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!

12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire

Cross-posted from Imperial and Global Forum

David Thackeray, Marc Palen and Richard Toye
University of Exeter
 

As 3rd-year students scramble to finish their dissertations and as 2nd-year students begin formulating topics for their own, it’s worth noting the dramatic expansion in the availability of sources for the study of modern British and British imperial history in recent years.

Many of these sources are free to use. However, it is often hard to keep track of what materials are now available. What follows is a short guide (which is by no means comprehensive) but gives an introduction to some of the most important sources and may be of particular use to students planning dissertations, as well as other researchers. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the ‘comments’ section.

 

 

  1. Mass Observation was a social investigation organisation set up in the 1930s that produced a range of social surveys about British life until its disbandment in the late 1940s. This website provides online access to a range of data held in the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex and is invaluable for social historians. Dr. Lucy Robinson has also produced the excellent Observing the 80s website, which holds material compiled following the modern revival of Mass Observation, as well as oral history recordings from the British Library.
  1. Digital newspapers – A range of British newspapers are available to access online, although many require a personal or institutional subscription. Collections are most comprehensive for the nineteenth century- the British Library Nineteenth Century Newspaper archive (subscription required) is an excellent source, and is but one of many newspaper databases included in the Gale NewsVault (others include the Economist Historical Archive, the Financial Times Historical Archive, and the London Times Digital Archive). However, if you are interested in imperial history many countries’ archives provide free access to a range of historical newspapers- the best examples being Trove (Australia) andPapersPast (New Zealand). The latter can be supplemented by the in-progress New Zealand Electronic Text Collection, curated by Victoria University. For more about using digital newspapers to study imperial history see here.
  1. BBC Archive – the BBC’s online archive is regularly updated and provides some excellent introductory material on issues such as Thatcher and the role of women in British politics; gay rights; Second Wave feminism; British elections; andapartheid. The anti-apartheid movement also has an excellent archive of digitised material.

 

 

  1. Imperial War Museum – the IWM holds a range of digital collections that are being regularly updated during the centenary commemorations of the First World War.
  1. Colonial Film archive – this website provides free access to a range of films from government documentaries to home movies produced within the British Empire/Commonwealth. The ‘colonial’ definition of the project means it is by no means fully comprehensive (so South Africa does not feature after it gained Dominion status in 1910). But the website still manages to provide access to a wealth of audio-visual material. For more discussion of issues surrounding the imperial film archive read here.

 

 

  1. British Political and Social history film archives – BFi Inviewand Screenonline provide invaluable access to a range of audiovisual sources for the social and political history of modern Britain; British Pathe offers access to the history of newsreels; and the University of Sheffield’s Party election broadcasts website features various PEBs produced between 1945 and 1964. And the Box of Broadcasts (bob) remains an underutilised visual resource.
  1. Gender history archives – particularly valuable are the Women’s Library records at the LSE (some of which have been digitised), and the British Library Sisterhood and After project, which provides an oral history of the women’s movement.

 

 

  1. Thatcher Foundation and Churchill Archive – the Thatcher Foundation is a free and very broad ranging collection of over 10,000 documents connected to Thatcher’s rise and her time in power. The Churchill Archive is similarly wide-ranging but needs to be accessed via a personal or institutional subscription.
  1. Government records and national library websites – some substantial archives focused on government and foreign relations have been digitised in recent years. In particular, see the British Cabinet Papers, 1915-1986; Foreign Relations of the United States; Canadian government documents online; the MacKenzie King diaries; Trove provides a gateway to a range of digitised sources connected to Australian history;The Journal of the House of Representatives (New Zealand);Tapuhi (which includes digital content from the National Library of New Zealand).
  1. British university online collections – LSE digital collections – provides access to a range of resources, these include records relating to the Fabian Society, and student activism, as well as posters connected to early twentieth century politics; the Bodleian Library provides access to theConservative Party poster collection online; Solo Oxford(Online Resources search) provides access to non-copyright books which have been digitised from the Bodleian Library’s collections; Openlibrary.org provides a similar service for other university libraries; the Cartoon Archive maintained by the University of Kent is also worth consulting.
  2. Your own special collections – if you are based at a UK institution, do not discount the value of your own university’s physical special collections for undertaking dissertation research. Online digital archive collections often feature only 1-10% of a physical archive’s holdings. This may be due to copyright reasons, the large costs of digitising material, or the physical conditions of archives. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter, for example, has 70,000 physical items (for more about the resources available at the museum for historical research see this Youtube video).
  1. Blogs, websites and Twitter- can provide an excellent insight into what historians are finding in the archives, their latest research, and the opportunities that are available for postgraduate funding. Apart from this blog, we also recommend the Modern British Studies, Birmingham blog andtwitter; the Imperial and Global History Network based at the University of Exeter, and History of Parliament. In addition,Hugh Pemberton’s guide is worth reading for more information on research resources.

Archives and Digitisation: The Global Challenges of Digital Newspapers

newspaper

Cross-posted from Imperial and Global Forum
Among the most frustrating experiences of my PhD were days spent scouring local newspapers at the ramshackle (and now closed) British Library Newspaper Reading Room at Colindale, and the inexplicably dark microfilm room at Cambridge University Library. Spending a few weeks working at the latter in the winter would provide good training for life at an Antarctic research base. With these experiences in mind I have been surprised at how large a part newspapers have played in my current research on the history of British trade identities in the UK and wider Empire/Commonwealth.Recent years have seen a worldwide explosion in access to digitised newspapers, which obviously opens up a range of exciting new opportunities to researchers in imperial and global history. Having never previously conducted research in Australian archives, I was able to access thousands of articles from the National Library of Australia from the comfort of my home, significantly shaping both my post-doctoral funding application and the issues I was to explore in the archive itself. Yet the ever-growing range of newspaper material available also offers significant challenges to how we do research and train our students.Wikipedia (where else) provides a good introduction to the range of digitised historical newspaper archives available and the bewildering number of different national practices that exist in terms of their promotion. A historian undertaking a project on the ‘old’ Commonwealth c. 1900 currently has access to freely available national newspaper databases for Australia (Trove) and New Zealand (PapersPast), a variety of sites for Britain (many of which are behind paywalls, and which UK universities often have patchy access to due to high costs of institutional subscriptions), various provincial and local sites for Canada, and little digital content for South Africa. In addition, a slew of historical newspaper resources are offered byGoogle News Search.In many ways, Trove serves as a benchmark for what can be done, storing over 100 million articles from newspapers (usually up to 1955) and other important publications such as the Australian Women’s Weekly (1933-82). But what makes Trove’s database invaluable is that it provides a one-stop shop for researchers, including a search engine for Australian archives, digitised images, and an increasing amount of archive content from important sources such as the University of Melbourne Special Collections. In addition, the ambitious digitisation plans of Australian institutions such as the State Library of New South Wales is to be applauded.

However, the increasing availability of digitised newspaper material also raises a number of challenges for current and future researchers….

Contextualising material. While spending long hours waiting for large volumes of newspapers in Colindale could be painful, handling the original print can significantly widen your understanding of a newspaper and its likely readership. You are forced to trawl through the whole content of the publication, which gives you a wider understanding of how the themes you are interested in fit in with the broader coverage of the paper. This is something that is lost if you confine your research to keyword searches.

While my students have often used digital newspaper archives to great effect they sometimes have difficulty in understanding the context in which newspapers were produced. The well-establishedTimes Digital Archive is the most widely used historical newspaper source in the UK, but it is important to remember that the high-circulation Times of the Murdoch years is quite a different creature from the ‘establishment paper’ of previous decades. The Hancock’s Half Hour audience of 1959 was clearly meant to assume that the working-class Tony’s readership of the Times in the opening scene of the classic ‘Poison Pen Letters’ was a contrived effort at emulating the upper ranks of society.

What gets missed. In addition, it is important to emphasise that a great deal of material does not get digitised. As already mentioned, current digitisation of newspapers varies widely by locality, and its scope is also affected by varying national copyright practices. Some of the largest circulation UK publications of the early twentieth century, which were discontinued, such as the Sunday Pictorial currently have no digital presence. Multiple daily editions of papers were often produced, so the example that we see in the digital archive is not necessarily fully representative of the newspaper’s output. Furthermore, an archive such as the Times Digital Archive does not contain many of the supplements associated with the Times. Amongst the most important of these are the Times Imperial and Foreign Trade Supplement (later the Times Engineering Supplement), a long-running publication with a large international business readership. Finally, it is easy to miss material due to the limited effectiveness of keyword searches and text detection software.

The future position of the (material) archive. It is important to consider how the growth of digitised material will affect our future understandings of what archives are for. The recent controversy over the potential destruction of the Barnardo’s photo archive following the digitisation of these materials offers a worrying precedent here. In Australia, the planned redevelopment of the Mitchell Library in Sydney led to a major debate about the position of the academic researcher in public state libraries.

Having become accustomed to working in ‘research libraries’ in Britain where access is largely restricted to card-holders with an academic affiliation, it has been an eye-opening experience working in Australian state libraries with unrestricted public access, where researchers are often significantly outnumbered by schoolchildren doing their homework and people making use of fast wi-fi and decent air-conditioning (obviously the latter is not such a major concern in the UK). I even heard the tour-guide at one centrally-located state library refer to the luggage room of their building as the ‘backpacker area’ as it seemed to be largely used by tourists as a luggage storage facility for those en-route to the nearby train station and airport bus. Fortunately the Mitchell Library has been reprieved and will be not be turning into another bijou Sydney coffee-spot any time soon.

Initiatives like Trove and PapersPast are clearly invaluable and make possible research avenues that would clearly not have been possible only a few years ago, providing an invaluable supplement to the traditional archival trawl and offering us new opportunities to understand transnational connections. However, it is important that a generation of digitally native students (and perhaps more importantly a generation of austerity-era politicians) do not see research as something that is done chiefly on a laptop. Sydney has enough good cafes (although Colindale could do with one).

David Thackeray

Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History

Archives and Digitisation 1: Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History

Thackeray 1

David Thackeray
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @d_thackeray

 

Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a joint workshop staged by the AHRC Care for the Future and Labex: Passes Dans le Present research clusters at the Royaumont Foundation near Paris. The two days showcased a range of projects assessing how study of the past can inform contemporary and future policy-making and cultural debates- from the use of colonial heroes in modern Africa, to how digitisation is reshaping understanding of museums, and the links between modern and historical anti-slavery movements.

My own focus was on the challenges facing film archives and how this affects the future of imperial history. For the historian of imperial trade networks – film provides a fascinating, and in many ways under-used resource. As the most popular form of entertainment for much of the twentieth century (there were over 30 million cinema attendances weekly in Britain in 1945), it was also widely seen as a harbinger of the ‘Americanization’ of global culture. Yet at the same time, Britain was at the forefront of the development of the non-fiction film, and sought to promote documentary film networks across the empire and globally. Many of the film-makers who made films for bodies such as the Empire Marketing Board such as Basil Wright, Norman McLean and Paul Rotha went on to play an important role in the early publicity activities of UN agencies including UNESCO and the FAO.

At the same time, film is an (often fragile) material resource. While some historic film reels have been digitised through initiatives such as the AHRC Colonial Film project they represent only a fraction of many film archive holdings (in some cases around 1% of the physical collections). Moreover, digital curation throws up its own challenges: how best to edit and present material to the public, particularly when it includes material which wasn’t designed for a mass audience such as the home movies shot by John Birch, director of Unilever in Sierra Leone in the 1940s and 1950s. And yet, ideas such as the Youtube channel provide significant opportunities for museums to offer new perspectives on their collections. For example, the Royal Museum of Central Africa, which is currently undergoing an extensive renovation, has developed a series of Youtube videos on the museum’s work, as part of a wider effort to create a ‘museum without walls’. These efforts are particularly important to rebranding the museum, which is physically constrained by the imperial triumphalism (and dubious racial imagery) of the original construction of the building.

 

Thackeray 2    Thackeray 3

 

As part of my AHRC fellowship, I am organising a workshop at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in Exeter on 8 June to bring together academics and archivists to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities confronting the British Empire/ Commonwealth film archive. The Tate and Lyle ‘World in a Cube’ project provides one example of how businesses are seeking new ways to present their film archives to a wider public. As one of the world’s leading sugar companies Tate and Lyle produced many films in Britain, the Carribean, and West Africa. Few of these films are currently digitised and the company has undertaken a number of initiatives to consider how best to present these films in the future, including employee workshops and a creative media competition where people were encouraged to produce edits of the films. Bristol Museums and Galleries is facing similar issues in how to present the imperial film archive in the future. Bristol inherited the collections of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum when it closed in 2009, which includes 2000 reels of film from the Royal Commonwealth Society. There will certainly be much to discuss!

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