Imagining Markets 3rd workshop report- Cambridge, April 2016

David Thackeray, University of Exeter

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Churchill College, Cambridge was the venue for our final Imagining Markets workshop and we had a range of papers which considered various facets of how national economic identities have been culturally imagined. Another theme discussed at length was how markets are subject to the influence of a variety of external forces, limiting the actions of the entrepreneur. Attention focused particularly on the role of inter-governmental organisations, including those connected with the League of Nations and UN, the actions of the state, the politics of the citizen-consumer, and the role of international co-operation and competition in both the context of imperialism and decolonisation.

 

Hao Gao considered the contested ways in which the Chinese market was understood by the competing interests of the East India Company and free traders in the 1830s. Debate centred on the supposed ‘otherness’ of Chinese culture and whether or not the nation was peopled by ‘a highly commercial people’ amenable to the principles of free trade. Often the rhetoric of these debates was based on limited engagement with the everyday practices of British trade with China at the time.

 

Anthony Howe discussed the politics of growing monopolies, restrictions and exclusions in world trade in the nineteenth century, a period which is, perhaps paradoxically, often characterised as one of increasing globalisation. The paper considered how the growth of imperial inter-governmental organisations fostered the growth of subsidies. Prof. Howe then discussed the ways in which the growth of international trade bodies after 1900 challenged the growth of such practices.

 

Stephen Tufnell explored the politics of ‘inter-imperialism’, considering how southern Africa acted as a ‘borderland’ for American traders in the late nineteenth century. The United States took a prominent role in the development of mining on the Rand and gained influence in Transvaal business networks. However, it also took advantage of competing sovereignties in the region, evading imperial tariffs through trading via Portugese East Africa or re-exporting goods via the UK.

 

Marc-William Palen discussed the connections between free trade and international feminist peace activism in the early twentieth century. Particular attention focused on the importance of networks in understanding these connections. International links were facilitated by the development of the League of Nations and its affiliated organisations, as well as the adoption of free trade policies by leading civil society groups like the YWCA in the 1930s.

 

David Thackeray and Richard Toye explored the changing politics of international consumer activism in Britain between the 1940s and 1960s. The paper also considered how social surveys can help us understand the evolution of public attitudes towards Commonwealth and European trade. Consumer activism became noticeably more insular in focus after 1945 and attempts to promote the idea of ‘Buying British’ were challenged by the increasing globalisation of manufacture.

 

David Clayton discussed how Hong Kong was understood as a bastion of ‘Chinese capitalism’ from the 1950s onwards, attracting the interest of prominent neoliberals such as Keith Joseph. In turn, Hong Kong business bodies engaged in extensive PR activities in Britain to defend their activities and respond to the growth of protectionism by organisations such as the EEC. Such activities built on earlier UK-China networks, but in the context of the Cold War Hong Kong was now recast as a ‘Berlin of the East’.

 

Reports on the earlier workshops are available here and here. The AHRC Imagining Markets network has led to the development of the History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum. You can read about our aims and activities here.

History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum manifesto

David Thackeray, Marc-William Palen and Andrew Dilley

Cross-posted from History & Policy

This newly launched forum builds on the activities of the AHRC Imagining Markets network.

 

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Britain and Global Trade: Past and Future

Regardless of the outcome of the EU referendum Britain currently faces a period of significant upheaval in its relations with key international markets. In 1975 when voters last went to the polls on the question of membership of the EEC, the EU’s forerunner, access to the European Common Market was presented by the victorious Yes campaign as being key to Britain’s economic prosperity.[1]

By contrast, today both supporters and opponents of continued EU membership stress the importance of wider global economic connections as Britain seeks to develop new markets. For example, whereas the relative importance of the Commonwealth in British trade had declined sharply in the 1950s and 1960s the significance of this grouping in world trade has grown significantly in recent years, as was acknowledged in a Foreign Affairs Committee report published in 2012.[2] After all, this region contains two key BRICS emerging markets (India and South Africa) and countries which proved to have some of the most resilient economies in the world in the face of the post-2008 economic downturn (Australia and Canada). During the last twenty years the combined GDP of the Commonwealth has doubled. Lord Howell has gone so far as to describe the Commonwealth market as ‘the soft power network of the future.’[3]

The importance of the Commonwealth link is a long-standing one. Indeed, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries British settler colonies looked to develop ‘Greater Britain’ as an economic unit as other leading powers turned towards economic nationalism. This idea of ‘Greater Britain’ would manifest itself again and again in the imperial preferential trade demands of the Fair Trade League (1881-1891), the United Empire Trade League (1891-1903), and Joseph Chamberlain’s Edwardian-era Tariff Reform League. As Robert Reid, the Defense Minister of Victoria, put it in 1894 to his imperial audience in London: ‘We in Australia want to trade as freely with Canada and South Africa as Kent trades with Surrey, or Surrey with Yorkshire. With the introduction of restrictive tariffs and with foreign countries taking away our trade in all directions, our cry must be “Britain for the British.”’[4] The appeal of Commonwealth trade might appear in a very different guise today, but its importance as an alternative economic integrative path for Britain’s global trade identity builds on deep historical roots.

Today’s changes within Britain’s global economic orientation are far from unprecedented. Rather, as this example illustrates, they build on historic ties. If we look at the case of China too, there are long-standing debates about the country’s enormous potential as a trade partner and several key British companies can trace their presence in the region back to the nineteenth century.[5] More broadly, contemporary policy discussions about trade treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have their roots in earlier debates about economic protectionism and national trade policies.[6] In other words, the history of global market integration can and should inform 21st-century debates.

Accessing expertise

As the UKTI’s China Business Guide makes clear, understanding the historical roots of trade relationships, and the cultural sensitivities they entail, is vital to those who wish to expand trade today.[7] However, as the recent AHRC-sponsored ‘Making History Work’ report indicates, the role of historical case-studies in policy-making varies between government institutions. Departments such as HM Treasury and FCO have developed historical seminar series, although in other cases outreach to academics can rely more on ad hoc informal networks.[8]

High staff turnover within departments (with 2 and 3 year placements common within the Civil Service Fast Stream) adds a further barrier to developing an ‘institutional memory’ for planning within departments.[9] More generally, the recent debate surrounding theHistory Manifesto has further stimulated international discussion about the role of historians in providing long-term perspectives on economic policy.[10]

Traditionally, there has been a disjuncture between the long lead times of academic publishing and the working practices of policy-makers who require rapid responses to the changing geopolitical environment. However, the growth of online publishing and digital venues like History & Policy provide new opportunities to challenge these divisions in working practices.

Aims of the forum

The History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum aims to:

– develop a network connecting people in academia, business, think-tanks, government and the public interested in historical and contemporary issues in the politics of global trade.

– offer a historicised perspective on current debates in British and global trade (such as relations with emerging markets and the role of trade in international conflict), providing a platform for both established scholars and early career researchers.

– connect policy-makers, business, academia and the public through social media, opinion articles, policy papers, policy workshops, consultations, and broadcast and print media.

– provide a forum for the discussion of trade policy past and present, building on the existing work of History & Policy, and connecting with initiatives in widening participation in policy making.

 


[1] Referendum on the European Community (Common Market), Why You Should Vote Yes (1975), text available athttp://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm

[2] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, The Role and Future of the Commonwealth (2012), pp. 8, 36-9http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmfaff/114/114.pdf

[3] Lord Howell, speech to 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, July 2011,https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/commonwealth-the-soft-power-network-of-the-future ; See also House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World (2014), pp. 13, 82-5http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldselect/ldsoftpower/150/150.pdf

[4] Reid quoted in Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), 224.

[5] See for example Peter Cain, ‘China, globalisation and the west: a British debate 1890-1914’, History & Policy (2009)http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/china-globalisation-and-the-west-a-british-debate-1890-1914

[6] Marc-William Palen, ‘The protectionist side of outsourcing’, History & Policy (2013) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/opinion-articles/articles/the-protectionist-side-of-outsourcing; Jim Tomlinson, ‘De-globalization and the search for economic security’, History & Policy (2011) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/de-globalization-and-the-search-for-economic-security; David Thackeray, ‘History and future of British trade identities’, History & Policy (2014) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/opinion-articles/articles/history-and-future-of-british-trade-identities

[7] UKTI, China Business Guide (2012), p. 91.

[8] Catherine Haddon, Joe Devanny, Chales Forsdick and Andrew Thompson, What is the value of history in policymaking? (AHRC/ Institute for Government, 2015), p.4 http://careforthefuture.exeter.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Making-History-Work-Report-Final.pdf

[9] Ibid., pp. 10-12.

[10] Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto (2014), p. 12http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/files/6114/1227/7857/historymanifesto.pdf; Similarly, see Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri, eds., The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft (2016).

Imagining Markets 3rd workshop, Cambridge, April 2016

Imagining Markets workshop

Recital Room, Churchill College, Cambridge- 7 April

 

10.30- Introductions and welcome

10.45- Hao Gao (Exeter)- Imagining the Chinese Market: British Merchants in China in the early 1830s

This paper will examine a significant debate on China and the Chinese market held within the British mercantile community in the early 1830s. Occurring in the years before the East India Company’s monopoly over China trade was abolished in 1834, this debate has received much less attention than the Macartney embassy and the rise of the opium trade. This paper will show that, in order to suit their own economic interests, supporters of the EIC and the ‘private English (free traders)’ presented rival images of China and the China trade. Although neither side was genuinely interested in discovering the ‘real’ China, this competition in image-building was crucial to Britain’s public opinion about and policy towards China in the era leading to the First Opium War.

11.20- Anthony Howe (UEA)- Serpents in the Economic Paradise: The Projects and Politics of Monopolies, Restrictions, and Exclusions in World Trade, c.1880-1940

11.55-12.15- Q+A

12.15-1.15- Lunch

1.15-1.50- Stephen Tufnell (Oxford)- Managing Inter-Imperial Markets: The United States in Southern African Borderlands, 1886-1902

This paper centres on the relationship between the American diaspora and the US consular service. Its focus is on the expansion of American trade in mine equipment, foodstuffs, and mules with the region and the attempts of the American diaspora to manage the industrial and commercial opportunities presented to them in these imperial borderlands. Using records from the United States’ consuls in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Kimberley, and the personal papers of leading American expatriates in the region, the paper reimagines the inter-imperial relationship between the British and American Empires in Southern Africa as one encapsulated by the concept of “borderlands”.

1.50-2.25- Marc-William Palen (Exeter)- The Feminist Vision of Free Trade Internationalism

This paper takes a long look at the international political economy of feminist peace activism. In doing so, it uncovers how early-twentieth-century feminist peace reformers counted among the most outspoken advocates for free trade internationalism, envisioning it as the necessary political economic foundation for obtaining world peace. This paper therefore uncovers the feminist roots of free trade and peace internationalism.

2.25-2.45- Q+A

2.45-3.00- Tea

3.00-3.35- David Thackeray and Richard Toye (Exeter)- From ‘Empire Shopping’ to ‘Buying British’: the public politics of consumption, 1945-63

This paper traces post-war shifts in the politics of consumption, showing how government and civil society groups articulated competing consumer appeals of Empire/Commonwealth preference, economic nationalism and Europeanism at a time of geo-political uncertainty. Addressing the debates surrounding the negotiation of the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, the paper considers why this very important development – which involved scaling back imperial preference –generated little of the controversy that surrounded trade in the first decades of the twentieth century. It then explores how decolonization and the turn to Europe affected the discourse of the ‘citizen-consumer’. It is our hypothesis that the period as a whole was one in which the public representation of the idealised consumer emerged as a figure with loyalties which were now primarily national rather than imperial, or post-imperial.

3.35-4.10- David Clayton (York)- Defending Chinese Capitalism: Hong Kong Business Groups, the Colonial State and Commercial Public Relations, 1950-1970

During a period of extra-ordinarily rapid export-orientated industrialisation, trade associations and the colonial state in Hong Kong invested heavily in commercial propaganda. This was a defensive response to overseas criticism of Chinese business ethics, a strategy deployed by manufacturers in high-income markets in North-West Europe and North America unable to compete on price with exports of textiles, clothing and cheap consumer durables from Hong Kong. These activities were wasteful, a movement of resources from Hong Kong to public relations consultants, journalists and politicians overseas, and generated tensions between business elites and the colonial bureaucrats. This paper studies these economic and political effects and considers the cultural legacy of this propaganda war about a Chinese variant of capitalism. It focuses on how Hong Kong agencies protected the commercial reputation of a British colony in the UK, Hong Kong’s ‘home’ market.

4.10-4.30- Q&A

4.30- Concluding discussion and wrap-up.

Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History

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

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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Welcome to the Imagining Markets website

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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.

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