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State Visits. Staging International Politics in Britain 1900-1970

Falko Schnicke

A contribution to the new history of politics, this project explores how British state visits have been staged between 1900 and 1970. Developed during the nineteenth century, state visits are more than simple meetings of heads of states. As complex elements of political culture they are opportunities to present and represent authority to a domestic as well as foreign public: state visits are stagings of politics and nations involved. Based on this assumption, this study investigates the changing ways in which Britain fashioned itself in a period of dramatic transition between two world wars, the age of de-colonization and the European unification process.

The project’s lead idea is that politics and their staging are indivisible, that politics and symbols are not opposites but closely linked. With regard to state visits this means that acting in the political realm is not possible without rituals and ceremonies. More than that, rituals and ceremonies generate meaning and are therefore, in that respect, political. For this reason, political practices, actions, symbols, forms, visibilities and spaces will be in the centre of the project. Main research questions include: What visions of Britain have been relevant and how have they changed during the twentieth century? What conceptions of Britain were of significance? How were they presented? To what extent did press reports differ from official intentions, and to what extent did newspapers create their own staging by reporting single elements and omitting others from the actual official staging? How were political spaces produced and brought into action during state visits? To address those areas three types of archival material will be investigated: (1) state papers produced by involved authorities that show the planning process by the government and include implementation plans as well as internal reviews, (2) personal papers such as diaries and letters to include intentions and perceptions of the individuals involved and (3) press reports, in particular illustrated journals that published special editions on the occasion of particular state visits.

Taken as a whole the project aims to clarify how Britain reacted to changes it faced in the twentieth century and, thus, how it came to define itself as the nation it is today. At the same time the study contributes to the discussion to what extent modern politics are influenced by its medialization and personalization.