Colston’s Fall, Bristol’s Civic Identity and the Memory of Empire

Protest highlighting modern slavery, Colston Statue, Bristol, October 2018

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statute and its hauling into Bristol harbour on 7 June as part of global Black Lives Matter protests has provoked a long overdue public debate about the place of memorials of Britain’s imperial past and particularly its key role in the Atlantic slave trade. However, with some important exceptions, the history of creative protest within Bristol against Colston’s statue (as well as the numerous public buildings named after him in the city) is often overlooked in this coverage.[1] Nor is there much discussion of the material significance of where Colston’s plinth was situated and the idea of civic identity its creators sought to impose on Bristol.

This oversight may be accidental in many cases; these debates have generated a great deal of controversy locally, but received little national coverage. However, the effect obscures how the toppling of Colston fits into a longer history of creative protest on the site of the statue.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that removing the statues of controversial figures is ‘to lie about our history’.[2] But Colston’s statue has not sat in aspic from 1895 until its unceremonious dunking earlier this month. Instead it has been a site for people to engage with the city’s history and challenge the sanitised narratives of Bristol’s past that the statue’s creators sought to impose.

The Colston statue itself needs to be seen as a form of historical erasure, created as part of a refashioning of Bristol’s civic identity after the end of the Atlantic slave trade. It is a monument to the late-Victorian era, when the city was undergoing rapid expansion fuelled by the growth of shipping and industries such as Wills tobacco business. Colston’s statue was placed at the centre of the thriving city, overlooking the docks (refashioned over the last twenty years as a leisure and housing district) and in the middle of a large thoroughfare designed for promenading, surrounded by commercial buildings. Presumably the idea was to both honour a generous benefactor to the city and offer a romantic nod to Bristol’s seafaring past (divorced from its role in the slave trade). The reliefs on the sides of the statue even include images of dolphins, mermaids and other sea creatures. No mention is made, however, of Colston’s involvement in the slave trade on the original plaque. Instead we are informed the statue was erected ‘as a memorial to one of the most virtuous and wise sons’ of the city. Continue reading “Colston’s Fall, Bristol’s Civic Identity and the Memory of Empire”

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”

Digital Research Tips for Dissertations in Imperial & Global History

Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library.
Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library on flickr.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

It is that time of year again. The semester begins; students scramble to find digital archives for research papers; supervisors seek to steer them in the right direction. In contrast to a decade ago, online archival options are now overwhelming. To help wade through the sea of digital archives, over the past couple of years we have offered some suggestions for digital research in imperial and global history, included below. Any other new digital archives that those researching topics in imperial and global history might find useful?
Continue reading “Digital Research Tips for Dissertations in Imperial & Global History”

In Wilson’s Shadow: Why the 1975 Europe Referendum Still Matters

Margaret Thatcher,  William Whitelaw and Peter Kirk, at a referendum conference. June 1975. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images
Margaret Thatcher, William Whitelaw and Peter Kirk, at a referendum conference. June 1975. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

Richard Toye and David Thackeray
University of Exeter

Forty years ago today Britain went to the polls to decide a crucial question: would the country remain in the European Economic Community (EEC)? It had only joined the EEC, the EU forerunner organisation, two years previously, and this was the first UK-wide referendum. When the votes were counted the results were emphatic. The nation had voted ‘yes’ to Europe by a two to one margin. The Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson hailed the result, noting that no one in Britain or the wider world could be in doubt about its meaning. Margaret Thatcher, the recently-chosen Tory leader, observed that the ‘massive “Yes” vote could not have come about without a massive Conservative “Yes”.’ Today, as the British people prepare for a new European plebiscite, what lessons can be learned from the experience of 1975? Continue reading “In Wilson’s Shadow: Why the 1975 Europe Referendum Still Matters”

Imagining Markets workshop Report, Exeter, April 2015

Reed Hall1

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

Cross-Posted from Imagining Markets

A chilly start at Reed Hall, Exeter!

We were delighted to welcome Imagining Markets network participants to Exeter for our first event last week. This is the first of a series of three academic workshops, with subsequent events to be held in London and Cambridge over the next year, exploring various facets of Britain’s economic culture and its relationship with key markets.

Paul Young opened proceedings with a paper exploring how the growth of the refrigerated meat and beef stock industries led to new understandings of the South American environment in Victorian literature such as the eco-romance The Purple Land and in advertising, where the Uruguay-based Leibig’s company had to compete with the imperial populism of Bovril.

Alan Booth introduced a new project exploring the development of the Rowntree business lectures, which emerged after World War I in a context of growing global economic competition to British business, and interest in new American methods of industrial psychology and management consultancy.
Continue reading “Imagining Markets workshop Report, Exeter, April 2015”

12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire

Illustrated London News

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.

Continue reading “12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire”

Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History

Thackeray 1

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. Continue reading “Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History”

Announcing a New Website: ‘Imagining Markets’

South African Oranges (Empire Marketing Board Poster), Library and Archives Canada.
South African Oranges (Empire Marketing Board Poster), Library and Archives Canada.

Interested in the historical intersection of trade, culture, and empire? A new website, Imaginingmarkets.com, provides information on two AHRC projects which are being hosted by the University of Exeter’s History Department: ‘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).

Woman Shopping at John Bull and Sons (British Empire Marketing Board, 1928), Library and Archives Canada.
Woman Shopping at John Bull and Sons (British Empire Marketing Board, 1928), Library and Archives Canada.

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. Readers can subscribe to get updates on the projects. There will also be a blog to discuss issues connected with the research themes.

British Soft Power in South Asia: Historicizing Deglobalization

british_empire_board_game_box

David Thackeray
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @d_thackeray

Cross-posted from History & Policy

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. Continue reading “British Soft Power in South Asia: Historicizing Deglobalization”