Manchester’s Transnational Friendship with France: James Connolly discusses the ‘adoption’ of Mézières.

Connolly- Manchester-Meziers 2

The 1921 Lord Mayor’s pageant raising funds for Mézières. Image courtesy of Manchester Central Library:

My last post touched upon my recent side project on British towns adopting French towns and villages after the First World War. Here, I would like to briefly highlight how this transnational history also had a highly local and pertinent aspect for those of us working and studying at Manchester.   As last year’s exhibition in the Central Library demonstrated, our Manchester was involved in the adoption scheme from the outset, deciding in June 1920 to adopt not Lille but the town of Mézières in the Ardennes.[1]  The progress of this adopted was recorded in many newspaper articles.  In July 1921, a pageant was held for this cause, at which the Mayor of Mézières and the Conseiller-Général des Ardennes were present; it raised £5,000 – a lot of money for the time![2]  The following September, about 1,000 unemployed ex-servicemen from Manchester were sent to Mézières to help with reconstruction, paid at full French trade union rates, with the aid of the French Ministry of Labour.[3]  Fund-raising continued in various forms: in November 1921, a women’s football match between Lancashire and a London club took place in Manchester and raised £540.[4]  Sports played an important role in encouraging donations, thus the manager of the Manchester Hippodrome, Bertram Isles, awarded the Médaille de Reconnaissance (Medal of Gratitude) from Mézières in November 1922 for his part in raising £30,000 for the town.[5]


However, the link between these two towns was not purely financial, with frequent exchange visits of both local politicians and schoolchildren continuing throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1930, the Lord Mayor of Manchester had been invited, alongside other British mayors, to an event organised by the French President to offer official thanks for the adoption scheme.[6] British Pathé even filmed the Mayor of Mézières visiting Manchester in 1928 and the Mayor even got to meet the King and Queen when they visited Manchester in 1934.[7] Such was the strength of this transnational bond, and the extent of Manchester’s contribution to reconstruction, that there was an entire ‘Manchester’ district in Mézières. Readers of the Manchester Evening News were reminded of this in August 1939: there was a Manchester Hospital, Manchester Post Office, Manchester Church, and wards in the hospital were named after the ex-Lord Mayors of Manchester.[8]  Perhaps this was an attempt to reassure the British that, as a new war loomed on the horizon, the bonds forged in the wake of the last conflict still stood strong.  Even if that is the case, Manchester-Mézières was one of the most successful, enduring adoption pairings, with many buildings and place names in Mézières still bearing the marks of this Franco-British friendship: bringing this slice of history a little closer to home!




[1] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 14 June 1920, p.2.


[2] The Times, 4 July 1921, p.9.


[3] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 5 Sep 1921, p.2.


[4] Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 November 1921, p.3.


[5] The Era, 2 November 1922, p.16.


[6] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 27 May 1930, p.12.


[7] Dundee Courier, 18 July 1934, p.6.


[8] Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1939, p.8.


Transnational Friendship: James Connolly discusses British aid to French towns after the First World War

Connolly blog

British soldiers enter Lille in October 1918. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During my research on the occupation of Northern France in the First World War, I came across archival and newspaper documents attesting to the depth of gratitude felt by the formerly-occupied population towards the British, and the latter’s desire to help suffering populations. As an Englishman specialising in French history, I was moved and intrigued to discover more about the ways in which the British helped what became known as the ‘devastated region’ – the area ravaged by combat and occupation – and what the French made of this. The conclusions I have arrived at say much about the long, complicated history of Franco-British friendship (often involving mutual mistrust and disappointment at a governmental level), and highlight a period in which the plight of suffering populations provoked charitable, humanitarian responses that went beyond national interest.


The most immediate and evident form of help was ending the occupation itself. This is a topic I will explore in my forthcoming monograph, and which I have discussed in less detail elsewhere (notably in an article for a French magazine and my PhD thesis). The British Fifth Army had liberated much of the département of the Nord in October 1918, including its capital, Lille. Its commander, General Birdwood, was made an honorary citizen of the town in late October, when an official liberation ceremony took place (you can see a video of this here). Later, a statue of Birdwood was erected, which still stands today alongside the ‘Square Birdwood’ – a monument to a long-forgotten liberation.


As is often the case, though, one occupation was followed by another: the British remained in the Nord for months, to the chagrin of certain locals who resented a continued military presence (openly complaining of a ‘new occupation’). However, a French military intelligence report from November 1918 sang the praises of the British Army, noting that for 38 days, with the French Army lacking resources, it was the British who fed the 790,000 inhabitants of the occupation zone, distributing a total of 5,084,000 civilian rations via free canteens. Empty trucks were also offered for the transport of refugees. The report estimated that this aid saved the lives of at least 400,000 French people, and concluded: ‘It is a wonderful act of systematic and ingenious charity that the British Army is carrying out […] For this great work, commanders and soldiers have the right to the deepest gratitude of France.’[1]


However, civilians got involved as well. In December 1918, the Corporation of Manchester sent Lille (the ‘Manchester of France’) a Christmas tree, plus £500 for gifts for local children.[2] This sentiment eventually morphed into an official act of charity: in June 1920, an organisation was created to facilitate and oversee British towns ‘adopting’ French towns and villages in the ‘devastated region’. That organisation was the British League of Help for the Devastated Regions of France, which became an official war charity the following year. By the time the League of Help officially wound down in 1927, almost 80 British towns had adopted over 90 French towns or villages. The so-called ‘Godparent’ towns sent hundreds of thousands of pounds of aid to their ‘Godchildren’ to finance reconstruction, from water supplies and bridges to schools and hospitals.[3]  Money was raised via voluntary donations or fund-raising events, such as the special Wimbledon tennis tournament in July 1922. Buildings, roads, or local areas were often adorned with commemorative plaques, or named in honour of ‘Godparent’ towns and sometimes ‘Godchildren’ ones (such as the Pont Blackburn in Péronne, and Péronne Crescent in Blackburn). Aid also comprised sending goods such as agricultural equipment, seeds, clothes, or tools, as well as exchange visits between civic representatives and even schoolchildren. Such community bonds were a key aim of the League, and continued in some cases into the 1930s. Many people participated in the movement, whether as members of local adoption committees or by simply donating, but the precise number cannot be calculated. That said, this was not an unreserved success story: for instance, London had adopted Verdun in December 1920 and promised to raise £100,000, but by mid-1922 only £20,000 had been raised despite high-profile fund-raising visits from Prime Ministers (including Poincaré) and Marshal Pétain.[4] Nevertheless, this relief effort occurred during a period of strained official Franco-British relations, largely due to disagreements on how best to deal with Germany and maintain the peace, which makes it even more interesting. It also fits within recent work on the aftermath of the First World War as a significant period for the development of British humanitarianism.[5]


The history of the League and post-war British aid to French towns has largely been forgotten. Few academic works deal with this subject,[6] partly because there is very little archival documentation. I have recently attempted to overcome this difficulty and add to the literature by examining the way the British press portrayed the adoption scheme (spoiler alert: newspapers were very supportive and interested!). The result is a chapter in a forthcoming book on European ‘town twinnings,’ a post-1945 phenomenon for which inter-war adoptions set a precedent. This chapter will appear (translated into German) later this year with the provisional title „Alliierte“ über den Krieg hinaus: Britische Zeitungen und „Patenschaften“ französischer Städte nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg. However, I hope to return to this topic in English in the near future, as there is more to be said and discovered, another layer to be added to the tableau of Franco-British relations and friendship, plus British humanitarianism and charity – an important topic to consider given current global events.



[1] Service Historique de la Défense, 17 N 394, Rapport sur l’aide apportée par les troupes britanniques à la population libérée pendant l’avance du 1er Oct. au 25 Nov. 1918, p.12-13.


[2] The Times, 21 December 1918, p.7.


[3] See Bryan F. Lewis, ‘Adoptive Kinship and the British League of Help: Commemoration of the Great War through the Adoption of French Communities’ (PhD thesis: University of Reading, 2006).


[4] Daily Telegraph, 12 June 1922, p.12.


[5] See Emily C. Baughan, ‘“Every Citizen of Empire Implored to Save the Children!” Empire, internationalism and the Save the Children Fund in inter-war Britain,’ Historical Research 86:231 (February 2013), pp.116-137. My thanks to Dr Laure Humbert for suggesting this source.


[6] See Lewis, ‘Adoptive Kinship’; Brian S. Osborne, ‘In the Shadows of Monuments: the British League for the Reconstruction of the Devastated Areas of France,’ International Journal of Heritage Studies 7:1 (2001), pp.59-82; Sally White, Worthing, ‘Richebourg and the League of Help for the Devastated Areas of France: The Rediscovery of an Adoption,’ Sussex Archaeological Collections 140 (2002), pp.125-38.


‘A Unique Site of Major Historical Importance’: Hannah Barker discusses the restoration of Quarry Bank Mill

Being a Historical Advisor for the National Trust


I’m currently one of two members of History staff who are working with the National Trust as Historical Advisors. Whilst Sasha Handley is involved at Little Moreton Hall in Staffordshire (having previously collaborated with staff at Ham House), I am working with the Trust at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. Quarry Bank is a unique site of major historical importance. Built in the late eighteenth century, at the start of the industrial revolution, it incorporates a large cotton mill, a farm, an entire village purpose-built to house the mill workforce and the homes and workplaces of the owner, mill manager and apprentices. Few, if any other sites of comparable significance are as complete or as untouched.


Quarry Bank Mill


I’m part of a team at Quarry Bank working on a £9.4 million expansion and (re)interpretation project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust.

This project started at the end of last year and will be completed by 2019. It includes the restoration and opening of a worker’s cottage and the village shop in Styal Village, opening Quarry Bank House to the public (the former home of the Greg family who owned the mill), the restoration of Quarry Bank garden and glasshouse, and improving access around the site with a new network of paths and roads, and car park.

For me, this collaboration offers the opportunity to use my research on the early industrial revolution, and on work, buildings and the use of space during this period in particular, to inform and shape a major public history initiative. But most of all, it provides an exciting change from my usual activities as an academic, and challenges me to think in new ways and to explore different ways of working as part of a team of curators, interpretation and programming specialists.


Apprentice House, Quarry Bank

One of my first tasks at Quarry Bank involved the reinterpretation of a building already open to the public: the Apprentice House. One of the things I want to do here is to give visitors a clearer sense of what it was like from the point of view of the original occupants: that is, the child workers. For me, the house as it is currently presented is too airy, too roomy and far too quiet. And more than this, it gives very little sense of the individual children who have lived here. We are planning to turn the quiet, still spaces within Apprentice House into something that gives more of a sense of their earlier, noisier, smellier and more cramped past, when the house was full of children.

One way that we are planning to achieve this transformation is by examining the material culture of the apprentices. We will be introducing apprentices’ boxes into the main girls’ dormitory, and by doing so, telling the individual children’s stories. These boxes would have been common amongst servants and other mobile employees in the eighteenth century, and would have been used to both transport one’s possessions and to keep them safe. From surviving records in the Quarry Bank archive we do know that it was likely that each apprentice had at least two sets of clothes, and that they sometimes borrowed money from their employer to buy other items, such as a new gown, shoes, a sliding rule, a flute and even a watch. Recreating some of these possessions, and the boxes in which they were kept, alongside providing details of the lives of their owners, will give us a much stronger sense of these children’s experiences working and living at Quarry Bank. I hope it will help visitors to feel a closer connection with these child workers and to develop a clearer sense of what being an apprentice at the mill would have been like.


Number 13, Oak Cottages: the pickled cottage

Since planning the reinterpretation of the Apprentice House, I’ve also been looking at the worker’s cottages. One of the buildings at Quarry Bank that will be newly open to the public after 2019 will be 13 Oak Cottages. It’s known locally as the Pickled cottage, because it has been literally pickled and left untouched and unaltered (and empty) since around the 1960s, if not earlier. It was built sometime during the 1820s, when the Gregs started the rapid expansion of the village to house its growing workforce. We can trace the occupants of the cottage from at least 1841, if not earlier, and know that the small, two-up-two-downs would have housed large families and mixed households, including lodgers, with others living in the cellar.

In thinking about how we present this cottage to visitors, we can obviously talk about who lived here, but I also want to give visitors a sense as well of what it was like to live here and can draw on my own research on the use of domestic space in smaller trading households in towns such as Manchester and Liverpool during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to achieve this. Living in such small spaces was not simple, and the ways in which inhabitants would have shared their living space contradicts both traditional historical models of growing domestic privacy during the eighteenth century, and our own modern ideas about privacy and space.



Front room, ground floor, 13 Oak Cottages

For those who lived at number 13, restrictions on the size of living accommodation made many of the formal distinctions of space that we are used to unlikely. This means that we can’t assume that people applied single uses to different rooms as we do today – thus it seems quite possible that inhabitants would sleep and sit and socialize and cook and eat in the room we might think of as the front room on the ground floor, whilst the back room might have been a form of kitchen (though without running water). It is also likely that unrelated individuals would have shared bedrooms, and probably beds. Whilst we might baulk at such ideas – not just sleeping in a room in which food is prepared and eaten, but especially bed-sharing – it is clear that company and physical proximity were often more highly prized in the early nineteenth century than was a more modern understanding of privacy (especially if it was cold). And we know, of course, that any workers who had come from the Apprentice House would have been used to sharing beds with others, whilst in a period when large families were the norm, sharing beds with siblings would have been standard.


The cellar at 13 Oak cottages

But this doesn’t mean that privacy wasn’t important in terms of upholding certain standards of respectability. The separation of the sexes to preserve modesty and to prevent inappropriate sexual relations – especially between men and women who weren’t related or married – would have been important. Although men and women appear not to have been generally segregated in terms of daily activities during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there were clearly exceptions to this rule where sexual impropriety or modesty were concerned: such as mending undergarments, washing and not engaging in illicit sexual behaviour. I hope that by exploring some of these issues, we will get a clearer sense of what life was like for the workers at the mill. With any luck future visitors will find the stories that we tell in our interpretation of the pickled cottage as interesting as I am finding my role as a historical advisor. For more information, go to and


Britain at the back of the queue? Mark Seddon discusses the TTIP, Brexit, and the history of US Trade Policy


One of a number of posters created by the Economic Cooperation Administration, an agency of the U.S. government, to sell the Marshall Plan in Europe. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, Greenpeace released documents from a secretive and controversial free trade deal currently being negotiated by the EU and US government. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would reduce restrictions on EU-US trade but critics argue that the deal would encourage privatisation of public services and make it easier for multinational corporations to circumvent regulation. President Barack Obama’s references to the TTIP also provoked ire in April as he commented on the implications of Britain leaving the EU. The President argued that, following Brexit, a US-UK trade deal would be placed ‘at the back of the queue’ as Washington would continue to prioritise ‘negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done’. Some interpreted these comments as an implied threat and, indeed, Obama would not be the first US President to pressure the British government into supporting US trade policy.

Current US efforts to propagate free trade can be traced back to the Great Depression when, as part of a broad effort to stimulate domestic industry, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to create export markets for US goods. From 1933, Washington focused on securing free trade agreements with Latin America which, in addition to purchasing US exports, could provide cheap raw materials for manufacturing. The eruption of war in Europe in 1939 led the US government to place further emphasis on pan-American free trade as a means of encouraging economic stability and solidarity throughout the Western Hemisphere. US officials argued that, in general, trade fostered broader international cooperation while protectionism increased competition and, consequently, the likelihood of war. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull in particular worked on the basis that ‘unhampered trade dovetailed with peace; high tariffs, trade barriers, and unfair economic competition, with war.’[i] As Warren F. Kimball alliteratively argues, for US officials, ‘[p]romoting peace and profit simultaneously was an appealing policy.’[ii]

By 1941, the US government was ready to globalise its free trade programme and, in his State of the Union address of 6 January, Roosevelt declared it necessary to obtain ‘economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world’.[iii] However, free trade was at odds with the British system of imperial preference which had been introduced in 1932 to combat the effects of the Great Depression. This system placed prejudicial tariffs on imports into the British Empire and needed to be dismantled if the US government’s free trade agenda were to become truly international. Yet despite consistent US efforts to persuade the British to open up their Empire to free trade, the imperial preference system remained in place throughout the Second World War.

By 1948, with the Cold War dominating post-war international relations, Washington officials had become concerned that the impoverished populations of war-torn Western Europe might embrace communism as a solution to their hardship. As a result, between 1948 and 1951, Washington provided Western Europe with billions of dollars in ‘Marshall Aid’ to support its economic recovery. There was also a commercial motive behind the aid programme as US officials understood that strengthening the capitalist economics of Europe would ensure a healthy market for US exports. European governments who received Marshall Aid pledged to reduce barriers to trade while, during the same period, the US government made a further effort to reduce tariffs by taking a leading role in the establishment of the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade. Yet, despite US pressure, the British government was again able to secure exemption for imperial preference and the system only came to an end due to the breakup of the Empire and the UK’s entry into the European Community.

Within this context, Obama’s desire to ensure British participation in the TTIP’s free trade arrangement seems consistent with his predecessors’ efforts to secure US economic interests. In fact, Historian Michael J. Hogan has argued that the caveats attached to Marshall Aid played an important role in encouraging the post-war integration of Europe that has culminated in the current EU.[iv] It is perhaps unsurprising then that the US government would act to protect the European single market that it helped to create.

[i] Cordell Hull, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, Vol. I (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1948), p. 81.

[ii] Warren F. Kimball, The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt As Wartime Statesman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 47.

[iii] Franklin D. Roosevelt, Annual Message to the Congress, 6 January 1941, in Samuel Irving Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Vol.: War – and Aid to Democracies (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1941), p. 672.

[iv] Michael J. Hogan, ‘Paths to Plenty: Marshall Planners and the Debate over European Integration, 1947-1948’, Pacific Historical Review 53, no. 3 (1984), 337-366.

Student Ideas Competition: Support Mappedemia!



Mappademia is a project submitted for the JISC student ideas competition which, if it can get 250 votes from the public, would get funding for a piece of software which would allow students or researchers with little or no previous programming experience to easily create mobile mapping applications and share them for free with the public.


The project has been devised by Doctoral Researcher in English and American Studies Matthew Stallard, as part of the University of Manchester’s Digital Humanities programme. As Matthew writes, ‘if we get the required votes Manchester would be at the forefront of promoting the technology to our students and researchers, with potentially innovative uses in many academic subject areas. Mappedemia could act as a tool for a variety of research studies, offering an interactive means of distributing original research, stories, information, or images to assisting projects which seek to provide social benefits to users by disseminating important information and collecting user generated data and content.’

john speed county palatine of lancaster 1610
John Speed’s County Palatine of Lancaster map, dated 1610. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For historians, the app presents an opportunity to plot historic sites onto existing maps or even create maps based on historical research (such as the location of crimes within a particular city during a specific set of years, or identify the movements and residences of a particular set of historic actors); maps which could then be compared with those used by governments or police to understand how a space was used and occupied by citizens themselves.


So if you like the idea of your own easy to create and free to distribute apps to publicize your research, or link up with local cultural institutions or community groups via the university please check out the project website to find out more and click “Vote Now” to ensure Matthew gets the magic 250 votes he needs to get the funding to build the software!



Beyond DeGaulle/Beyond London: Conference on new approaches to the history of the Free French and the external Resistance.


Title of Conference/Event:

Beyond De Gaulle and beyond London: New approaches to the history of the Free French and the external Resistance

 Date(s) held: 4 June 2016, University of London in Institute in Paris (ULIP)

Conference organised by the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP), Queen Mary University of London and the University of Manchester.

Why did you feel it was timely for a conference/event on this theme?


The idea behind this workshop comes from my colleague Charlotte Faucher (QMUL) and my own developing work on the history of international organisations and transnational networks in the era of the Second World War. Following the Fall of France and the signature of the Armistice with Germany, resistance networks organised themselves in and outside of France. It is upon the latter group that our work focuses. Charlotte Faucher’s research explores how the Free French groups as well as groups outside the Gaullist circles used French arts and nascent European and international cultural institutions to promote resistance ideas outside France. My own work illuminates, in particular, how the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was exploited by French officials as an international platform to advance France’s broader political aims both within and outside Europe. Crucially, our research illuminates the ways in which culture and relief were understood by some French in exile as a vehicle for pursuing international leadership and a means of restoring national prestige.

Both research projects reflect in various ways on the tensions between international organizations, cultural institutions and (Free) French national priorities. French attempts to re-assert their power globally in the aftermath of the 1940 defeat are a familiar tale. But our work approaches this issue from fresh vantage points: the question of French cultural diplomacy and services abroad and the exploration of humanitarian relief efforts in Europe. In doing so, we seek to answer two broad questions: 1) How did old and new international institutions affect the way the Free French movement and later the French Committee of National Liberation (both led by Charles de Gaulle) approached cultural/humanitarian efforts in Europe? And 2) How successful were these French policy-elites in maintaining their vision in the face of a transformed international environment?

With this in mind, the aim of our forthcoming workshop is to showcase new research on the history of French wartime policies and prompt fresh reflection on networks that made up France’s external resistance, the role of competing ideologies, the question of ‘soft power’ or the interactions between Free French experts and existing or nascent international organisations.

In many ways, this workshop represents a timely opportunity to revisit the history of the Free French and external resistance. Aside from the opening of new archives, the international dimensions of the Free French movement have begun to size unprecedented scholarly attention. In recent years, the ‘transnational’ and ‘global’ turns have indeed invigorated the study of the ‘Free French’ movement and the Resistance. The conference organised on ‘Les Français Libres et le Monde’ in 2013 (and the subsequent publication edited by Sylvain Cornil-Frerrot and Philippe Oulmont) have shown the potential of internationalist approaches for the study of De Gaulle’s world visions and the Free French movement more broadly. Last year, Strathclyde historians Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr. Karine Varley organised a conference on France and the Second World War in a global perspective. And, even more recently, the Institut français in London hosted an evening on ‘New approaches to World War II’ with Professor Guillaume Piketty and Professor Robert Gildea which drew on the notion of global war. The call for paper that we issued ahead of the conference offers an overview of these recent historiographical developments.

What are the key themes and debates raised during the conference? 

This workshop is truly international in nature, bringing together leading scholars from Israel, the United States, Canada, Britain and France. A range of different historical perspectives and methods is brought to bear on the topic, including the history of emotions and international and transnational history. We are also excited to bring together scholars who work on a wide variety of archival documents and primary sources: a couple of speakers will be presenting archives that have been recently opened to researchers, while another will draw on post-war documentary films that concerns little studied resistant groups. Key themes of the workshop include: ‘Global Culture Fronts’ and the Alliance Française Networks; internal tensions and anti-Gaullism within resistance networks abroad, the charged question of antisemitism; the issue of Allied bombing; resistance networks in Indochina; Free French groups in Canada; or the questions of the ‘return to intimacy’ of former French resistant fighters. Dr. Jean-Marc Dreyfus (Manchester) will present new research on the work of André Mayer, a French veteran of the League of Nations who actively contributed to the creation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The field of history and French studies will also met in one of the papers which considers the question of French cultural resistance, by examining the translation of resistance literature into English in New York during the war. This opens up questions about the role of the translator as an intermediary making cultural productions available to an Anglophone audience.

The keynote speaker, Professor Emmanuelle Loyer (Sciences Po Paris), will re-evaluate the legacy of the resistance through an examination of how Soixant-huitards (ie the participants in the student and workers’ protest movement of May 1968) used a vocabulary close to that of the Resistance. Thus, although the workshop focuses on the war and immediate post-war period, we have encouraged participants to think about representations, conflicting legacies and memory. Professor Julian Jackson (QMUL) will conclude the day. You can find the programme of the workshop here

Where are you hoping to go from here?

 We are hoping to publish selected papers from the conference in a selected issue. A second workshop will be organized in Manchester in 2017. Both workshops are associated to the French History Network (FHN), led by Dr Ludivine Broch (Westminster) and Dr Alison Carrol (Brunel) and the Royal Society of Edinburg-funded network on the Relations Between Britain and France in World War Two convened by Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr. Karine Varley.

So, if you would like to get involved and learn more about our project please contact us at or

The event is kindly supported by the Society for French Studies (SFS), the Society for the Study of French History (SSFH), the Fondation de la France Libre, the School of History at Queen Mary University of London, the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP) and the University of Manchester.

British Colonialism Built Corruption: Dr Steven Pierce discusses the legacy of empire in Nigeria

Moral Economies of Corruption

It’s nothing new—a politician said something offensive and silly about other countries, angering people around the world. When David Cameron declared last week that Nigeria and Afghanistan were “fantastically corrupt,” my social media accounts blew up. Nigerian friends and commentators were very angry, and rightly so. The sad thing is that Cameron probably doesn’t understand why they’re angry. It’s not because Nigeria doesn’t have a terrible problem with corruption. I’ve just published a book on the topic, and I’ve never talked to an adult Nigerian who doesn’t think it’s one of the primary challenges they face. But they know it’s not just something that happens over there. They’re pointing out that Nigeria’s stolen billions are being shipped overseas, and that the U.K. is a prime destination. They’ve also read the Panama Papers. They know Nigerian politicians aren’t the only ones stashing money overseas. The next time David Cameron goes to Nigeria, he can expect a lot of questions about his family’s tax strategies. I hope he has a good answer: Nigerians are a tough audience.


Nigerian corruption is more complicated than these news stories indicate, and Britain is more deeply involved than even my Facebook friends would suggest. For one thing it has a long history, a history in which Britain was crucial. Corruption emerged as a widespread problem in Nigerian governance as the British colonial employed huge numbers of indigenous rulers as front-line administrators. By itself that wasn’t a bad policy, but Britain insisted doing it on the cheap, paying laughably low salaries, which didn’t provide rulers the resources to maintain the kind of political profile necessary to do their jobs. Desperate for more money, many of them embarked on programs of systematic embezzlement and extortion. British colonialism built corruption into Nigeria’s government, and made it too widespread to attack systematically.


Britain’s second contribution was creating a tradition of selective prosecution. Corruption was so widespread it couldn’t be officially discovered, much less prosecuted, in all cases. When officials were deposed or put on trial, it was because they were in trouble for something else. In effect, corruption was less an objective crime—it was too common for that—than it was an excuse for attacking ones political enemies. Cracking down on corruption became a central strategy for Nigerian government, even as corrupt acts were omnipresent in Nigerian political society.


If that weren’t enough, Britain also structured the Nigerian political economy in a way that encouraged vast corruption. Even before the discovery of oil, the national economy was based on the export of a few primary products, controlled by the state. The government functioned as the gatekeeper to the Nigerian economy, and access to government-controlled revenue was the key to becoming wealthy. As Nigerian officials took over these government institutions, their scope for diverting revenues to their own ends increased dramatically.


David Cameron’s remarks were offensive, but not because Nigeria isn’t corrupt. He sounded as if he thinks of corruption as a Nigerian problem, not as the consequence of a long-term, destructive relationship with the country he currently governs. He ignores the benefits Britain and the west continue to enjoy, from having stolen money invested in their economies, from access to an exporting economy whose elite is often more interested in lining their own pockets than in using national resources for the benefit of their citizens. And he ignores the fact that political elites use their offices and their privilege to benefit themselves financially.


Nigeria’s president was temperate in his response to Cameron’s gaffe. President Buhari hasn’t asked for an apology, just the return of its stolen national wealth. I have my reservations about the president’s political program, and about how realistic his approach to corruption is. Nonetheless, in this instance he is more conciliatory than I would be. David Cameron and Britain have a lot to apologize for. It would be nice to see them get started.

Steven Pierce’s new book, Moral Economies of Corruption: State Formation and Political Culture in Nigeria, has been published by Duke University Press in 2016.