The Weight of the Past in Franco-British Relations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Humanities


Historical themes have long been prominent in the rhetoric and reality of Franco-British relations. Britain and France have been at peace for more than two centuries. Yet official and public discourse in both countries is saturated with backward-looking references to past national glory and 'natural' rivalry. The recent EU referendum in the UK is a case in point. Surprisingly, there is no systematic study of the role of representations of the past in Franco-British relations. To what extent have such representations shaped the conceptual horizons of policy-makers? What role have preoccupations with the present and the future played in the way the past has been used in policy debates? Has a preoccupation with history undermined co-operation between these two key European states?

The proposed research addresses these questions in the first detailed archival investigation of the 'weight of the past' in Franco-British relations. We will engage systematically with current and former policy practitioners and civil society (third sector) stakeholders to draw on their expertise and disseminate our research findings widely in government and public spheres.

The investigators will deploy an innovative research strategy based on new approaches in international history, historical culture and memory studies. The research will draw on richly varied archival and published sources in France and the UK. To maximise the breadth and depth of the research, we will work with leading international scholars who will attend project events and contribute their research to our final Project Conference. Proceedings will be published as a special issue of Diplomacy & Statecraft. The Investigators will co-author a research monograph ('The Weight of the Past in Franco-British Relations since 1815'), publish seven articles in leading peer-reviewed journals and give multiple conference papers. The result will be a substantial body of published work providing new perspectives on Franco-British relations and offering a new methodological template for studying the history of international relations.

The Project's Research and Impact Strategies are mutually reinforcing. They will maximise impact by linking it closely to research, while ensuring that research is informed at every stage by practitioner expertise. This will be achieved in cooperation with Project Partners including the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the UK Embassy, Paris, the UK Ministry of Defence and the Franco-British Council. Other Collaborators include the French Defence Ministry, the French Embassy, London, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The National Archives (TNA).

A suite of Project Events will bring together the researchers, current and former policy-makers and members of key civil society associations to discuss our research and refine strategies for impact. These are a Witness Seminar (RUSI), a Policy Engagement Colloquium (UK Embassy, Paris), a Research Workshop (Glasgow), a plenary panel at the Franco-British Council's Annual Conference on Defence and Security Cooperation, a Public Exhibition (TNA) and the Project Conference (Maison Française, Oxford).

The Investigators are uniquely placed to deliver the project aims. PI Jackson has published widely in the field of European international relations, including two widely-cited essays on theory and method in international history, and has worked extensively with policy practitioners and the media in France and the UK. Co-I Pastor-Castro specialises in Franco-British relations and has worked with the FCO to deliver a range of academic and impact goals. Co-I Utley has written extensively on French defence policy and has worked with the UK MoD, the French Embassy in London, NC3A (NATO) and the EU. Expert guidance on the project's management will be provided by an Advisory Group comprising vastly-experienced current and former policy-makers, members of civil society and academic researchers.

Planned Impact

Our Impact Strategy targets policy practitioners, civil society stakeholders and the informed public as beneficiaries of the Project's research. The project has been conceived with careful consideration for the interests and needs of our non-academic collaborators. It builds on a range of successful prior collaborations with key institutions. Collaborators include the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); the British Embassy in Paris; the French Ministry of Defence; the French Embassy in London; the Franco-British Council (FBC); RUSI (the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies); the Maison Française, Oxford; and The National Archives, Kew (TNA).

Our non-academic collaborators share a broad consensus on the 'the weight of the past' in relations between Britain and France. As one senior MoD official put it, 'We certainly find that history rhymes even if it does not echo ... this is more obvious when working with the French'. Our project is designed to offer practitioners ample scope for reflective engagement with the historical context of Franco-British relations, facilitating enhanced understanding and the application of deeper insights to policy-making. For civil society partners, the project will facilitate stronger policy analysis and support.

Four key events will deliver Impact and Knowledge Exchange between stakeholders and project researchers.

A Witness Seminar (London: 2019) will establish dialogue and knowledge exchange organised around the project's core research questions. Engaging primarily the UK FCO, MoD, FBC and RUSI, the Witness Seminar will develop impact opportunities with these partners. At the same time it will extend awareness of the project to the wider policy-making and policy analysis communities through network-building, and the publication of transcripts and an event report on the project and RUSI websites.

A Policy Engagement Colloquium (British Embassy, Paris: 2019) will engage French poliy practitioners alongside project researchers and partners, and broaden the opportunities for impact to non-UK beneficiaries. Proceedings will be disseminated through the auspices of the French Defence Attache, and via the FCO Historians, the British Embassy in Paris and the project website.

The Investigators will deliver a plenary session to the Franco-British Council Defence and Security Cooperation Conference (Paris: 2020), engaging elite-level policy makers, industrialists and security practitioners, expanding the reach and scope of the project's impact. Our papers will form part of the FBC Defence conference report.

Finally, a Project Conference (Oxford: 2020) will disseminate research findings to project partners, other policy and civil society stakeholders and the French and British media. All impact partners have agreed to attend these events, building a framework for impact across national borders beyond the life of the project.

Our approach to public engagement is threefold.

First, we will work with our key collaborator The National Archives to exploit the findings of our archival research in order to develop collection advocacy and contribute to TNA's public outreach programmes. Second, we will use the media and press offices of our partners and our home universities and target outlets such as The Conversation and History & Policy (with which the University of Leeds has a partnership) to disseminate our research. Thirdly we will use the project's free and interactive web resource, linked with a social media strategy using Facebook and Twitter, to maximise the public outreach of our Impact Strategy.

Our partners welcome the timeliness of the research in the light of current developments in UK-Europe relations, with scope for reputational and commercial advantage also to accrue from engagement with this research.


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