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.

Film, trade and empire workshop, Exeter, June 2015 report

Film, trade and empire workshop, Exeter, June 2015 report

IMG_3992

A very receptive audience for a tour of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum with Phil Wickham!

 

It was a pleasure to recently welcome a range of experts to discuss aspects of the depiction of empire and trade in British and French film culture in collaboration with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Tom Rice (St. Andrews) kicked off proceedings with a paper which discussed the role of film in imperial education in the UK considering the significance of the Empire Marketing Board and British Instructional Films, as well as figures such as William Sellers and Mary Field, in promoting colonial instructional films. As Rice notes, such figures are often overlooked- with significantly more critical attention paid to (atypical) ‘prestige’ films such as Grierson’s Drifters. Patrick Russell (BFI) explored the changing culture of industrial films over the longue duree highlighting connections between documentary networks and trade. Russell the need for more study of the relationship between industrialists and film-makers in understanding the production of these films. Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of the ‘golden age’ of industrial film production between 1945 and the early 1970s and the challenges of understanding how such films became ‘Africanised’ through processes of decolonisation and the internationalisation of production.

 

Bill Douglas CInema Museum exhibition, Exeter
Bill Douglas CInema Museum exhibition, Exeter

Image from current exhibition on empire and trade at the BDCM curated by our SCP intern Katy Moon

 

The second panel focused on film-making in Southern Africa. Jacqueline Maingard (Bristol) explored the idea of the ‘colonial imaginary’ in Donald Swanson’s films, considering the networks he operated in within Britain and eastern and southern Africa, and how they affected his depiction of race and colonial space. Emma Sandon (Birkbeck) focused on documentary films produced in South Africa between the 1920s and 1940s, exploring the role of African Film Productions in promoting trade with Britain. Sandon considered the various audiences for such documentary films, both in Britain but also in South Africa where they played an important role in promoting an English-speaking South African identity at a time of Afrikaner cultural revival.

 

In the final panel David Thackeray (Exeter) discussed the connections between imperial documentary film networks and the rise of internationalist development projects in the 1940s, focusing on the activities of John Grierson and Norman McLaren at UNESCO. Berny Sebe (Birmingham) offered comparisons between the depiction of French and British imperial heroes in film culture during the inter-war years, and Will Higbee (Exeter) explored ideas of imperial memory and the problematic nature of the colonial past in contemporary France through a study of Rachid Bouchareb’s Hors-la-loi (2010) and its popular reception.

 

Over the course of the day, a number of common themes emerged such as-

 

  • the importance of non-fiction educational/trade films and their relevant neglect in academic literature
  • the need to interrogate more thoroughly issues of circulation and viewership (in imperial networks) in terms of understanding the reach and appeal of individual documentary productions, but also the very varied practices of viewership (particularly in colonial contexts)
  • the contested nature of the ‘colonial imaginary’ in film-making, and the need to interrogate the role of the film-maker and industrial/ government sponsors in shaping film production
  • the value of using documentary film sources to understand ideas of ‘imperial modernity’ (eg. promoting modern techniques of industry, agriculture and education)
  • the value of these sources for understanding processes of decolonisation and nation forming

 

The workshop was accompanied by an exhibition curated by Katy Moon which will provide a basis for teaching with Exeter WP Residential and International Summer School classes and is currently on display at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

 

David Thackeray

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.
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).

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