Backing Britain?: Imagining a nation's global economic future since 1900

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: History

Abstract

In recent years historians have shown a great deal of interest in how national economies have stimulated, contested and resisted globalisation. Nineteenth-century Britain is recognised as a leading actor in the development of the global economic order through its role in stimulating the Atlantic economy and creating networks of imperial trade. Yet whilst we know much about the cultural economy of the 'British world' of trade in the Victorian era, there are few similar works exploring the twentieth century. This study focuses on how Britain's economic future and relationship with its overseas markets has been imagined, debated and contested since 1900: a tumultuous period in which free trade and protectionism have fluctuated in support, the imperial economy was gradually dismantled, and the European Union has taken shape.
In line with the AHRC's Care for the Future theme this project will break new ground in creating a bridge between historical and contemporary ways of discussing Britain's future global economic identity. Building on existing international research collaboration, it will evaluate the changing ways that Britain's economic direction and its overseas markets have been imagined and conceptualised by a range of different actors and the implications that this has for the nation's future economic identity in the current day. Drawing on a range of archives, attention will focus on the perspectives of governmental organisations, businesses, civil society organisations, marketers and advertisers. This project will pay particular attention to the changing ways in which British and overseas goods were presented in patriotic purchasing campaigns such as 'Buy British' in 1931, the Australian British buying campaigns of the 1940s, and 'I'm Backing Britain' in 1968. The notion of defining a product or company as 'British', 'imperial' or 'foreign' was vital to understandings of national and imperial economic identity.
Recent work has explored how a 'British world' identity emerged in the nineteenth century, with the development of networks of migration, trade and culture which bolstered links between Britain and settler communities. Much of the most innovative work in this field has focused on the perspectives of settler societies within the British Empire. However, the cultural debates which surrounded the unravelling of this 'British world' of economic networks in the twentieth century are less well understood. This project will include archival research in Australia and New Zealand, thereby offering new perspectives on how external actors in the Empire/ Commonwealth fed into key debates about Britain's economic future, promoting, questioning and contesting ideas about a 'British world' of economic networks.
Project findings will be discussed with the public in an exhibition held in collaboration with the Bill Douglas Centre for Film Studies, with academics from a variety of disciplines at an accompanying research workshop, and in policy papers for the Centre for Economic Policy Research and Institute for Public Policy Research. Two research articles will be produced for the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History and the Journal of Modern History, which provide the foundation for a monograph. International debate will be stimulated by UK-Chinese research workshops to be held in Exeter and Beijing.
Britain's position during the current global financial crisis is heavily influenced by the historical development of international trade networks, which means that its economy is significantly more reliant on external markets than competitors in North America and Europe. This project will offer fresh understandings of how these networks were understood as Britain negotiated its role in the global economy over the last century. By offering historical insights into the 'economic imagination' of Britain it provides new perspectives on the foundations of the nation's identity in today's globalised economy.

Planned Impact

This project will achieve a broad public impact by engaging with a range of practitioners from outside academic life such as governmental organisations and business organisations, who are grappling with similar and related questions, yet speaking to different audiences.

An exhibition will be held at the Bill Douglas Centre for Film Studies (BDC), Exeter enabling project findings to be disseminated to local schools and student groups. I am involved in the BDC's digitisation programme and see this project as feeding into our plans for digitising film materials related to representations of Empire. The exhibition will be promoted by accompanying talks in local venues such as the Royal Albert Memorial Musuem. It will also complement an AHRC-sponsored project which assesses present-day responses to Empire Marketing Board posters held by Manchester City Galleries, but will offer a historical perspective on how imperial and post-imperial identities were negotiated in British visual culture. The exhibition will be supported by a research workshop: 'Britain's global identity in documentary film culture, c.1926-73', which is intended to form the basis of a journal special issue.

The implications that the project has for understandings of Britain's networks of trade and investment will be discussed in papers for Vox and the Institute for Public Policy Research. Vox is run by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, and publishes research-based policy analysis and commentary in conjunction with several European organisations. Their intended audience is economists in governments, international organisations and journalists, recent publications such as 'The UK in a Global World', edited by David Greenaway, overlap with the concerns of the fellowship project. The Centre has previously developed publications with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who are an important potential audience for research findings. The IPPR is a prominent think-tank, which has published a number of policy papers focused on the challenges facing the global economy. Moreover, the project's focus on historical ideas of Britain's economic future has contemporary relevance given the current financial crisis, so there is likely to be keen media interest. I have previous experience producing opinion pieces for the local press and plan to produce similar items for national broadsheets.

The fellowship publications will build on a variety of forms of knowledge exchange promoted by the Imagining Markets network, which I plan to contribute to in collaboration with Andrew Thompson and Richard Toye. There will be two stakeholder seminars at the final network workshop in Cambridge. A witness seminar will give an opportunity to consult a range of figures involved in processes such as EEC negotiations and trade agreements with China will provide first-hand testimony. The transcripts of the witness seminar will be published online by Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge. Through its witness seminar programme, the Churchill Archives Centre has been at the forefront of debating key events in contemporary history, participants have included former international leaders and members of British cabinets. This session and the related policy seminar, where policy experts and academics will discuss current challenges in international trade policy, feeds into a proposed paper for History and Policy, which provides a forum for historians to engage with policy-makers.
 
Description The research provides the first overview of the role of economic networks in the functioning of 'British World' networks. Such networks could promote links between the UK and the Dominions, fostering similar practices in economic legislation, migration policy, and marketing and advertising for example. However, such networks were highly restrictive largely excluding non-white groups, at least up until 1945. Alternative regional business and political networks could challenge such 'British World' links, and made them increasingly untenable by the 1960s.

Having received additional funding from my instituion to develop links with universities in Australia and New Zealand in 2013, I have been able to significantly expand my research base to include research across Britain's settler colonies. British World networks often acted in a competitive dialogue with alternative networks which promoted a broader internationalist or anti-imperial ethos. Subsequently, the research has embraced study of how nationalist business groups in India and Malaya made use of such associations as part of a broader anti-imperial politics.
Exploitation Route The research findings have been discussed with civil servants from HMT, the Cabinet Office and FCO and similar knowledge-exchange workshops are planned for the future.

With colleagues I have recently set up a Global Economics and History Forum, organised through History & Policy. This aims to connect academics and policy-makers and will create further opportunities to disseminate research findings to relevant government departments.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
URL http://www.imaginingmarkets.com/
 
Description I organised a History Lab workshop at HM Treasury discussing the value of exploring contingency planning during the 1975 EEC referendum for civil servants engaged in planning for the (then) upcoming EU referendum. Feedback from a senior policy advisor at HMT noted that the event was highly valuable for the departments involved (HMT, FCO, Cabinet Office European Secretariat). He noted 'over subsequent months the event has proved useful in informing discussions with colleagues and helping relate past events to contemporary policy issues'. I have also run a workshop- 'Global uncertainties and trade: Britain's economic networks, past and future' at BEIS which received highly positive feedback from a senior official there who noted 'the event was timely and pertinent to ongoing discussions being held within the department and has helped inform my policy discussions with ministers'. The three organisers of the Imagining Markets networks subsequently participated in a roundtable event on the history of Britain's industrial strategy at BEIS chaired by the Business Secretary. The official noted: 'the event received very positive feedback from the Secretary of State. Participants were willing to debate issues relevant to policy-makers and focus their interventions for time-pressured ministers, the event felt very relevant to policy conversations. A signal of its success is that the minister is keen to hold a follow-up event, building on our conversations, in the new year'.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services
 
Description AHRC network
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L003988/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2014 
End 10/2016
 
Description Collaboration with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 
Organisation Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Ran workshop in October 2016 on the value of exploring British historical trade relations with key markets at BEIS. The organisers of the Imagining Markets collaboration subsequently contributed to a roundtable on the history of British industrial strategy in November, chaired by the Business Secretary.
Collaborator Contribution As above.
Impact N.A.
Start Year 2016
 
Description History & Policy; HM Treasury collaboration 
Organisation HM Treasury
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Organised a History Lab at HM Treasury in September 2015 with Richard Toye on the lessons of the 1975 EEC referendum for policy-makers involved in planning for the 2016 EU Referendum. This focused in particular on civil service planning for a Brexit in 1975 using evidence from the National Archives. We are planning follow-up events for 2016-17 connected with Britain's historical relationship with Europe. With colleagues I have also recently set up a Global Economics and History Forum with History & Policy, which HM Treasury is keen to be involved with.
Collaborator Contribution History and Policy supported the administration of the workshop, liaising with HM Treasury and drawing up a list of invitees working in closely related fields in HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office.
Impact I am currently in the process of extracting information from key HM Treasury officials about the impact of the September 2015 workshop on planning for the June 2016 referendum. Initial feedback from the workshop indicated that it was appreciated by civil servants, who found it improved their knowledge of the context of the last European referendum. The preparations for the workshop and the discussion which followed has influenced two articles both to be published in March 2016: David Thackeray, 'Selling a new deal in Europe: what the yes campaign can learn from 1975' (to be published by The Conversation) David Thackeray, 'Planning for the referendum and after: lessons from 1975' (to be published by History and Policy)
Start Year 2014
 
Description History & Policy; HM Treasury collaboration 
Organisation History and Policy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Organised a History Lab at HM Treasury in September 2015 with Richard Toye on the lessons of the 1975 EEC referendum for policy-makers involved in planning for the 2016 EU Referendum. This focused in particular on civil service planning for a Brexit in 1975 using evidence from the National Archives. We are planning follow-up events for 2016-17 connected with Britain's historical relationship with Europe. With colleagues I have also recently set up a Global Economics and History Forum with History & Policy, which HM Treasury is keen to be involved with.
Collaborator Contribution History and Policy supported the administration of the workshop, liaising with HM Treasury and drawing up a list of invitees working in closely related fields in HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office.
Impact I am currently in the process of extracting information from key HM Treasury officials about the impact of the September 2015 workshop on planning for the June 2016 referendum. Initial feedback from the workshop indicated that it was appreciated by civil servants, who found it improved their knowledge of the context of the last European referendum. The preparations for the workshop and the discussion which followed has influenced two articles both to be published in March 2016: David Thackeray, 'Selling a new deal in Europe: what the yes campaign can learn from 1975' (to be published by The Conversation) David Thackeray, 'Planning for the referendum and after: lessons from 1975' (to be published by History and Policy)
Start Year 2014
 
Description Activities with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Workshop on history of British trade networks at BEIS, October 2016, including representation from groups like China-Britain Business Council and History & Policy; The three organisers of the Imagining Markets networks participated in a round-table discussion on industrial strategy at BEIS in November 2016 chaired by the Business Secretary.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Exhibition and connected academic workshop (Exeter) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Held exhibition based on AHRC research fellowship research at Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter between May and September 2015. This has also provided the basis for special collections sessions with 45 undergraduates and postgraduates this year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Policy workshop (held at HM Treasury) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 'History Lab' Knowledge-exchange event organised with History & Policy at HM Treasury in September 2015. The half-day event involved presentations on the 1975 EEC referendum and civil service planning by David Thackeray and Richard Toye, and guided discussion of case studies based on government documents from the time. We considered the value of the 1975 referendum in terms of planning for the 2016 European referendum. The audience were key policy-focused officials from HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and FCO selected through discussions with a senior official at HMT.

Initial feedback indicated that the event improved the audience's understanding of the 1975 referendum and the exercise was appreciated for helping understand how historical thinking can improve policy-making today. Following further encouraging feedback we are currently in contact with a selected group of senior policy officials at HMT about giving more detailed feedback on how the workshop has affected their planning in the build-up to the June 2016 referendum.

We are also planning future events connected with Britain's historical trade relations with Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015