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Questioning Decline: Britain and the World After 1945

11 April 2016

This conference, held in association with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, debated our understanding of British political, cultural and economic life after 1945, and questioned the advantages and limitations of describing Britain as a nation in decline. Speakers included Professor David Reynolds and Lord (Peter) Hennessy.

Time: 9:30am
Venue: Map Room, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London

Every student of post-war Britain is familiar with the idea of “decline”.

It is a concept that has been used to describe and analyse a variety of aspects of British history, including decolonisation, diminishing diplomatic and military influence, gradual erosion of cultural and industrial exports, and a stagnating domestic economy plagued by industrial dispute and heavy debt.

The notion of “decline” is so commonplace in twentieth-century British historiography that it seems reasonable to ask:  can historians even talk about Britain in this period without producing a narrative of “decline”?

Read James Southern's blog on the conference


Keynote: Professor David Reynolds

Panel 1: Postwar Britain Introspects
Sara Hiorns (QMUL): ‘Women doctors, hard cash, and bullshit bingo: How did the Foreign Office deal with change, 1970-1990?’;
Paul Stocker (Teesside University): ‘National decline, international conspiracy: the postwar radical right in Britain, 1946-1967’;
Josh White (UCL): ‘Declinism in punk and the national press in 1970s Britain’.
Chair: Dr Robert Saunders (QMUL)

Panel 2: Soft Diplomacy and Special Relations
Todd Carter (University of Oxford): ‘An unshakeable commitment? Britain, America & National Liberation in Southern Africa in the 1970s’;
Dan Feather (Liverpool John Moores University): ‘Maintaining influence and halting the decline in ‘liberalism’: British Council Scholarships to the Republic of South Africa, 1961-65’;
Darius Wainwright (University of Reading): ‘Britain’s approach to Iran and wider British foreign policy, 1971-79’.
Chair: Dr Luke Gibbon (FCO Historians)

Panel 3: The Falklands War and Other "Dots on the Map": New Directions in the Decline Debate
John Bagnall (Newcastle University): ‘Continental relations: Britain and Europe through the Falklands crisis, 1982-1990’;
Matthew Jones (Keele University): ‘Popular understanding of decline during and after the 1982 Falklands conflict: evidence from Mass Observation and focus groups';
James Brocklesby (Liverpool John Moores University): ‘Remnants of Empire and Britain’s place in the post-colonial world’.
Chair: Dr Mathias Haeussler (University of Cambridge)

Closing Roundtable: “Decline in Conversation”: Dr James Ellison (chair); Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield; Dr Sue Onslow; Professor Patrick Salmon.

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