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

In recent years historians have shown a great deal of interest in how national economies have variously 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 while we know much about the cultural economy of the 'British world' of trade in the Victorian era, there are few similar broad-ranging works exploring the twentieth century, a tumultuous period when the long-standing free-trade regime was challenged, the imperial economy gradually dismantled, and the European Union took shape.

This project explores how Britain's global economic future was imagined, debated and contested within various forms of civic life, both within the UK and overseas and involves substantial research in Britain, Australasia, North America and South Africa. Attention will focus on various themes including:

  • Britain's trade relationships with the Empire/Commonwealth, Europe, China and America through the activities of multinational business, government, and civil society organisations exploring the competing appeals of free trade, protectionism and the development of concepts of 'moral economy' (such as the apartheid boycott), which privileged certain forms of trade and consumption.
  • How concepts of 'Britishness' in trade and consumption were promoted in Britain and the wider world (and were at times connected to the wider Empire), and how these ideas were challenged by an increased globalisation of trade, decolonisation, and the competing appeal of cosmopolitanism.
  • The role of political rhetoric, visual culture, marketing, advertising, film and public relations in shaping perceptions of overseas markets and cultural notions of the economic future.