c109476k-v8

The History and future of British trade identities

Cross-posted from History & Policy (originally published 23/11/14)

  • Many of the core debates in UK politics today concern the nation’s future trade: the question of Scottish independence, devolution of political power to the regions, and a potential referendum on EU membership. Exploring the history of British trade identities can provide important insights into how we got here and the potential choices for policy makers. As historian Jim Tomlinson has argued, the twentieth century witnessed a gradual process of the ‘partial de-globalisation’ of British regions, with the declining influence of manufacturing and the growth of a more atomised service-sector economy. The discontents this has caused, exacerbated by the recent worldwide economic downturn, have been seized upon by parties such as the SNP and UKIP.

Britain, almost uniquely among major nations, retained a system of free trade until 1932. This owed much to the strong integration of Britain’s regions into global trade relationships. Amongst the heartlands of electoral support for free trade in Edwardian Britain were the cotton manufacturing towns of Lancashire and textile producing districts of West Yorkshire, which relied heavily on exports to a variety of world markets; and Dundee, then a global centre for jute manufacture. Even when tariffs were introduced in the 1930s, Britain sought to lower trade barriers to aid industrial exporters, signing trade treaties with a number of countries including Denmark, Argentina and the USA.

In fact, the 1930s can be seen as a higher watermark in support for the Union. A Conservative-dominated National Government won landslide election victories in 1931 and 1935, achieving a clear majority of seats in England and Scotland on both occasions. Business organisations such as the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire and the Federation of British Industries played an important role in trade affairs at this time, giving regional groups such as Liverpool and Glasgow shipbuilders, Lancashire cotton producers, and Yorkshire textile industrialists an important lobbying role with governments both in Britain and the wider Commonwealth. These bodies helped exporters develop links with overseas buyers, gave advice on commercial arbitration, and enabled industrialists to lobby for access to lower tariff rates in Dominions such as Australia, Canada, and South Africa. In turn, popular campaigns were launched in those countries to support the buying of goods from Britain and the wider Empire.

This system was challenged after 1945, leading to the eventual fracturing of Commonwealth trade relationships in the 1960s, which occurred concurrently with Britain’s first attempts to join the European Economic Community. Moreover, a steady decline in the role of manufacturing within the UK economy undermined regional identities, which were closely tied to industry. Whereas manufacturing made up 41 percent of the British economy in 1948,  this fell to around 30 percent in the early 1970s, and stands at 10 percent today. The region with the highest reliance on manufacturing is the East Midlands, where it accounts for 12.5 percent of jobs, whereas manufacturing accounts for only 2.4 percent of jobs in London. The troubled economic times of the 1970s led to a growth in Celtic nationalism which challenged the authority of central government at Westminster, a crisis brilliantly documented in Tom Nairn’s The break-up of Britain (1977). In October 1974, following a year in which oil prices escalated as the result of an Arab embargo, the SNP claimed over thirty per cent of the vote in Scotland (a share they have not bettered at a British general election since).

The recent revival in opposition to the two main parties at Westminster can be seen, in part, as a reaction to the ongoing long-term experiences of regional de-industrialisation and a concurrent de-globalisation of trade, aggravated by the recent recession. Scottish regions such as Dundee, which have experienced de-globalisation acutely as a result of the decline of manufacturing, voted for independence, whereas Edinburgh, a centre for international financial services, voted two-to-one against.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent pledge to tackle the ‘West Lothian question’ and implement a major devolution of powers across the four nations has further stoked debate about the future direction of Britain and the possibilities for English regional government. While the proposed devolution of decision-making may potentially help foster regional development, it is unclear how this will be achieved given that England makes up 85 percent of the UK’s population. What is most important is the need to rebalance the economy, lessening its reliance on financial services honeypots such as London and Edinburgh, and stimulating links with expanding markets in the regions. The UK is far more reliant on financial services exports as a percentage of total service sector exports than other G7 countries, making it particularly vulnerable to further instability in world markets.

The revived importance of the Commonwealth in world trade was recognised by the 2013 Lords’ Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence chaired by Lord Howell, which called for government to pay greater attention to developing economic links with this network of nations. With several fast-growing economies, including India, Australia and South Africa, and a doubling of trade between its members in the last 20 years, the Commonwealth provides key markets for the future. The UK is particularly well placed to exploit this link due to strong historical trade ties and the evolution of similar business cultures and legal institutions.

The Commonwealth Business Council, a company with corporate members, which promoted trade and investment in Commonwealth countries, ceased trading in July 2014. It is imperative that a successor organisation is formed which can play an important role in stimulating intra-Commonwealth trade. In addition, government needs to provide universities with greater opportunities to develop research and development links with markets such as India and China, thereby catalysing the UK’s regional economies.

Welcome signs of progress in this regard include the recent expansion of links between the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Indian Council of Historical Research, as well as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. AHRC projects offer a range of opportunities to project the UK’s ‘soft power’ – that is, building trust and prestige between nations through cultural influence. For example, Picturing China 1870-1950, a touring exhibition curated by historian Robert Bickers, offered a sophisticated image of pre-1949 China and its relations with the West. The project, which amassed and digitised photos by British expatriates and Chinese nationals, created a new public forum for discussion of complex pre-1949 Western-Chinese relations in China. In total the Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates that the project reached 10 million people.

Globalisation may be a catchphrase for these times, but it has important historical antecedents, which throw light on the current challenges facing British policy makers as increasing numbers of disillusioned voters seek alternatives to the traditional two-party system. One of the key challenges that UK politicians face today is appealing to a population which has witnessed the partial de-globalisation of trade in some regions, it is therefore imperative that efforts are made to stimulate connections with growing markets such as India and China building on historic connections.

Buying British Across the World

Cross-posted from Imperial and Global Forum (originally posted 03/12/13)

David Thackeray

An Empire Marketing Board poster from the late 1920s

This autumn I spoke at several universities in Australia and New Zealand on the subject of the various shopping weeks that were launched to promote Empire trade during the 1920s and 1930s. The story of the Empire Marketing Board’s efforts to develop the idea of ‘Buying Empire’ in inter-war Britain is well known, and its posters still appear regularly on the covers of books written about imperial culture. What is less well known is that the same cause was taken up with enthusiasm by a variety of organisations in the Dominions, and arguably achieved greater and more lasting prominence there than it did in Britain.

At the same time, it quickly became clear to me that the archives in England and Australasia were telling different stories. Politicians and businessmen in Wellington and Melbourne may have conceived themselves to be members of a ‘British’ trade community, but their understanding of what the future of the Empire as an economic unit should be often differed from their counterparts in London.

This 1932 poster was one of many designed for the Empire Marketing Board.  Courtesy of the Museum of London website http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/mol-84-1-890

This study forms part of a wider project on debates about Britain’s economic future since 1900, for which I have received AHRC fellowship funding for 2014-15. While Britain remains at the centre of the story, my overseas trip has reminded me of the continued dynamism of imperial studies in Australia and New Zealand. Much of the best and most innovative of this work has sought to ‘decentre’ Empire, through explorations of culture and race [1]. While ties with Britain played a central role in shaping the identity of the nascent settler colonies in the nineteenth century, we need to recognise the importance of the cultural links that Australia, for example, formed with South Africa, India, and its close neighbour, New Zealand.

Using such decentred approaches to trace the history of trade networks adds new layers to our understanding of imperial economic history. Moreover, it underlines the importance of going beyond the trade figures to understand the wider culture of the imperial economy. A ‘British’ trade identity was no doubt vital to many in the Dominions, at least up until the 1960s, but it could express itself in participation in the Toronto trades fair, crossing the Tasman to attend a meeting of Chambers of Commerce, or supporting a state-wide drive to promote Australian manufactures, as well as more literal practices of buying British (or Empire) goods. Teasing out these often uneven links of trade is a complex process but a vital one if we are to get a clearer understanding of the history of ‘buying British’ and I look forward to uncovering further perspectives when I travel to Australia and South Africa to undertake research in the New Year.

Peking University’s new History Department, built in a traditional style

My autumn trip ended with participation in a delegation of Exeter historians at Peking University, the top humanities university in China. The pace of change in Beijing and its sheer scale is hard to believe. When one of my cousins visited the city seven years ago there were two metro lines; now there are fifteen. Peking University itself has twenty thousand postgraduate students and the nine-block hotel complex where we stayed on campus is the size of a village. As for the road network, imagine London being encircled by five M25s and have you have an idea of its scale.

The colloquium provided a unique opportunity for us to discuss the wide breadth of original research being conducted in our respective departments – sex in mediaeval Spain, the revolutionary experiences of France and China, and the history of desert regions – as well as learn about our respective postgraduate programmes. We look forward to welcoming a return delegation from PKU next year, although we’re not sure we can compete with the fantastic quality of their food — but perhaps a Devon cream tea comes close.

Works Cited

[1] See for example Tony Ballantyne, Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s colonial past (Auckland, 2013); Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the global colour line: white men’s countries and the international challenge of racial equality(Cambridge, 2008); and Philippa Mein Smith, Peter Hempenstall and Shaun Goldfinch, Rethinking the Tasman world (Christchurch, 2009).

k146061_m

Boycotting Apartheid: The Global Politics of Fair Trade

Cross-Posted from Imperial and Global Forum

David Thackeray

As  a  child  there  were  few  experiences  I  looked  forward  to  more  than  a  trip  up  to  London  with  my  father  to  visit  Hamleys  toy  store  in  the  run-up  to  Christmas.  Rather  unusually  perhaps,  these  visits  to  the  capital  were  also  occasionally  marked  by  a  stop  at  South  Africa  House  to  see  the  Anti-Apartheid  picket  of  the  embassy,  organised  to  call  for  the  release  of  ANC  leader  Nelson  Mandela.  We  had  moved  to  the  UK  from  New  Zealand  a  few  years  beforehand,  and  Dad  would  always  use  such  occasions  to  regale  me  with  proud  memories  of  the  protests  which  greeted  South  Africa’s  notorious  rugby  tour  in  1981.  When  the  Springboks  came  to  our  home  city  of  Hamilton,  a  key  centre  of  Maori  culture,  crowd  protests  led  to  the  abandonment  of  a  test  against  the  All  Blacks.  Another  game  became  a  farce  when  flour  bombs  and  leaflets  were  scattered  over  the  pitch  from  a  light  aeroplane.

Over  recent  months  I’ve  been  assessing  the  history  of  the  anti-apartheid  movement  as  part  of  a  wider  attempt  to  understand  the  role  that  ideas  of  moral  economy  in  trade  and  consumerism  played  in  debates  about  Britain’s  economic  identity.  While  the  outpouring  of  praise  from  world  leaders  for  Nelson  Mandela,  following  his  recent  passing,  might  suggest  that  the  anti-apartheid  boycott  had  overwhelming  support  at  the  time,  in  fact  it  was  highly  controversial  and  contested  from  many  sides.

'Look before You Buy,' Anti-Apartheid Movement London, United Kingdom 1977

The  Boycott  Movement  was  launched  in  London  in  1959  (and  renamed  the  Anti-Apartheid  Movement  the  following  year).  While  it  is  sometimes  identified  as  part  of  the  emergence  of  a  series  of  ‘new  social  movements’  in  the  1960s,  the  AAM,  especially  in  its  early  years  shared  many  characteristics  with  earlier  humanitarian  campaigns.  Much  like  the  short-lived  boycott  of  Japanese  goods  movement  of  the  late  1930s  it  drew  heavily  on  the  support  of  labour,  internationalist  and  religious  organisations.  Both  movements  faced  similar  problems  in  convincing  the  public  that  a  boycott  would  work  effectively.

A  key  part  of  the  problem  here  (and  one  also  faced  by  those  who  sought  to  encourage  the  practice  of  ‘Buying  British’)  was  that  it  often  proved  hard  for  the  consumer  to  discern  the  national  origin  of  a  product.  Under  the  Merchandise  Marks  Act  of  1926  producers  were  free  to  label  their  goods  as  ‘foreign’  or  ‘empire’,  as  appropriate.  Prosecutions  for  merchandise  mark  infringement  were  rare,  particularly  after  1945,  and  hampered  by  the  lack  of  international  co-operation  or  standard  practice  on  the  matter  (despite  some  efforts  at  co-ordination  by  the  League  of  Nations  and  the  British  Board  of  Trade  and  Colonial  Office).  Key  trade  organisations  such  as  the  co-operative  movement  were  divided  on  the  boycott  issue  and,  despite  the  Sharpeville  massacre  in  1960,  policies  on  stocking  South  African  goods  differed  from  region  to  region.  While  merchandise  mark  legislation  was  strengthened  in  the  1960s  and  1970s,  it  still  provided  a  number  of  loopholes.

national sport apartheidOver  time,  the  boycott  grew  to  encompass  other  issues  such  as  opposition  to  sporting  ties  with  South  Africa,  an  important  facet  of  spreading  the  global  visibility  of  the  movement.  In  New  Zealand’s  case  in  particular  it  also  arguably  played  a  significant  role  in  helping  to  define  a  new  national  identity  following  the  severing  of  trade  links  from  the  imperial  age,  with  Britain’s  entry  into  the  EEC  in  1973.  Aside  from  calling  for  an  end  to  sporting  ties  with  the  Boks,  Halt  All  Racist  Tours  highlighted  unequal  living  standards  between  Pakeha  and  Maori  and  the  thorny  issue  of  land  rights  in  the  wake  of  the  Waitangi  settlement.  Anti-apartheid  quickly  grew  into  a  global  humanitarian  campaign,  whose  concerns  outgrew  those  of  the  formal  territorial  boundaries  of  South  Africa.

By  focusing  on  the  power  of  multinational  business,  anti-apartheid  also  arguably  played  a  vital  role  in  setting  the  parameters  of  contemporary  debates  about  ‘fair  trade’  and  ethical  business  practice.  The  divestment campaign  of  the  1980s achieved  some  notable  coups,  particularly  Barclays’ withdrawal  from  South  Africa  in  1986.  Yet  at  the  same  time,  other  companies  such  as  BP  sought  to  promote  ethical  practices  in  the  country.  The  petrol  company  produced  social  reports  and  invested  in  black  education,  even  drawing  the  support  of  figures  such  as  Alan  Patton,  one  of  the  most  celebrated  white  South  African  opponents  of  apartheid.  Throughout  its  lifetime  anti-apartheid’s  fortunes  waxed  and  waned  and  opinions  differed  widely  about  the  most  effective  means  to  pressurise the  South  African  government.  As  well  as  revealing  much  about  the  politics  of  social  movements  in  the  latter  half  of  the  twentieth  century,  the  history  of  anti-apartheid  can  provide  useful  insights  into  the  dilemmas  facing  organisations  such  as  the  Occupy Wall Street, Fair Trade,  and  anti-WTO  groups  which  seek  to  promote  ethical  business  practices.

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

1930-s-gwr-exeter-railway-poster-a3-reprint-10373-p

Welcome to the Imagining Markets website

thackeray

Welcome to the Imagining Markets website. These pages provide  information and news on two projects hosted in the University of Exeter’s History Department in connection with the AHRC’s Care for the Future theme: ‘Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Europe, Empire/Commonwealth and China in Britain’s economic future since 1900’ (AHRC network, 2014-16), established by David Thackeray, Andrew Thompson and Richard Toye, and David Thackeray’s AHRC Research Leadership Fellowship: ‘Backing Britain: Imagining a nation’s economic future since 1900’ (2014-15).

Both projects are united by an interest in connecting historical and contemporary ways of thinking about Britain’s future global economic orientation, and involve a range of activities staged with project partners from the fields of public policy and heritage organisations.

DT