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 policy 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.
Description That the manner in which historical reasoning and historical evidence was deployed in the policy-making process in both Britain and France (with specific reference to Franco-British relations) over the past two centuries cannot be characterised as an objective use of historical understandings to inform policy decisions. Policy elites instead tend to reconstruct the meaning of the past to suit policy priorities and preferences in the present that are shaped by aspirations and anxieties for the future. The use of history in foreign and defence policy-making is therefore a highly subjective enterprise that reflects a constant dialogue between the present and future, on the one hand, and selective understandings of the past, on the other.

The contending experiences of Britain and France during the Great War constitute a watershed moment in determining the way historical understandings were drawn upon in policymaking on both sides of the Channel. For France, the First World War was first and foremost an existential struggle to cast the German invaders out of the national territory. For Britain, the same conflict was understood as an attempt to prevent German domination of the European continent. These divergent constructions of the meaning of the Great War shaped responses to international challenges between the two world wars. For French policy elites, the status of France as a second-rank power in vital need of strategic support from Great Britain became a fundamental tenet of foreign and defence policy. In Great Britain, conversely, there was a much greater tendency among political and policy elites to return to pre-war operating assumptions in which France once again assumed its age-old status as an imperial rival.
Exploitation Route An awareness of:

The use of history in the making of foreign and defence policy is a highly subjective practice that is shaped by priorities in the present and aspirations and anxieties concerning the future.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description The project engages systematically with the British Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials (primarily via the British Embassy in Paris), and French defence and diplomatic officials. The chief milestones in this engagement have yet to take place: the Witness Seminar at the Royal United Services Institute and the Policy Engagement Colloquium at the British Embassy in Paris. But engagement is ongoing and has informed the planning for these events. The first project planning meeting took place at the French Embassy in London on 28 September 2018. The event at the Royal United Services Institute was a tremendous success. Current and former policy stakeholders gave thoughtful and revealing accounts of their experiences in Franco-British Relations and of the way they felt perceptions and understandings of historical legacies affected these relations as well as policy decisions taken in their respective government departments. The recording and trascriptions of this event are ready top be uploaded to the project site. However our Project Administrator and Post-Doctoral Researcher have been on furlough almost continuously over the past eleven months and so there have been technical delays.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Title Archival Catalogue and Collection Database 
Description This database comprises collections of archival catalogue photos, which support project researchers in identifying potentially useful archival documents prior to travelling to the archive itself. Data will be created in the form of research notes. We will also acquire some digital images of archival documents solely for the purposes of project research and not for dissemination. Notes will be transcribed on to Word. Digital images will be transformed into pdf files and pdf binders (to organise and store documentary evidence by archive files) using Adobe Acrobat software available under Glasgow University's Licenses. It will then be back up on the University of Glasgow server. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Streamlines the research process by allowing project researchers to identify relevant documents to request prior to being on site at a given archive. 
Title Archival Document Photos 
Description This database will bring together collections of archival document photos giving insight into the weight of the past in Franco-British relations from 1815. The photos will be compiled from across a range of French and British archives. These will include UK archives: The National Archives, the British Library and the Churchill Archives as well as French archives: Les Archives Nationales and the Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres. The photos compiled throughout the life of the project will be stored at the University of Glasgow. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Facilitates the sharing of archival research across the researchers involved on this project. 
Title Project Website 
Description Website to host video recordings of the proceedings of the Project 'Witness Seminar' and 'Policy Engagement Colloquium'. It will also host project documentation derived from archival research. The videos of these events will be recorded by the the hosting institutions (The Royal United Services Institute and the British Embassy in Paris). The project documentation will include transcripts of the podcast 'Witness' testimonials under the auspices of the Project's 'Witness Seminar'. It will also include transcripts of semi-structured interviews with other current and former actors in Franco-British relations conducted by project researchers. Website using the University of Glasgow's CMS/T4. The formats of the audio and video will be created in 'lossless' high resolution formats. For example, we will ask the host institutions to provide Audio in Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) (.flac) and Video in MPEG-4 (.mp4). Transcripts of interviews will be stored in Rich Text Format converted to pdf. 
Type Of Material Data handling & control 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publicises project aims, events and outputs. Links project investigators to affiliated researchers and partner institutions, thereby illustrating the reach and impact of the project. 
Title Reading Lists 
Description Compilation of relevant published resources (books, journal articles, memoirs, biographies, published papers) pertaining the the question of Franco-British relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. These lists will be published in 2019 via the project website. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This collection of resources will provide other researchers with access to a list of major works that address the history of Franco-British relations. It will be valuable for both ongoing scholarly research and as a teaching tool. 
Description Collaboration with HIstorians at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Organisation of a one-day workship entitled 'History and Foreign Policy'.
Collaborator Contribution Provided the Durban Room at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made time for a range of mid-level and senior policy-makers to attend ad to contribute their thoughts. Provided lunch.
Impact Several papers from the workshop will appear in the special issue of the International History Review devoted to reserach outcomes from 'The Practice of International Histotry'. Publication is scheduled for Spring 2019.
Start Year 2015
Description Partnership with the Scottish Council on Global Affairs 
Organisation Government of Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The Scottish Council on Global Affairs is Scotland's first international relations institute providing a hub for collaborative and policy-relevant research on all aspects of international affairs.
Collaborator Contribution 1. Collaborative research award with the University of St Andrews and symposium on the role of historical memory in French and British external relations on the questions of decolonisation and post-colonial migration. 2. Collaboration with members of the Scottish Council on the issue of historical reflexes and Franco-British Collaboration in northern Europe and the High North.
Impact Planning for two day-long symposia (to be held on 17 June and 9 September) on French and British attitudes and policies towards post-colonial migration with specific reference to the role of historical legacies of empire on attitudes towards citizenship. One roundtable (to be held on 24 September 2022) on the historical background and role of institutional memory in Franco-British security cooperation in Northern Europe and over the question of the Russian threat to the High North.
Start Year 2022
Description Partnership with the University of Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne) 
Organisation Pantheon-Sorbonne University
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint research project on the historiography of international relations since 1945. Result is one chapter in an edited collection.
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to chapter and editing of the collection.
Impact P. Jackson and T. Imlay, 'Des différentes voies menant à la même destination : le problème d'agent-structure dans l'histoire des relations internationales en France et en Grande-Bretagne après 1945' in L. Badel (ed.). "Pierre Renouvin et Jean-Baptiste Duroselle: La construction d'une discipline, l'histoire des relations internationales", (Paris, 2018).
Start Year 2016
Description Discussion of the role of history in foreign policy-making with civil servants at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
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 The network held its final workshop at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 1 June 2017. In attendance were network members as well as staff from various desks of the European policy unit from the FCO. The event was managed on the FCO end by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Official Historians, led by Prof. Patrick Salmon.
The day was a tremendous success and several of the FCO policy staff indicated surprise at the extent to which present policy issues were rooted in the past as well as the way subject constructions of the past shaped understandings in the present.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Project Twitter Account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The project Twitter account (@FrancoBritPast) was launched in order to publicise project events and share media relevant to the project aims. It will also be used to live tweet during project events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Project's free and interactive web resource will make available podcasts and digitised transcripts of all events, including the Witness Seminar and the Policy Engagement Colloquium. These activities will also be publicised on Facebook and Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019