Imperial History and Film Culture

Cross posted from Imperial and Global Forum

three roads to tomorrow (1958)
Screenshot from the BP-sponsored Nigerian documentary ‘Three Roads to Tomorrow’ (1958), available for viewing at the Colonial Film Project.

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

What value do film culture sources have for historians of imperial history and how do we locate them? Readers of this forum (or at least those based in the UK) are likely to be familiar with the AHRC Colonial Film project but many key sources for the study of imperial film remain obscure to those outside film studies circles.

Media History Digital Library is perhaps the most useful resource for considering the culture of world cinema-going in the colonial era. Building on the resources of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a host of other collections, this site offers a range of film magazines from across the world as well as key pieces of government legislation.

Cinema St. Andrews provides access to various digitised resources, including a full run of the Colonial Film Unit’s magazine Colonial Cinema.

For historians of the Francophone world ina.fr the website of the Institut national de l’audiovisuel is an invaluable resource, with a range of free-to-access online films.

Some key national film collections are now accessible by Youtube including a collection of National Film and South Archive of Australia movies, films held by Archives New Zealand and the National Film Board of Canada. Recently theBritish Movietone archive also became available online.

Those with an interest in the changing culture of cinema-going in the early twentieth century may also be interested in the Object Stories series curated by the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and University of Exeter.

 

 

 

In my own teaching, I use colonial film to think about the changing trade relationship between Britain and its empire during the mid- twentieth century. As the Youtube clip above demonstrates, the ways in which west Africa was presented in non-fiction film changed dramatically over time- with the growth of interest in promoting colonial development in the late 1940s and eventual decolonisation in the late 1950s.

Students are split into groups and given a film from the Colonial Film archive to consult. One of the things that they find most surprising is the range of groups which are using film to present stories of changing imperial trade relationships: British companies such as Cadburys and BP, as well as colonial and Dominion governments.

One of the comments that crops up most is the relationship between the Orientalising discourses of colonial film and modern day attempts to promote trade. Opinion is divided on how successful advertising campaigns such as Cadbury’s ‘Zingolo’ (2009) are at evading the motifs of earlier presentations of west Africa in colonial film. However, what is clear is that this legacy remains significant to the present day.*

 

 

* Readers may be interested in following the ongoing efforts on Bristol Record Office to recatalogue and maintain the former collections of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, which formed an important facet of the Colonial Film project.

Imagining Markets 2nd workshop- report

2nd workshop, London, September 2015- report

Cross-posted from Imperial and Global Forum

Senate House has featured in many guises from being the supposed model for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984 to Bertie Wooster’s New York apartment block in the TV adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster. This month it played host to the second of three academic workshops connected to the AHRC Imagining Markets network led by David Thackeray, Andrew Thompson and Richard Toye from the University of Exeter. You can read more about the project atwww.imaginingmarkets.com.

We began by discussing how the idea of economic imagination can shape our understandings of political economy, and how this cultural idea has various facets (imaginings of economic utopias/ dystopias; entrepreneurship; the imagining of status and aspiration). Papers focused on how a variety of actors shaped ideas of the economic future and interconnected through networks at the level of government and the ‘official mind’; business groups; cultural organisations; advertisers; and civil society.

Richard Huzzey discussed Mid-Victorian liberal concerns with the need to morally regulate the economy while promoting market freedoms, noting that the idea of the moral economy being the antithesis of the market economy is problematic. The concept of the ‘night watchman state’, which subsequently came into common use in the 1950s, can be traced back to 1862.

Andrew Dilley explored the culture of business networking within the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of the Empire. Established as a body connecting British businessmen with their colleagues in the ‘settler colonies’, it attempted to appeal to audiences in the New Commonwealth after 1945, with limited success. The demise of this body highlights the increasing problems of imagining the Commonwealth as a coherent market by the 1960s and 1970s.

Stephanie Decker outlined the different structures of investments and practices by British, German and American companies in West Africa at the end of empire. The paper suggested the importance of institutional structures in shaping economic imagination. Government support for business abroad and practices of export credits and political risk guarantees played an important role in shaping the conduct of business in the region.

Andrew Smith explored the politics of British external representation in West Africa between 1957-67 (through the BBC and British Council) and how it competed with the rival efforts of other nations (particularly France). British efforts at encouraging foreign opinion formers to ‘think British’ were shaped with wider concerns with reimagining Britain’s economic position in decolonising Africa and countering Francophone opposition to Britain’s efforts to join the EEC.

Anandi Ramamurthy explored the development of fairtrade politics after the establishment of the Max Havelaar Foundation in 1992. The paper considered the relationship between the commodification of the Global South in colonial advertising and contemporary fairtrade campaigns, highlighting the importance of how cultural imaginings of trade relationships embed concepts of race, gender and labour.

Francine McKenzie gave the plenary which focused on the re-establishment of trade relationships between Britain, the Commonwealth, and America after 1945 through the creation of GATT. The paper considered the popular culture of imperial preference and why it became a sticking-point for British negotiators in 1947. By this time, the Commonwealth trade relationship had come to represent a degree of certainty for British politicians, which was lacking in many other markets.

Discussion was lively throughout the day. A key theme that was highlighted was the need to consider how imagined economic futures related to experienced and/or (mis-)remembered economic pasts. The final academic workshop (focused on British trade relations with China), and an accompanying witness seminar will take place in Cambridge in April 2016.

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.