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Martin Thomas and Richard Toye University of Exeter
‘The struggle of races and of peoples has from now on the whole globe as its theatre; each advances towards the conquest of unoccupied territories.’ Tempting as it might be to ascribe such inflated rhetoric to Friedrich Nietzsche or Adolf Hitler, its originator was Gabriel Charmes, a disciple of leading late nineteenth-century French republican, Léon Gambetta.
In September 1882, Charmes was trying to persuade his fellow parliamentarians that France’s recent seizure of Tunisia was ethically imperative. Similar rhetoric could be found across the political spectrum, in Britain as well as in France. In 1888, the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury described small imperial wars as ‘merely the surf that marks the edge of the advancing wave of civilisation’. But if Britain and France both claimed to be the spearhead of civilizing influences, what happened when their interests clashed, and what new arguments emerged to rationalize the struggle for power between rival ‘civilized’ nations?
That is one theme of our new book, Arguing About Empire, but in order to answer the question we need equally to ask what happened when Anglo-French interests appeared to coincide. How did the two countries’ respective elites justify their mutual collaboration in the face of challenges from other powers and, increasingly as time went on, from domestic anti-colonial critics and local nationalist opponents too? Continue reading “France and Britain – colonial rivals, or co-imperialists?”→
New directions in the history of imperial and global networks
An ECR workshop at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum. 23 June, Reed Hall, Exeter (12-5pm)
Following the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump on a protectionist programme much debate has focused on the future of economic, political and humanitarian networks and the apparent challenges to globalisation present today. This, in turn, has stimulated interest in earlier histories of imperial and global networks. In Britain, for example, there has been a great deal of discussion of the potential value of reviving historical trade links with the Commonwealth, a move which has pejoratively been referred to as ‘Empire 2.0’ by its critics.
As well as showcasing new research in the history of imperial and global networks this workshop will include a seminar on training in public engagement, focused on addressing public audiences and policy-makers, led by History & Policy. We invite papers from early career researchers on any aspects of the history of imperial and/or global networks since c.1800. ECRs are defined as postgraduate students or those within ten years of the award of their PhDs. Topics may include (but are not limited to): Continue reading “New directions in the history of imperial and global networks”→
According to a longstanding international relations theory, the global economic order is at its most orderly when there’s at least one hegemonic free-trade champion.
As per this theory, Britain took this role upon itself in the mid-nineteenth century, ushering in a brief transatlantic flirtation with trade liberalization and relative hemispheric peace.
The United States was the first major nation to turn against this mid-nineteenth century free-trade epoch. From the Civil War to the Great Depression, the United States instead embarked upon nearly a century of Republican-style economic nationalism, which I’ve explored in my own work.
But this began to change following the Second World War when the United States assumed the mantle of free-trade hegemon. Promising prosperity, profits, and peace to the world, it sought to foster international trade liberalization through supranational initiatives like the International Monetary Fund (1944) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1947), the latter of which morphed into the World Trade Organization in 1995.
Well, the times they are a-changing again.
Trump’s fast-developing protectionist and ultra-nationalist “America First” program has signalled that the United States is abdicating its role as free-trade leader. As the New York Timesnoted earlier this month:
President Trump’s advisers and allies are pushing an ambitious idea: Remake American trade. They are considering sweeping aside decades of policy and rethinking how the United States looks at trade with every country. Essentially, after years of criticizing China and much of Europe for the way they handle imports and exports, these officials want to copy them. This approach could result in higher barriers to imports that would end America’s decades-long status as the world’s most open large economy.
The Trump regime’s protectionist trade vision is fast becoming reality.
So what does this mean for the future of the global economic order?
Caroline Preston is in her final year of undergraduate study in History at the University of Exeter. This post stems from an essay written for the module ‘Critics of Empire.’
Many Indian nationalists in the 1920s were angered by the coercive British enforcement of free trade in India. The policy was, according to one scholar, ‘thrust by an advanced industrialised country on a nation which still needed protective tariffs to develop’. This same free trade imperial policy had resulted in an economic ‘drain’ as India had to export raw cotton and import manufactured cotton goods because India’s native industries were underdeveloped and thus uncompetitive in the global economy. Mass nationalist politics picked up in colonial South Asia, first in Bengal in the Edwardian era, and then across India in the 1920s. This included the self-determination ‘Swadeshi’ (indigenous goods) movement, which aimed to achieve ‘swaraj’ (home rule) by establishing India’s economic self-sufficiency from Britain. Swadeshi was in certain respects an anti-colonial adaptation of German-American protectionist theorist Friedrich List’s (1789- 1846) concept of economic nationalism.
Mahatma Gandhi led the Swadeshi movement in the 1920s, encouraging non-cooperation and the exclusive consumption of hand spun cloth called ‘khadi’ in order to develop domestic industries. In response, the pro-India movement of the 1920s arose in the United States, a network of Indian and US intellectuals who hoped to mobilise the US government and the public to challenge British imperial policy. They promoted Indian independence from British rule, or at least dominion status comparable to that of Canada.
I’ve chosen two illustrative sources to explore the political economy of the pro-India movement in 1920s America. The first is an article by Norman Thomas, ‘Internationalism and India’ (June 1920) in Young India, a monthly magazine published in New York by the Indian Home Rule League of America (IHRL). Thomas (1884- 1968) was an American Presbyterian minister, a pacifist, and an anti-imperialist. He was a member of the Friends of Freedom for India (FFI), another key pro-India organisation. Thomas was also a democratic socialist; he became formally affiliated with the American Socialist Party in 1918, and was its presidential nominee in 1928. Murray Seidler has since described Thomas as the party’s ‘most influential theoretician’. In the article, Thomas’s general argument was that, although he supported the Indian nationalist movement, once they obtained independence they should avoid enforcing a protectionist economic policy, believing such policies created geopolitical tensions that could eventually result in war. Instead, he advocated internationalism under a democratic socialist structure.
The second source comprises of extracts from a chapter entitled ‘American Interest in India’ by the American liberal activist and Unitarian minister Dr Jabez Sunderland (1842- 1936). The chapter is from India in Bondage (1929), which, like Young India, was published in New York. Sunderland was elected vice president of the IHRL in 1918. Following the collapse of the IHRL and FFI in 1922, Sunderland again became active in the Pro-India Movement at the end of the decade, largely in response to Gandhi’s ongoing civil disobedience campaign. Sunderland’s India in Bondage argued for Indian Home Rule, written partly in response to Pennsylvania journalist Katherine’s Mayo’s explicitly pro-imperialist book Mother India (1927). This particular chapter explained why America held an interest in what was commonly perceived to be a local colonial issue for Britain. Here Sunderland focussed on economic factors; he suggested that Britain should relinquish its imperial control over India and enable Indians to enforce their own policy of free trade. He hoped this would reduce international tensions and provide opportunities for American businessmen.