Top 10 of 2018 – #10 – The politics of buying British: From the Great Depression to Brexit

Editor’s Note: In the weeks leading up to the new year, please help us remember 2018 at the Imperial & Global Forum by checking out the past year’s 10 most popular posts.

Sydney empire shopping week poster, 1928

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

Since the Brexit vote the ‘Anglosphere’ has featured prominently in debates about the UK’s future trade strategy. It may seem odd that the CANZUK countries (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have featured so prominently in these discussions. After all, combined together these countries accounted for less than four percent of UK exports in 2017. While Brexiteers may talk wistfully of reviving trade with these ‘old friends’, their efforts build on a problematic historical legacy.

In the 1920s and 1930s various efforts were made to encourage consumers to support trade between ‘British’ countries, based on ties of race. This was only one of a range of attempts to promote ethnically-based trade communities. For example, rival Buy Indian and Buy Chinese movements connected diaspora populations across the British Empire. At much the same time, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association promoted the idea of ‘buying black’, a cause which was subsequently adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the United States.

The practice of running empire shopping weeks was started by the British Women’s Patriotic League in 1923, and subsequently endorsed in the UK by the government-sponsored Empire Marketing Board. Shoppers were encouraged to exercise a voluntary preference for national and imperial goods. The shopping week movement extended into Australia in 1925, and reached Canada and South Africa in 1928. However, the language of empire shopping varied significantly between countries. Within the UK and Australia there was much focus on promoting links across the ‘British’ race at home and overseas. However, the question of the ‘British’ character of empire shopping proved more controversial in Canada, with its large French-speaking Québecois population, and in South Africa, where Afrikaners outnumbered the descendants of British settlers. [continue reading]

 

Imagining Britain’s economic future, c.1800-1975

David Thackeray, Richard Toye, and Andrew Thompson
University of Exeter

This book considers how Britain has imagined its economic role in the wider world and how British ideas have influenced global debates about market relationships between the start of the nineteenth century and the UK’s first European referendum. In doing so, the authors explore the interplay between the high political thought of theorists, the activities of officials and businesspeople, and the everyday experience of the wider public. Across the contributions to this book there is a consideration of the competing factors which affected market decisions and the processes of ‘economic imagination’.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter put the concept of imagination at the heart of the entrepreneurial process. It was this quality which, above all, businesspeople required if they were to succeed: ‘the capacity of seeing things in a way which proves afterwards to be true, even though it cannot be established [as such] at the time’.[1] He saw that economies are, in a sense, imaginative constructs – making calculations about and placing faith in the future and its possibilities are key qualities of investors and entrepreneurs.

Schumpeter’s work on the entrepreneurial imagination was an important influence in the development of Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher’s concept of the ‘official mind’, which they saw as the key driving force behind British imperial expansion in the nineteenth century. As they noted in Africa and the Victorians, London policy-makers ‘were usually dealing with countries they had never seen, with questions apprehended intellectually from reports and recommendations on paper….it was the idea and analysis of African situations in Whitehall, and not the realities in Africa as such which moved Victorian statesmen to act or not to act’.[2]

The question of how changing levels of information available to economic actors has affected the role of imagination in decision making in the modern world is an important one. As international business scholars have acknowledged, economic imagination is ultimately shaped by the interpretation of past experience, access to information about markets (which can sometimes be faulty), and hopes placed in the future. Perceptions of distance between markets are ultimately culturally constructed. The ‘physic distance’ between markets perceived by businesspeople, policy makers, and consumers may not correspond to actual measurable differences in institutions, preferences, and values as economic actors may exaggerate or underestimate the cultural distance between two countries involved in a transaction.[3]

The 2016 EU referendum provides a good example of how public debates about an imagined economic future can radically reshape public policy. Continue reading “Imagining Britain’s economic future, c.1800-1975”

The politics of buying British: From the Great Depression to Brexit

Sydney empire shopping week poster, 1928

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

Since the Brexit vote the ‘Anglosphere’ has featured prominently in debates about the UK’s future trade strategy. It may seem odd that the CANZUK countries (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have featured so prominently in these discussions. After all, combined together these countries accounted for less than four percent of UK exports in 2017. While Brexiteers may talk wistfully of reviving trade with these ‘old friends’, their efforts build on a problematic historical legacy.

In the 1920s and 1930s various efforts were made to encourage consumers to support trade between ‘British’ countries, based on ties of race. This was only one of a range of attempts to promote ethnically-based trade communities. For example, rival Buy Indian and Buy Chinese movements connected diaspora populations across the British Empire. At much the same time, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association promoted the idea of ‘buying black’, a cause which was subsequently adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the United States.

The practice of running empire shopping weeks was started by the British Women’s Patriotic League in 1923, and subsequently endorsed in the UK by the government-sponsored Empire Marketing Board. Shoppers were encouraged to exercise a voluntary preference for national and imperial goods. The shopping week movement extended into Australia in 1925, and reached Canada and South Africa in 1928. However, the language of empire shopping varied significantly between countries. Within the UK and Australia there was much focus on promoting links across the ‘British’ race at home and overseas. However, the question of the ‘British’ character of empire shopping proved more controversial in Canada, with its large French-speaking Québecois population, and in South Africa, where Afrikaners outnumbered the descendants of British settlers. Continue reading “The politics of buying British: From the Great Depression to Brexit”

New directions in the history of imperial and global networks

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”

Apply by April 17 for an International PhD Student Award @ExeterCIGH

exeter logo

The deadline (April 17) is fast approaching to apply for an international PhD student award, through which you can become a crucial part of the Centre for Imperial and Global History.

We offer internationally-recognised supervision with geographical coverage from staff across African, Asian (including Chinese), Middle Eastern, North American, Latin American, European, Imperial, and Global history from early-modern to contemporary eras. We have strong inter-disciplinary links with colleagues across the humanities and social sciences at Exeter, particularly with the Centre for War, State and Society and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. The Centre has particular research interests in:

  • Globalisation’s past and present
  • Comparative empires and transnationalism
  • Humanitarianism, development and human rights
  • Law and colonialism
  • Political economy and the imperial state
  • Europe, decolonisation and the legacies of empire
  • The impact of armed conflict on society
  • Colonial warfare and counterinsurgency

Continue reading “Apply by April 17 for an International PhD Student Award @ExeterCIGH”

Imperial History and Film Culture

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. Continue reading “Imperial History and Film Culture”

Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Empire/Commonwealth, Europe and China in Britain’s economic future since the 1870s

Senate House

2nd workshop, London, September 2015- report

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 at www.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. Continue reading “Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Empire/Commonwealth, Europe and China in Britain’s economic future since the 1870s”