I flew to Manchester in June 28th and spent that week (through July 3rd) researching the history of the British Labour Party at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre. Specifically, my intent was to obtain a firmer understanding of the sometimes-fluid relationship between the Fabian Society and the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) since the formation of Labour in 1912. Circling back to my dissertation, the hope is that this helps to problematize what is all-too-often viewed as a straightforward and uncomplicated relationship between the Fabians and Labour. While in Manchester, I took the opportunity to explore the People’s History Museum, with its abundant holdings on the evolution of the British Labour Movement since the Industrial Revolution.
On July 4th, I left Manchester and headed to Oxford for a two-week researching binge on the following: the records of the Fabian Colonial Bureau, the Papers of Arthur Creech Jones (himself the one-time chairman of the Fabian Colonial Bureau and Colonial Secretary of State from 1947-1950), the Papers of PEW Williams of Kenya, the collections of the British Colonial Office, and the papers of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Handily, and with one exception, all this material was housed centrally at the Weston Library (erstwhile New Bodleain). While researching at Oxford, my focus necessarily (and expectedly) shifted away from the Labour Party-Fabian Society relationship. Instead, it centered on the work of the Fabian Colonial Bureau (established in 1940) in the years leading up to and including Arthur Creech Jones’s time in Cabinet (1947-50). My overarching purpose was to get a firmer grasp on the influence, whatever it may have been, of the Fabian Society on colonial development policy during and after the Second World War.
It is worth mentioning that if you plan to visit Oxford, do not do so in July. It is high tourist season there and it is absolute mayhem, particularly around Corn Market, where the likelihood of being accosted by a member of Green Peace skyrockets. It is also worth mentioning that you should stay at the Queen’s Head in Horspath just outside Oxford. Quiet little hamlet, very nice staff, inexpensive meals?and utterly horrible wifi.
Following my time in Oxford, I headed to London. There, my itinerary became unavoidably convoluted. I first had to visit the London School of Economics (LSE), which houses most of the records of the Fabian Society (the LSE was founded by them). I then headed over to University College London (UCL), which following the Second World War was the location of the Institute of Colonial Education. There, unbelievably, I found a veritable treasure trove of unused records, most especially the Annual Education Reports for the East Africa Protectorate and Uganda. The staff was remarkably helpful and even allowed me to troll through the library’s massive basement looking for relevant periodicals, during which I had at least one eureka moment. I bounced between LSE and UCL through the first part of that week, and then headed to the National Archives at Kew, where I gathered material related to community development in Uganda and education in Kenya.
I have never experienced so much, learned so much, and grown so much intellectually in such a short period of time. And that brings me to my last observation: my journey started in Manchester, which has a deep and resonant industrial past. It is a workingman’s city, unquestionably. Oxford proper is medieval and intersected by a warren of avenues and lanes punctuated by some of the most impressive medieval architecture you could imagine. London, meanwhile is every bit the modern metropolis – and yet home to centuries and centuries of history, from the middle ages to the early modern period to the industrial age and to our own modern skyscraper times. It’s a confusing mélange of architecture, accents, histories, and peoples that somehow, however it manages it, works. And it’s absolutely astonishing.