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.
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.
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”→
Among the most frustrating experiences of my PhD were days spent scouring local newspapers at the ramshackle (and now closed) British Library Newspaper Reading Room at Colindale, and the inexplicably dark microfilm room at Cambridge University Library. Spending a few weeks working at the latter in the winter would provide good training for life at an Antarctic research base. With these experiences in mind I have been surprised at how large a part newspapers have played in my current research on the history of British trade identities in the UK and wider Empire/Commonwealth.
Recent years have seen a worldwide explosion in access to digitised newspapers, which obviously opens up a range of exciting new opportunities to researchers in imperial and global history. Having never previously conducted research in Australian archives, I was able to access thousands of articles from the National Library of Australia from the comfort of my home, significantly shaping both my post-doctoral funding application and the issues I was to explore in the archive itself. Yet the ever-growing range of newspaper material available also offers significant challenges to how we do research and train our students. Continue reading “The Global Challenges of Digital Newspapers”→
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. Continue reading “Imperial History and Documentary Culture at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum”→
The History Department at the University of Exeter has recently received funding from the AHRC to support an international research network: ‘Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Empire/Commonwealth, Europe and China in Britain’s economic future since the 1870s’. The network led by David Thackeray, Richard Toye and Andrew Thompson aims to provide a bridge between historical and contemporary ways of thinking about Britain’s future global economic orientation, bringing together scholars working in the fields of Imperial, European and Asian studies, and scholars from cultural studies and economic studies, which have become increasingly separated branches of enquiry calling for reintegration.
As a child there were few experiences I looked forward to more than a trip up to London with my father to visit Hamleys toy store in the run-up to Christmas. Rather unusually perhaps, these visits to the capital were also occasionally marked by a stop at South Africa House to see the Anti-Apartheid picket of the embassy, organised to call for the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. We had moved to the UK from New Zealand a few years beforehand, and Dad would always use such occasions to regale me with proud memories of the protests which greeted South Africa’s notorious rugby tour in 1981. When the Springboks came to our home city of Hamilton, a key centre of Maori culture, crowd protests led to the abandonment of a test against the All Blacks. Another game became a farce when flour bombs and leaflets were scattered over the pitch from a light aeroplane. Continue reading “Boycotting Apartheid: the Global Politics of ‘Fair Trade’”→
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 (and also currently featured as the background to this blog!). 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. Continue reading “Buying British Across the World”→