Imagining Markets

 This network brings together scholars working in the fields of Imperial, European and Asian studies, and scholars from cultural studies and economic studies, which have become increasingly separated branches of enquiry calling for reintegration. Working with and through a range of public policy intermediaries including History and Policy, the Churchill Archives Centre and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies this project will provide policy-makers with an inter-disciplinary analysis of the long-term development of British overseas trade, which in turn will illuminate the diversity of cultural values and political perspectives that have, and continue to be, brought to bear in growing exports to key markets.

In the wake of the recent global financial crisis, the question of how nations can establish, protect or even recover a competitive economic advantage looms large in media, manufacturing, business and policy-making circles. As an exercise in the development of long-term historical perspectives, the network will generate fresh insights into the ways in which perceptions of international markets were reconfigured as a result of intra-European trade agreements, acquisition of territory/concessions in Africa and China, and growing demand in Britain for protectionist tariffs arising from intensifying industrial competition from Germany and the United States. It will further explore the extent to and ways in which Britain’s economic relationships with the Commonwealth, Europe and China remain vital to its identity in today’s globalised world.

A series of research workshops will be held in Exeter, London and Cambridge focusing on these three key markets, bringing together scholars working in Economics, English, History, International Business, International Relations and Media and Cultural Studies. Furthermore, we will hold a policy seminar in London exploring the implications of the project’s findings for our understandings of Britain’s networks of trade and investment with the Commonwealth. Public policy perspectives from the recent past will be fed into the Cambridge workshop via a witness seminar, and research findings will be explored via a series of postgraduate events and public policy papers.

Backing Britain?

 In recent years historians have shown a great deal of interest in how national economies have stimulated, contested and resisted globalisation. Nineteenth-century Britain is recognised as a leading actor in the development of the global economic order through its role in stimulating the Atlantic economy and creating networks of imperial trade. Yet whilst we know much about the cultural economy of the ‘British world’ of trade in the Victorian era, there are few similar works exploring the twentieth century. This study focuses on how Britain’s economic future and relationship with its overseas markets has been imagined, debated and contested since 1900: a tumultuous period in which free trade and protectionism have fluctuated in support, the imperial economy was gradually dismantled, and the European Union has taken shape.

This project will evaluate the changing ways that Britain’s economic direction and its overseas markets have been imagined and conceptualised by a range of different actors both in the UK and the wider Empire/Commonwealth, and the implications that this has for the nation’s future economic identity in the current day. Drawing on a range of archives in Britain, North America, South Africa and Australasia, attention will focus on the perspectives of governmental organisations, businesses, civil society organisations, marketers and advertisers.

Project findings will be discussed with the public in an exhibition held in collaboration with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and with academics and museum professionals at an accompanying research workshop.

History and Policy Global Economics and History Forum

This new forum aims to bring together academics, business groups, policy makers and the public interested in how understandings of historical trade relations can inform current policy debates. In so doing, it builds on History & Policy’s existing collaboration with the AHRC Imagining Markets network. Forthcoming events include policy workshops and public seminars focused on the connections between Britain’s historical trade relations and contemporary trade challenges such as the EU referendum. In collaboration with the Centre for Imperial and Global at the University of Exeter, the forum will also publish opinion articles and policy papers on how economic history can inform international trade discussions of topical interest.

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