Category Archives: Social Sciences

Email Preservation: How Hard Can it Be? DPC Briefing Day

On Thursday 6th July 2017 I attended the Digital Preservation Coalition briefing day in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on email preservation titled ‘Email preservation: how hard can it be?’. It was hosted at The National archives (TNA), this was my first visit to TNA and it was fantastic. I didn’t know a great deal about email preservation prior to this and so I was really looking forward to learning about this topic.

The National Archives, Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9786613

The aim of the day was to engage in discussion about some of the current tools, technologies and thoughts on email preservation. It was orientated around the ‘Task Force on Technical Approaches to Email Preservation’ report that is currently in its draft phase. We also got to hear about interesting case studies from the British library, TNA and Preservica, each presenting their own unique experiences in relation to this topic. It was a great opportunity to learn about this area and hear from the co-chairs (Kate Murray and Christopher Prom) and the audience about their thoughts on the current situation and possible future directions.

We heard from Jonathan Pledge from British library (BL). He told us about the forensic capture expertise gained by the BL and using EnCase to capture email data from hard drives, CD’s and USB’s. We also got an insight into how they are deciding which email archive tool to use. Aid4mail fits better with their work flow however ePADD with its holistic approach was something they were considering. During their ingest they separate the emails from the attachments. They found that after the time consuming process of removing emails that would violate the data protection laws, there was very little usable content left, as often, entire threads would have to be redacted due to one message. This is not the most effective use of an archivist time and is something they are working to address.

We also heard from Anthea Seles who works with government collections at TNA. We learnt that from their research, they discovered that approximately 1TB of data in an organisations own electronic document and records management system is linked to 10TB of related data in shared drives. Her focus was on discovery and data analytics. For example, a way to increase efficiency and focus the attention of the curator on was to batch email. If an email was sent from TNA to a vast number of people, then there is a high chance that the content does not contain sensitive information. However, if it was sent to a high profile individual, then there is a higher chance that it will contain sensitive information, so the curator can focus their attention on those messages.

Hearing from Preservica was interesting as it gave an insight into the commercial side of email archiving. In their view, preservation was not an issue. For them, their attention was focused on addressing issues such as identifying duplicates/unwanted emails efficiently. Developing tools for performing whole collection email analysis and, interestingly, how to solve the problem of acquiring emails via a continuous transfer.

Emails are not going to be the main form of communication forever (the rise in the popularity of instant messaging is clear to see) however we learnt that we are still expecting growth in its use for the near future.

One of the main issues that was bought up was the potential size of future email archives and the issue that come with effective and efficient appraisal. What is large in academic terms, e.g. 100 000 emails, is not in government. The figure of over 200 million emails at the George W. Bush presidential library is a phenomenal amount and the Obama administrations is estimated at 300 million. This requires smart solutions and we learnt how the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning could help.

Continuous active learning was highlighted to improve searches. An example of searching for Miami dolphins was given. The Miami Dolphins are an American football team however someone might so be looking for information about dolphins in Miami. Initially the computer would present different search results and the user would choose which the more relevant result is, over time it will learn what it is the user is looking for in cases where searches can be ambiguous.

Another issue that was highlighted was, how do you make sure that you have searched the correct person? How do you avoid false positives? At TNA the ‘Traces Through Time’ project aimed to do that, initially with World War One records. This technology, using big data analytics can be used with email archives. There is also work on mining the email signature as a way to better determine ownership of the message.

User experience was also discussed. Emulation is an area of particular interest. The positive of this is that it recreates how the original user would have experienced the emails. However this technology is still being developed. Bit level preservation is a solution to make sure we capture and preserve the data now. This prevents loss of the archive and allows the information and value to be extracted in the future once the tools have been developed.

It was interesting to hear how policy could affect how easy it would be to acquire email archives. The new General Data Protection Regulation that will come into effect in May 2018 will mean anyone in breach of this will suffer worse penalties, up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover. This means that companies may air on the side of caution with regards to keeping personal data such as emails.

Whilst the email protocols are well standardised, allowing emails to be sent from one client to another (e.g. AOL account from early 1990’s to Gmail of now) the acquisition of them are not. When archivists get hold of email archives, they are left with the remnants of whatever the email client/user has done to it. This means metadata may have been added or removed and formats can vary. This adds a further level of complexity to the whole process

The day was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a fantastic way to learn about archiving emails. As emails are now one of the main methods of communication, for government, large organisations and personal use, it is important that we develop the tools, techniques and policies for email preservation. To answer the question ‘how hard can it be?’ I’d say very. Emails are not simple objects of text, they are highly complex entities comprising of attachments, links and embedded content. The solution will be complex but there is a great community of researchers, individuals, libraries and commercial entities working on solving this problem. I look forward to hearing the update in January 2018 when the task force is due to meet again.

The first rule of Pig Club…

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive at the Bodleian Library [sc22/1c]

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, April 1918, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive [sc22/1c]

There’s just something about this delightful little three page rulebook that tickles me. Perhaps it’s the use of phrases like ‘eligible pigs’. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly serious document which details the ins and outs of the provision, insurance and inspection of pigs and potatoes (pigs and potatoes!) raised by members of the club.

It appears to have been produced by Gloucestershire County Council and was presumably part of a county-, or country-wide effort to encourage people to raise their own food during the war (also done during the second world war). Despite the central concern of food production, though, it’s a surprisingly cheering document for people concerned with animal welfare, as it’s very specific that the animals must be healthy and well-cared for, and that insurance compensation would not be paid if ‘the death or sickness of a pig is attributed to bad food, insufficient attention, or other carelessness or ill-treatment’.

One of my favourite things about the rulebook is who it belonged to: Stafford Cripps, probably best known as Britain’s ambassador to Moscow in 1940-1942 and as the austerity chancellor from 1947-1950. When this document was produced however, Cripps was not yet a political high flier. A chemistry graduate and practicing lawyer, he was both married and in ill health in 1914, which meant that he was not called up. He kept himself busy with recruitment efforts and then volunteered for a year in France as a Red Cross ambulance driver. In late 1915 he offered his chemistry expertise to the Ministry of Munitions and was posted to one of the country’s biggest munitions factories in Queensferry, near Chester. From early 1916, Cripps was running it, and it took its toll on his health. In early 1918, when this rulebook was drawn up, he was convalescing from a physical breakdown. Somehow, though, he still managed to find the time and energy to serve as honorary secretary of the Nailsworth Pig Club. The now nearly 100 year old rulebook survives in his archive at the Bodleian Library.

Incidentally, the first rule of Pig Club?:

  1. NAME.–The Society shall be called the “Nailsworth Pig Club.”

Can’t argue with that.

Web Archiving Week 2017 – “Pages for kids, by kids”

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a day of the Web Archiving Week 2017 conferences in Senate House, London along with another graduate trainee digital archivist.

A beautiful staircase in Senate House

Every session I attended throughout the day was fascinating, but Ian Milligan’s ‘Pages by kids, for kids’: unlocking childhood and youth history through the GeoCities web archive stood out for me as truly capturing part of what makes a web archive so important to society today.

Pages by kids, for kids

GeoCities, for those unfamiliar with the name, was a website founded in 1994 from which anyone could build their own free website which would become part of a ‘neighbourhood’. Each neighbourhood was themed for a particular topic, allowing topic clusters to form from created websites. GeoCities was shut down in Europe and the US in 2009, but evidence of it still exists in the Internet Archive.

Milligan’s talk focused particularly on the Enchanted Forest neighbourhood between 1996 and 1999. The Enchanted Forest was dedicated to child-friendliness and was the only age based neighbourhood, and as such had extra rules and community moderation to ensure nothing age inappropriate was present.

“The web was not just made by dot.com companies”

The above image shows what I think was one of the key points from the talk, a quote from the New York Times, March 17th 1997
“The web was not just made by dot.com companies, but that eleven-year-old boys and grandmothers are also busy putting up Web sites. Of course, the quality of these sites varies greatly, but low-cost and even free home page services are a growing part of the on-line world.”

The internet is a democracy, and to show a true record of how and why it has been used it necessarily involves people – not just businesses. By having GeoCities websites within the Internet Archive, it’s possible to access direct evidence of how people were using the internet in the late part of the 20th century, but, as Ian Milligan’s talk explained, it also allows access to direct evidence of childhood and youth culture forming on the internet.

Milligan pointed out that access to evidence of childhood and youth culture is rare, normally historical evidence comes in the form of adults remembering their time as children or from researchers studying children, but something produced by a child for other children would rarely make it into a traditional archive. Within the trove of archived GeoCities websites, however, children producing web content for children is clearly visible. From this, it is possible to examine what constituted popular activities for children on GeoCities in the late 20th century.

Milligan noted one major activity within the Enchanted Forest centred around an awards culture, wherein a popular site would award users based on several web page qualities such as no personal identifiable information, working links and loading times of less than one minute. Some users would create their own awards to present to people, for example an award for finding all the Winnie the Pooh words in a word search. His findings showed that 15% of Enchanted Forest websites had a dedicated awards page.

A darker side of a child-centric portion of the web was also revealed in the Geokidz club. On the surface, the Geokidz Club appeared to be an unofficial online clubhouse where children could share poetry and book reviews, they could chat and take HTML lessons – but these activities came at the price of a survey which contained questions about the lifestyles of the child’s parents (the type of information would appeal to advertisers). This formed part of one of the first internet privacy court cases due to the data being obtained from children and sold on without proper informed consent.

It was among my favourite talks of the day, and showed how much richer our understanding of the recent past can be using web archives, as well as the benefit to researchers of the history of youth and childhood.
It felt particularly relevant to me, as someone who spent her teen years on the internet watching, and being involved in, youth culture happening online in the 2000s to know that online youth culture, which can feel very ephemeral, can be saved for future research in web archives.

A wall hanging in Senate House (made of sisal)

In truth, any talk I attended would have made an interesting topic for this blog – the entire day was filled with informative speakers, interesting presentations and monumental, hair-like wall hangings. But I felt Ian Milligan’s talk gave such a positive example of how the internet, and particularly web archives, can give a voice to those whose experiences might be lost otherwise.

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

Continue reading

Additions to the Wardrop Collection

On May 17th descendants of the British diplomat Sir Oliver Wardrop visited the Bodleian to donate further items to the Wardrop collection on Georgia. The newly donated material contains correspondence by Sir Oliver written during his period as British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia, 1919-20, and letters written by his sister Marjory on her first visit to Georgia in 1894.

During their visit, family members were shown manuscripts already in the Library’s  Wardrop collection by Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who is currently writing a book about the collection.

Descendants of Sir Oliver Wardrop with Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze showing their additions to the Wardrop collection

Nursery rhymes, childhood folklore, and play: The archive of Iona and Peter Opie

Iona and Peter Opie were a husband-and-wife team researching childhood folklore. They started their work in the 1940s, when the birth of their first child sparked off their interest in nursery rhymes, and over more than four decades, they extended their research into many other areas of children’s culture, including children’s language, customs and beliefs, play and games. The Opies published more than 20 books – anthologies of traditional nursery rhymes, songs and fairy tales, as well as observations and analysis of children’s play and games in the street and in the playground, and the lore and language of schoolchildren.

Iona and Peter Opie in the playground

The Opies were avid collectors, and over the decades amassed one of the world’s largest collections of children’s books and printed ephemara, covering children’s literature from the 16th to the 20th century. The Opie Collection of Children’s Literature – over 20.000 pieces – was donated to the Bodleian Library in 1988.
But for their research in children’s culture the Opies not only relied on books published for children. They also wanted to collect the oral traditions of childhood – the rhymes, songs and games, the language and customs of the playground – and,  quite a new approach at the time, they wanted to collect these from the children themselves.

In November 1951, the Opies placed an advert in the Sunday Times, asking for help from teachers in collecting children’s lore and language, the idea being that schoolchildren answered a set of questions about counting out rhymes, local superstitions, cheers, slang and abbreviations, and send in  the ‘suggestionaires’, as the Opies called their survey sheets, via their teachers. Over the years the method evolved into asking open questions, or encouraging the children to freely describe their games and playground activities, hobbies and preferences. The teachers were instructed not to direct or aid the children when writing these papers, and even to leave the spelling unchecked.
From the 1950s through to the 1990s, the Opies received thousands of replies from children from all over the UK, often with accompanying letters by the teachers describing the local playground culture from their perspective, and sending in school journals, photographs, newspaper clipping and other background information. With some of their correspondents, the Opies stayed in touch over years, allowing them to trace the development of games and playground crazes at a particular school or in a particular area over time.

From the Opie Archive: One of 38 boxes of children’s letters

Box contents: Letters bundled by school – the Opies’ number referencing system in place.

To process and analyse their data, the Opies developed a daily work routine: Iona Opie would sort and analyse the incoming information and compile working material, adding survey responses, secondary literature and bibliographical notes. Peter Opie would then write up the results in a first draft, on which Iona would comment on the basis of her data, and so on. This produced an ever-expanding system  of sheet files – each one relating to a particular game or activity, with Iona’s rigorous approach to research data management (… this was long before databases and spreadsheets!) being crucial to keeping physical and intellectual control of the complex and extensive collection of research material.

From the c. 300 Opie working files, or as Iona Opie commented: “we have no memories, we have only filing system”.

The  original children’s papers and teachers’ correspondence, along with the working files, form the core of the Opie Archive, which has been transferred from Iona and Peter Opie’s home and ‘research headquarters’ in West Liss, Hampshire, to the Bodleian Library in various tranches since the 1990s. The archive – a total of 248 boxes – has been in use by researchers, but with only basic finding aids available it was difficult to navigate for anyone who did not know exactly what they were looking for.
Whilst the children’s papers, working files and professional correspondence are still very well organised in the original Opie filing system, other parts of the archive – materials relating to the Opies’ publications such as drafts and notes for books, and an extensive series of  personal papers and memorabilia, diaries and family correspondence – remain unsorted, uncatalogued and thus largely inaccessible to researchers.

Some of the boxes containing Peter Mason Opie’s [P.M.O.] personal papers and correspondence, as well as the manuscript of his first autobiographical book ‘I Want to be a Success’, published in 1939.

To open up the full research potential of the Opie Archive, a cataloguing project has started with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust. Over the next 16 months, we will sort and describe the archive to professional standards, consider questions of copyright and data protection, and address any conservation needs. We aim to release part-catalogues as work progresses through the series of the collection, with the final, complete catalogue becoming available in June 2018.

The first weeks of the project have flown by with stock taking and project planning, working from existing lists to get an overview of the content and structure of the archive, assessing the physical status, thinking about the future arrangement of the collection, and developing a detailed working plan.
Not least, there was a lot of background reading to do, to get an idea of the Opies’ lives and work, and provide the context of the archives material we are dealing with.

Lists and books, books and lists – it’s an archivist’s life! But not many people get to read fairy tales and playground stories for their work, so I won’t complain…

Please note that whilst we will try to accommodate urgent researchers’ requests for access wherever possible, sequences of the Opie Archive will become temporarily unavailable whilst preservation and cataloguing work is being carried out. If you need to consult material from the Opie Archive before June 2018, please contact us with as much advance notice as possible, so we can advise on the availability of the material in question and make the necessary arrangements.

In the meantime, we will keep you updated with further blog posts on the progress of the cataloguing work, and make sure to share some stories from the Opies’ fascinating world of childhood games and nursery rhymes.

Wellcome Trust logo

Supported by the Wellcome Trust

Percy Manning catalogue

The new catalogue of the Percy Manning collection is now available online.

Percy Manning centenary poster

Manning centenary

Percy Manning was a historian, folklorist and archaeologist with a special interest in Oxfordshire. When he died in 1917 he bequeathed his extensive collection to the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. It includes not only his own research notes and books on Oxfordshire history but also his personal collection of everything from medieval manorial records to watercolour paintings by established artists to actual archaeological finds (the archaeological papers went to the Ashmolean, and the artefacts to the Pitt Rivers). It’s a fascinating collection, full of hidden and forgotten histories as well as beautiful paintings and drawings of buildings and views across Oxfordshire which date back to the eighteenth century.

Created with the financial support of the Marc Fitch Fund, this new finding aid brings together all our existing descriptions of the Percy Manning archive, which were previously scattered across a variety of book, manuscript, map and even music catalogues. It also allowed us to do something new: to list all the Oxfordshire places that are named or referenced in the collection, whether it’s a manorial map of Bladon, or a snippet of folklore from Bicester. If you live in Oxfordshire, try searching for your town, village, or city, and see what you can find!

Oxford is celebrating Percy Manning’s centenary this spring with an array of events and activities including (but not limited to!) an exhibition in the Weston Library, a study day on 18 February at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, a lecture at the Weston on 22 March, a museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, an Ashmolean showcase of Percy Manning’s archaeological finds and a City Museum exhibition on Mummers and Maypoles. Other events include the unveiling of a blue plaque, family activities, music workshops, and a Centenary Celebration Concert with Magpie Lane and the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Full listings are available at the Folk in Oxford website.

Parliament Week: Britain and Europe: Britain’s third (and final) attempt to join the EC, 1970-73

Britain’s two previous attempts to join the European Community – in 1963 and 1967 – had been humiliatingly rejected by the French. Two British prime ministers – Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson – had both failed. Brought to power in the 1970 elections a new leader, Ted Heath, was determined to have a third try. But Heath faced two massive challenges: negotiating a place for Britain in Europe, and bringing the British public with him.

Like so much related to the history of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the story of Britain’s three attempts to join the EC are largely forgotten by the general public. Yet, as well as fundamentally changing the course of British post-war history, they can clearly inform current discussion of Britain’s place in Europe.

Getting in

So, what had changed between 1967 and 1973? First, and perhaps most important, was the fall from power of General de Gaulle. De Gaulle, who had vetoed both British applications, was a victim of the 1968 student protest which forced him from the office he had held for a decade; in his place, the new president Georges Pompidou was considerably more sympathetic.

Brought to power in the 1970 general election, the Conservative government of Ted Heath decided that the time was right to revive the application that had been left dormant in 1967 after the veto. For Heath, the domestic pressures for Britain to enter the EC were just as powerful as they had been for Wilson. The lack of export markets for British industry was becoming an ever-greater problem and hastened the decline of British living standards. In 1945, Britons had been 90 percent better off than citizens of ‘the Six’; by 1969, they were six percent poorer.

Negotiations opened in June 1970 alongside parallel negotiations with Britain’s traditional allies Ireland and Denmark. In January 1972, Heath finally signed the accession treaty in Brussels.

Party and people

The diplomatic negotiations were just the first obstacle that Heath faced; bringing Britain into Europe would also require the support of his party and the British electorate. This was a challenge that faced the Conservative Whips as they tried to make sure that enough MPs would vote with the government to pass the European Communities Act – the piece of legislation that was finalise the negotiations. It is on this aspect that many of the papers held by the Conservative Party Archives at the Bodleian focus.

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

The Conservative Party, which had stood on a pro-European platform since Macmillan, clearly had a parliamentary mandate if only its MPs could be brought on-side. Looking at the Conservative Party’s 326 MPs in January 1971, the Whip’s Office was not entirely happy with what they saw. At least 218 could be counted on to support the government’s position but 75 were ‘in doubt’ and 33 ‘against’. Although comparatively small in number, the 33 (not to mention the large in-doubt contingent) could stop the government getting the votes it needed to pass the bill, especially considering the divided and disorganised state of Labour. The judgement on the 33 was pretty damning: ‘a hard core of right-wingers, backed up by some Powellites, Ulster members, a handful of new Members, and one or two who for specialist reasons oppose entry…[and] 15 of the anti’s come from the old brigade…who have always been against the Market and always will be.’ (CCO 20/32/28) By August 1971, when the terms of the negotiations had become clear, there was a big rallying to the government’s side. Just 21 were estimated to be implacably hostile and almost all of the undecideds had been won over. The Whips were also delighted to note that this rallying ‘has taken place in the House, in the Parliamentary Party; it has also taken place in the Conservative Party outside the House and amongst voters as a whole.’ (CCO 20/32/28)

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Third Report and Analysis on the State of the Party on Common Market Issue. August 1, 1971’.

Some voters writing into the party expressed their concerns whilst others wrote in support. Ultimately, however, the issue remained unsolved and the public divided. With the Labour Party also ambivalent towards Europe (a radical change of direction), confrontation was inevitable. In 1974, new elections brought Labour back to power with the promise that continued British membership of the EC would be decided by referendum. The result – a surprise 60 percent majority in favour of staying – guaranteed Britain’s role as a major player in European integration for almost half a century.

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s second attempt to join the EC, 1966-67.

‘Now, the question is asked – will France veto us, and should we be deterred from application for fear that they will? I think the situation in 1967 is markedly different to what it was in 1963.’ (MS.Wilson c. 873)

Speaking here at the Labour Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary George Brown was undoubtedly wrong. Britain’s second attempt to join the European Communities (EC) in 1967 would end, ultimately, in the same ignominious failure as its first – shot down by a French veto, wielded by General de Gaulle. However, Brown was certainly right about one important thing: both Britain and Europe were very different in 1967 to how they had been just four years previously.

Britain’s three painful attempts to join the European Union’s predecessor are, today, almost totally forgotten by the general public. Yet they can serve an important role in informing current discussions, not least as a reminder of why Britain was so keen to join the union in the first place.

MS.Wilson c. 873, iii.3: ‘Britain and the EEC’ speech to PLP

1963 and 1967: Similarities and Differences

Considering the embarrassment of Britain’s failed attempt to enter the European Economic Community in 1963, it is perhaps surprising that the issue returned to public discussion so quickly. Between 1958 and 1963, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government had attempted to get Britain into the association but had been humiliated, in 1963, when the French president General de Gaulle vetoed British accession outright. In contrast, Britain’s 1967-68 attempt, unflatteringly dubbed ‘the Probe’, under the Labour government of Harold Wilson looks very similar. Yet this is not how it seemed to contemporaries.

Britain was a very different place in 1967 to what it had been under Macmillan. For one thing, the attitude of the Labour Party – traditionally the less ‘European’ of the two – had changed profoundly. Under Hugh Gaitskell, Labour had vigorously opposed entering the Common Market. In government after 1964, their new leader Harold Wilson led a surprising volte-face.

This reversal was even more remarkable given Wilson’s own initial stance. In a speech given in 1962, the draft of which is preserved in the Bodleian, Wilson had voiced scepticism at the stance taken by ‘the Six’ EEC members and, especially, the Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak:

Now, M. Spaak began by saying “We [the British] forget that we are the askers”. [Perhaps not his intention, but] Seemed to suggest [the only posture fr. wh. the British can negotiation is one of suppliance] we should adopt a suitably suppliant tone. This is not our position at all… We in UK are also centre of a trading system – older, less integration, not based on any T[rea]ty or Constitution, yet an effective + identifiable trading area [community, outward looking] without wh. would be a gt. deal poorer…(MS.Wilson c. 873)

MS.Wilson c.873, iii.3: ‘Problems of Western Foreign Policy’ (undated speech at Wilton Park).

Partially, Wilson’s rethinking can be seen as an attempt to outflank his rival – the pro-European, Conservative leader Ted Heath. But it was also a reaction to Britain’s changing circumstances.
Importantly, British industry was in ever-faster relative decline. Lack of investment, as well as poor labour relations, led to economic stagnation in contrast to more dynamic continental economies, such as West Germany, which had access to the European market. In 1945, GDP per capita was about 90 percent higher in Britain than in continental Europe; by 1967, the difference was just 6 percent. Soon, Britons would be poorer than Europeans.
What really prevented British industry from reaching the ‘white heat’ to which Wilson aspired was a lack of markets. Britain’s own European Free Trade Area (EFTA) could simply never compete with the Common Market set up within the EC. ‘All EFTA countries now seem to accept that the goal is that they should all sign the Treaty of Rome’, noted a Conservative Party report in 1966 (CRD 3/10/2/3). Likewise, the Commonwealth was clearly failing to live up to the expectations of those who hoped that it would one day form a viable trade block of its own. In short, Britain needed Europe or – as a Conservative report concluded – entering Europe was ‘the only immediately practicable way of revitalising British industry’ (CRD 3/10/2/3).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

But if Britain had changed profoundly, so too had Europe. The EC had begun to move in a new direction – one that emphasised the power of national authorities within a ‘Europe des états’ – and this suited the British. Likewise, the new Common Agricultural Policy removed the problem of continuing Britain’s heavy subsidies to farmers which had been a major obstacle in the 1958-63 negotiations. Perversely, much of this change had been brought about by the same man whom the British reviled for his earlier veto.

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

As a Conservative briefing put it:

The British attitude towards…General de Gaulle has…often become tinged with elements of hypocrisy and envy. Hypocrisy because sometimes he has done certain things straight-forwardly which we have done deviously and envy because sometimes he has done things successfully which would like to have achieved ourselves. (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

Negotiations

Uncertain of their position – and, especially, the opinion of de Gaulle – Wilson chose to approach the European negotiations cautiously. Stuart Holland, an Oxford academic, was despatched to gauge the French government’s mood through a personal contact, Pierre Joxe. The results appeared encouraging.

This low-key approach did not find favour with the more pro-European Conservative Party:

The Labour Party appear to want to start the negotiations by sending someone round Europe drawing up a list of all the difficulties. And this is justified by earthy metaphors about not buying goods before you have inspected them. This is not a deal to buy a second-hand car. You do not go around Europe kicking at bits of the Common Market for all the world as if you were looking for rust under the mudguard in the hope of being able to knock £5 off the purchase price.  (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

Britain officially submitted its application to join the EC in May 1967, joined by its traditional non-EC trading partners: Ireland and Denmark. Everything seemed to be going well.
Then, on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle walked into a press-conference and, apparently out of the blue, vetoed British EC membership. It was yet another humiliation.
But the mood in Britain had changed in favour of Europe – and, importantly, the British government refused to withdraw its application for membership. Other members of the ‘the Six’ were also becoming increasingly sympathetic to British entry and impatient with de Gaulle’s personal agendas. Negotiations would eventually be re-opened in 1970 and would culminate, in 1973, with Britain finally fulfilling the twenty-year hope of entering the European Communities.

Source: Daddow, O. J. (ed.) Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the EEC (London, 2016).

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s first attempt to join the EEC, 1958-1963

‘I will not disguise from the House, as I have not attempted to disguise from the country, the deep disappointment of the Government and, I think, of the whole nation, at the turn of events. […] If the European vision has been obscured, it has not been by a minor obstruction on one side or the other. It was brought to an end by a dramatic, if somewhat brutal, stroke of policy.’ ( HC Deb. 11 Feb 1963, vol. 671, fols. 943-1072.)

Speaking at a parliamentary debate in February 1963 shortly after Charles de Gaulle’s veto of British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), it is perhaps easy to understand why Harold Macmillan was quite so bitter. After close to five years of negotiation, British hopes of joining the European Union’s antecedent had just been crushed – publicly – by a former ally, President Charles de Gaulle.

Britain, the Commonwealth, and Europe

Succeeding Anthony Eden as Prime Minister in 1957, Macmillan’s six years in power spanned a period of almost unprecedented change in Britain’s geopolitical status. The Suez Crisis of 1956, which had brought down the Eden government, demonstrated to the world that Britain was no longer a superpower in comparison to the United States or Soviet Union. No longer a major imperial power or, at least, no longer the major imperial power it had been twenty years before, the country was caught in a kind of malaise. The result was a difficult period of soul-searching about where Britain’s future should lie.

By the late 1950s, Britain’s economy was also encountering problems. Although Britain remained a rich country – richer, per capita, than most of continental Europe – the disparity between the levels of economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe were becoming increasingly obvious. In order to keep in business, British industry needed ever-increasing overseas markets for its products.

Against this difficult backdrop, Britain was caught between two centres of gravity. One the one hand, the Commonwealth pulled the country towards its traditional export markets in the former colonies. Although very informal and disorganised, the Commonwealth – and especially the ‘White Dominions’ (notably Canada, Australia, and South Africa) – appeared to offer a way for the British to keep the economic benefits of empire as well as its sentimental attachments. On the other, attempts to form an economic union in Continental Europe were viewed with a mixture of scepticism and alarm.

In March 1957, six European countries (France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy) signed the Treaty of Rome, paving the way for a supra-national organisation intended to facilitate trade and political cooperation between the member-states. Macmillan faced a dilemma. Although not totally incompatible, Britain could not move towards both the Commonwealth and the EEC at the same time.

A difficult decision

The Macmillan archives on deposit at the Bodleian provide a fascinating snapshot of the difficulties of the decision, especially in the period immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Rome. They also show Macmillan’s attempt to play a difficult double game between what he termed ‘the practical’ and ‘the idealistic’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 21). While he could certainly dress his actions in the ideology of Europeanism, he was also acutely aware of the dangers which a united Europe would create for a disengaged Britain.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In a speech written for the European Movement Industrial Conference in February 1958, Macmillan wrote that he saw Free Trade as an ideological glue to cement unity within the Continent:

‘The European idea is gaining every day in strength and purpose. […] The Treaty of Rome is a major achievement and one which we welcome because it will bring increased prosperity and strength to our friends and partners on the Continent. We believe that it is of the greatest importance to the future of Europe that the European Economic Community should be linked from the outset with the other free countries of Europe through a Free Trade Area. Such an association could draw the European nations steadily closer together in their political and economic relations…to the immense and lasting advantage of Europe and the free world as a whole.’(Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 110)

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In other company, however, it was clear that his approach was much more grounded on the realities of the British position:

‘Of course it might be argued that we could use all our influence to break up the six and to prevent their plan coming into being. I think there would be great dangers in this. First of all, it would be a very wrong thing to do, and secondly, it would probably not succeed.’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 24)

 

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

Macmillan realised that Britain could not preserve its economic and political status in Europe from outside a united Europe and, despite his reservations, began to negotiate with European leaders to get Britain in.

Painful process

Informal negotiations with ‘the Six’ began in 1958. Unfortunately for Britain, the same year saw the rise to power of General de Gaulle in France. Although concerned about the escalating war in French Algeria, de Gaulle still saw British membership of the EEC as potentially damaging to France’s international position and especially to its leading role within the EEC.

Britain went to the polls in 1959 and re-elected Macmillan, giving him the mandate to formally apply for Britain to enter the EEC in 1961. Edward Heath, as Foreign Secretary, was sent to Brussels to open formal accession talks.

Politically, British discussion on EEC membership hinged on two issues: the privileged position of the Commonwealth and agricultural subsidies. Both immediately created problems. The British refused to extend Free Trade to food because this would mean removing the existing heavy subsidies given to British farmers and a rise in food prices as a result. The Six, however, also refused to allow the Commonwealth to hold onto its existing trading privileges, despite Macmillan’s attempt to use separate negotiations with the Commonwealth as leverage against the Europeans. For Macmillan, the process was deeply dispiriting. ‘I think sometimes our difficulties with our friends abroad result from our natural good manners and reticence’, he wrote in June 1958.

Gauging the public reaction to the process is difficult. The Labour Party, under Hugh Gaitskell, was certainly hostile. The Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian does preserve a number of angry letters on the issue; many complain about the perceived ‘betrayal’ of the Commonwealth, others voiced suspicion of European motivations.
Certainly the Conservative Research Department worried that Macmillan’s ‘rational approach based on a simple analysis of our political and economic problems’ might make the attempt to join the EEC sound, publicly, like ‘an act of desperation’. (Bodleian, CRD 2/43/2)

Ultimately, however, public opinion was never put to the test. In January 1963, de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EEC with his famous comment: ‘non’. Britain would have to wait until 1973 – and endure another humiliating French rejection – before it would finally take a seat in the EEC.

Guy Bud