Following a discussion of what some scholars have seen as “divided loyalties” among immigrants, this article surveys the history of the ethnic influence on U.S. foreign policy from the 1790s to the present. Specific topics include Irish American nationalism and its relationship to republicanism and anti-imperialism in the nineteenth century, the diverse aims of ethnic activism in the era of World War I, the alleged role of ethnic activism in shaping the isolationism that partly characterized U.S. foreign policy between the wars, and the role of U.S.-based diasporas and ethnic lobbies in the era of the Cold War and after. Attention is given to Irish Americans, Jewish Americans, Cuban Americans, African Americans, Eastern Europeans, and others. The article closes with a discussion of the potential impact of the recent phenomenon of dual citizenship.
This chapter presents a broad overview of the place of Europe and European questions in British political history. It establishes a sense of the historiographical context, considering in turn the ‘new’ political history of recent decades, the histories of party politics, diplomacy and its culture, Europe as Britain’s comparator, British identity, post-war attitudes to European unity, and structural tensions. Reflecting on this contextual framework prompts questions about the chronological parameters we use to assess the last two centuries of interaction with the Continent, not least about the historiographical role of the two world wars, their origins, and their impact. It also raises the issue of the generational phases through which the British polity has passed in its complicated dance with its European neighbours.
Despite current concerns with good governance and policy delivery, little serious attention has been paid to the institution vital to both: the Civil Service. This chapter places present problems in historical context. Starting with the seminal 1854 Northcote–Trevelyan Report, it covers the ‘lost opportunity’ of the 1940s when the Civil Service failed to adapt to rapidly rising demands on the state, as advocated by Beveridge and Keynes. It then examines the belated attempts at modernization in the 1960s, the Service’s vilification in the 1970s, the final destruction of the ‘old order’ during the Thatcher administration, and the subsequent restructuring of the Service and the (highly flawed) embracing of the ‘new public management’ ethos.
This chapter seeks to bring out the interrelated quality of twentieth century discussions of democracy, drawing especially on debates in the 1930s and 1970s. It locates these within the longer history of the British conversation about democracy, a conversation that was both influenced by discussions elsewhere and informed by comparisons with, and imaginings of, other polities. It starts with an examination of the history of debating democracy in Britain and then turns to the British way of doing democracy. It argues that the former is essential to making sense of the latter. It moves on to consider how the British have done democracy, drawing upon an emerging cultural history of democratic practices. The final section offers thoughts on the prospects for the historiography of democracy in Britain, and on what its development so far says about the state of modern British political history.
Direct democracy was practiced within town meetings in colonial New England, driven by four overarching principles. First, citizens had a political voice as members of a specific geographic community, rather than as individuals. Second, “the mind of the town,” as it was called at the time, could be readily determined through public discourse in meetings of the enfranchised citizenry. Third, this collective will could be relayed to higher governing bodies by issuing specific and binding instructions to elected representatives. Finally, citizens who opposed the mind of the town could be forced to abide by it through community pressure. While the American Revolution elicited its own examples of popular, democratic politics outside of official chambers, the overall trend was in the opposite direction. Formal representational structures generally superseded meetings of the body of the people by liberty trees and liberty polls, county conventions of committees of correspondence, and local committees of safety, inspection, and observation.
This chapter attempts to draw out comparisons and make sense of devolution as a UK-wide phenomenon. Devolution has taken a variety of forms at different times in different parts of the UK. A key aim of the chapter is to describe these varieties and explain why no common form of devolution emerged. Devolution may be a form of constitutional development but it has always been linked to wider socio-demographic and economic developments as much as to the sense of collective identities. Some interpretations emphasize the role of national identity in the demands for devolution in Scotland and Wales while others lay more emphasis on differences in political preferences that stimulated demands for self-government. No understanding of the politics of devolution is complete without an appreciation of the roles of identity, the party systems, political and public policy preferences, and how these changed over time.
This chapter falls into two unequal parts. The first charts, broadly chronologically, the shifting understandings, historical and historiographical, of the role of the state in economic life. The second focuses on debates about the performance of the economy, especially notions of ‘decline’ which have been central to those debates since the late nineteenth century. Variegated but overlapping senses of ‘decline’, originating in very specific historical circumstances, have overshadowed much writing on the modern British economy, with, it will be argued, often detrimental effects on our understanding. Such notions need to be historicized—placed firmly in the intellectual, ideological, and above all political contexts within which they arose.
This chapter evaluates the two principal methodologies adopted in studying elections over the past 200 years. The first prominently features ‘psephological’ analyses of aggregate voting data and social cleavages; the second is the revisionist ‘linguistic’ approach, which emphasizes the careful reconstruction and exploration of electoral languages and discourses, often in a specific locality. This chapter argues that, while both approaches have undoubtedly yielded considerable benefits, what was once a large field of scholarly endeavour has been split in two, with the empirical, quantitative tradition now associated with political science on one side and the now dominant cultural and linguistic approaches on the other. The chapter ends by exploring potential new directions and argues that the advent of the ‘digital turn’ and the vast proliferation of electronic sources in its wake now make possible an approach which could see the gap between electoral historians and political scientists begin to close.
Paul Dover and Hamish Scott
This chapter charts the emergence of diplomacy in its modern sense—the peaceful and continuous management of relations between states—during the early modern centuries. It was brought about by two central changes: one functional, the other geographical. The principal roles of an ambassador were providing information, representing his ruler, and conducting negotiations, and these were all established by the sixteenth century. Initially the first two were more important than the third, but by the second half of the period examined the conduct of negotiations had become the most important dimension of a diplomat’s role. The second transformation was an extension of the network of diplomacy, from its origins in the Italian peninsula to Western Europe and—by the eighteenth century—to Eastern Europe as well. These changes were not linear in nature, but collectively they created the diplomatic system and culture which prevailed until the First World War.
Eliga H. Gould
William Augustus Bowles was a loyalist soldier during the American Revolution who also acted as an agent for the British governor of the Bahamas. Had events gone his way, he could have become the Anglo-Creek leader of a British protectorate on North America's Gulf Coast, but instead, was considered a pirate and died in a Havana jail in 1805 while awaiting trial. Bowles's saga shows that the British Empire was not only a formal but also an informal empire. None had a greater stake in understanding how Britain's informal empire worked than the citizens of the thirteen states that gained independence from the British in 1783. It would be more accurate to see the American Revolution as the moment when Americans began to make the history that other nations and people were prepared to let them make. In this entangled history, Britain played the most significant role. Three pillars of its informal empire were commerce, diplomacy, and international law.
A focus on the national institutions of the British state and the men who populated them was the first means by which many understood ‘political history’. This ‘high politics’ remains a popular way to understand the subject. Yet, ‘high politics’ has also been criticized by radical advocates of ‘history from below’ for its methodological and political conservatism. This chapter assesses the merits of focusing on Westminster, Whitehall, and its denizens by employing insights from political science, notably the notion of structure and agency as well as the literature associated with new institutionalism. The chapter also assesses the contribution of the ‘Peterhouse School’—one long reviled by many high-political historians as well as by historians of popular social movements—as a way of bridging the gap between the two methods of conceiving the dynamics of Britain’s modern political history.
This chapter explores what its author sees as three of the most important, and closely related, recent historiographical themes relating to the articulation but also the impact of British political ideas since 1800: political realities, modernity, and moralities. The chapter analyses the close connections and interplay between these three initially seemingly uncomfortable bedfellows, and argues that collectively they have produced a contemporary historiography that, in crossing boundaries in its consideration of cultural, social, and intellectual history; ideas and action; popular and elite attitudes; high ideals; but also sometimes painful realities, is now richer in its understanding of all of these.
Harry T. Dickinson
The length, extent, and scale of the American Revolution had a profound impact on political developments across the British Isles. Britain was forced to send the largest army ever to cross the Atlantic to suppress a rebellion 3,000 miles away. In addition, early in 1778, France entered the war in support of America, followed by Spain in 1779 and the Dutch Republic in 1780. Britain therefore found itself fighting a world war with no ally, relying only on hired German mercenaries. The Royal Navy could no longer retain command of the seas of the world, and British interests worldwide were endangered. Britain even was facing the threat of a major Franco-Spanish invasion in June 1779. To meet the threat presented by the rebellion, it greatly expanded its land and sea forces, increased taxes and secured large loans, and fought a long, bloody, and expensive war. This chapter assesses the impact of the American Revolution on British politics, focusing on how it affected Lord North's ministry, the opposition in Parliament, and demands for reform in both Britain and Ireland.
This chapter examines British external policy against the background of the expansion of the British empire up to the end of the First World War and its long and uneven demise thereafter. In exploring the political dimensions of this process of expansion and contraction the chapter aims to explore the complexities of the scholarships and chronologies involved. It evaluates how historians have approached key challenges and critical turning points, including the debates surrounding ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ empire, the impact of two world wars, the Suez crisis of 1956 and the decision to withdraw from positions ‘East of Suez’ in 1971.
This chapter reflects on the practice of contemporary history and draws from the experience of researching and writing about recent British prime ministers. It argues that it is inescapable that history is rooted in the period in which it is written and that, however vehemently historians might claim to be impartial, they will reflect the perceptions of the period in which they are writing, as well as their own personal outlooks. Contemporary political historians, as a result, should not attempt to free themselves of the age in which they are writing, but rather should understand that age and celebrate it.
Benjamin H. Irvin
Historians of the American Revolution have long argued that American colonists were late and reluctant to sever ties with Britain. They characterized American independence as a natural and unavoidable consequence of the original settlers' unique sense of godly duty and a logical result of republican institutions long in the making, a vision of America's founding that passed largely unchallenged by the nation's nineteenth-century historians. During the twentieth century, this narrative of predestination was challenged by academic historians, who questioned its nationalistic and teleological qualities, and who instead viewed independence as one possible consequence of events that unfolded in the 1760s and 1770s. This chapter discusses American independence before and during the Revolution, the process of dismantling long-established colonial governments throughout the thirteen colonies, the drafting of new constitutions, the forging of confederation, and the establishment of foreign relations during the period of American independence.
David Brown, Robert Crowcroft, and Gordon Pentland
This chapter introduces the volume by addressing and evaluating the idea of a ‘crisis’ within post-war political history in general and the political history of Britain in particular. It establishes the rationale for the Handbook and explains its intellectual architecture. Rather than offering a neat synoptic overview of modern British political history, the emphasis here is on the multiplicity of views, interests and perspectives that inform our understanding of the political past. Identifying key areas of debate, and ways in which traditional as well as newer fields of enquiry have shaped that understanding, this chapter underlines the vibrancy, and heterogeneity, of modern British political history.
Whatever happened to labour history? In 2000, the Labour party’s centenary produced some dynamic and cutting-edge contributions to the field. Since then, however, some important historiographical trends, the crisis in the Co-Op, a journal occupied by debate over Communism, and the full force of New Labour have significantly thinned the ranks of self-identifying ‘labour’ historians. A discipline that was once in rude health faces novel challenges as a result. This chapter reflects on the historiographical impact of these major developments. It also assesses the current and likely future fortunes of political histories of the labour movement and the Labour party.
This chapter considers the practices, cultures, and institutional development of local government between the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 and the Scottish and Welsh Local Government Acts of 1994. The chapter pays special attention to local government’s centrality to Victorian conceptions of the state and to the important role which Victorians assigned to local government in furthering ‘political education’ among an ever-growing body of parliamentary voters. The chapter goes on to contrast the vitality of Victorian and early twentieth-century local government with the declining profile of local government during the second half of the twentieth century.
This chapter starts from the premise that royal history is not yet properly a part of political history, but ought to be. It first examines who has written about monarchy and how they have done so, suggesting that this work has been distinctive and defective in several respects. It next evaluates how much of the research agenda outlined first by David Cannadine in 2004 has been addressed. The chapter then identifies the area—the study of monarchists and ‘monarchism’—which political (alongside social) historians might most urgently examine. It concludes by presenting preliminary research which indicates how the inclusion of monarchists and monarchism might alter thinking about both the monarchy and its subjects.