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Staging Britain in a Changing World.
Knowledge and Practices of British State Visits, 1910-1980

Falko Schnicke

It was above all in the twentieth century that British state visits represented a means of political communication. Their quantitative and qualitative significance in the United Kingdom grew over the course of that century, despite the fact that other forms of international and supranational cooperation became increasingly possible after the First World War.

The several hundred state visits British monarchs carried out between 1910 and 1980, are the topic of the research project. Its aim lies first, in the examination of British strategies and practices in response to challenges posed by the World Wars, decolonisation, the Cold War, and increasing globalisation. Second, the project examines the internal logic of state visits; although they represent a form of politics, they elude complete political control because they are always vulnerable to both internal and external forces. Third, the project will establish the unique characteristics of British foreign policy and practice which arise from the unusual constitutional status of the British monarchy (which provides the Head of State not only for the United Kingdom but also for a number of other Commonwealth countries), and from the existence and subsequent dissolution of the British empire.

TThe project brings together the research strands of studies on British foreign policy, de-colonisation, the dissolving British Empire, monarchy, history of knowledge and twentieth-century cultural history, yet takes them further through asking two key questions. The first question relates to the changing self-imagining and self-positioning of the United Kingdom. The project aims to gain a closer understanding of how respective British governments used state visits to position and thematise the United Kingdom within changing international systems affected by colonial expansion, two World Wars, the Cold War, decolonisation and European integration. How did successive governments want the United Kingdom to appear in these narratives? What knowledge was used to inform them, and how were they ceremonially implemented?

Second, as far as sources allow, the government and monarchy will be differentiated within this analysis in order to examine the role and influence of the monarchy in recent British history. How were duties and tasks shared out, and what conflicts arose? What was the significance of state visits under George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II respectively, and why did such visits become increasingly important during the twentieth century? To what extent did the political (self-)exploitation of the monarchy play a role?

These key questions will be evaluated using the four basic analytical categories of per-formativity, knowledge, spatiality, and the concept of the (non-)political.