted from Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

 

In July 2014 the University of Exeter ran its second annual summer school connected to Imperial and Global History: Britain and the making of the modern world with students from Canada, China, India, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the USA. In this blog post students reflect on their experience working with Dr. David Thackeray from the History Department to explore archives connected to imperial history and documentary culture from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter. The museum is home to one of the largest collections of material on the moving image in Britain, with a collection of over 75,000 items. The class was split into three groups and given a variety of film and visual culture sources to explore, then asked to record their reactions to those they found of most interest.

One group chose to discuss ‘The All Red Route Round the World’ (EXE BD 36745), an accompaniment to a series of lantern slide lectures produced in the early twentieth century depicting a variety of views across the British Empire. They note that it was a long-standing practice for British imperial territory belonging to be marked on a map in red. ‘This small pamphlet focuses on the idea that the world could be traversed without ever leaving the Empire. The author seems to brag about the fact that the sun never sets on British-controlled territory. Upon examination of the materials, we came to the conclusion that the lectures were primarily produced for entertainment purposes. The lantern slides boast about the scale of the Empire and introduce readers to the various cultures and peoples encompassed in British territory. These lectures may also serve to shock the public with their depictions of tribal, naked and supposedly less ‘civilised’ peoples’ living under the British flag’.

The documentary film of the ‘Cape to Cairo’ trans-Africa exhibition of 1924 provided the focus for the second group, who explored the various means by which the film was publicised including a book (EXE BD 11598) and cinema souvenir pamphlet (EXE BD 18477). Xiaohan Wang notes how such documentaries often focused on the exoticism of African life and its distance from the culture of the metropole and the British traveller. ‘Pictures in the booklet document indigenous Africans’ daily life, contrasting it with that of the travellers’ who commonly came from elite backgrounds. The well-dressed Europeans are commonly placed in the centre of the accompanying pictures surrounded by Africans living in supposedly primitive conditions’.

 

 

Our final sources for discussion are The Mystic Orient (EXE BD 00025), a booklet produced to promote a documentary produced by the anthropologist Dr. George Dorsey depicting his explorations in Japan, China, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), a journey he claims reached “parts of the world where white men have seldom, if ever, visited”, and Through Romantic India (EXE BD 18476) a booklet which accompanied a documentary film and lecture from 1922 by renowned American Journalist Lowell Thomas. The students discussed the problems of whether we can view these sources as indicators of an Orientalist mindset. This approach seems to be more apparent in the latter booklet which ‘clearly deals with cultural and racial differences from a hierarchical perspective. Indian culture is depicted as brutal and backwards, but also romantic, as opposed to ‘civilised’ Britain’. The booklet includes a picture of two Indian men sitting on a needle bed, and has the following jaunty description: ‘Holy men ready or a siesta on their beds of sharp iron spikes’.

 

 

The class provided students with an opportunity to explore the insights that documentary film culture can provide into Britons’ historical interaction with Empire. While their conclusions give a rather sobering insight into aspects of imperial culture which bring to mind the old adage- ‘it’s a good thing the sun never set on the empire- because the Brits clearly can’t be trusted at night’- students appreciated what for many of them was their first opportunity to work in an archive.

The museum has a rich collection of material on the British Empire, as optical entertainment was frequently used as a propaganda source and to bring the wider world to the British public. It is used frequently for teaching in History and English at the University.

Contributors: Angela Banks, Kelly Cave, Jessica Deters, Caroline Menu, Daniel Scherer, Xiaohan Wang, Henrik Zimmermann