Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (vi, 204 pages)
Great Britain. Empire Marketing Board, Great Britain -- Colonies -- History -- 20th century, Imperialism -- History -- 20th century, Colonization -- History
The Empire Marketing Board (EMB) was a British government organization established in 1926 by the Conservative Party, under the authority of Colonial Secretary Leopold Amery. Its goal was to encourage Britons to "Buy Empire," namely, to buy products from the Dominions and colonies of the British Empire. To encourage consumption, the EMB funded scientific research and economic analyses, as well as publicity for Empire trade in the form of posters, films, educational materials, and government-sponsored events. The Empire Marketing Board attempted to sell the concept of "Empire" to the masses as a new cooperative project which stressed the value of imperial unity. However, its efforts conceal larger economic, political, and social tensions. Within the context of post-war economic decline and the ongoing criticism of empires, the work of the EMB reflected the need to modernize the Empire at a time when its future seemed less certain. In this way, the EMB's work becomes a prism from which to illustrate the challenges involved in rationalizing and consolidating the British Empire.
The 1920s witnessed the expansion of an internationalist agenda which stressed the value of political organizations such as the League of Nations, as well as more general processes of cultural exchange, intellectual cooperation and scientific and educational dialogue. Placing the EMB and its formation into the larger context of internationalism reveals how it attempted to reconfigure and reimagine the British Empire as a cohesive and cooperative "Commonwealth of Nations" rather than a dominating force. The reimagining of imperial ambitions as reconcilable with international considerations meant stressing empire as a liberal, voluntary union. However, the idea of the Commonwealth as a political community always held underlying cultural and racial assumptions.
When the EMB was formed in 1926, the British Empire faced mounting pressures, both internationally and domestically. Diminishing markets for its manufactured goods, a dependence on foreign food, rising nationalism abroad, and high unemployment at home made the economic position of post-war Britain tenuous. The desire by political interests to form a closer economic union with the Empire, to fortify it against increasing foreign competition, on the international stage was complicated by a popular allegiance to free trade at home. The Empire Marketing Board was conceived of as a compromise, a way of encouraging the reorientation of trade, with the hope of keeping the Empire viable, while still appeasing consumers that relied on the cheap goods that Britain's free trade policy ensured. The EMB tried to sway consumers through government-sponsored persuasion rather than direct government intervention.
The EMB became a model for how the Empire could be reimagined in a new global context. In the EMB's conception of empire as an international cooperative project, everyone along the commodity chain would need to do their part to ensure the prosperity of the Empire, including producers, retailers, and--especially--consumers. The EMB mobilized individuals from many different parts of society: from politicians to public relations experts, artists and filmmakers to scientists and agriculturalists. The diverse array of experts were organized in the service of the Empire, to find new ways of not only selling its products but ensuring its future. The Empire Marketing Board sought to manufacture a demand for Empire products that would appeal to imperially-minded shoppers, and the extensive work it undertook to do so illustrates that consumers, though often overlooked, were a central component in the government's aims of maintaining the viability of the British Empire in the changing climate of the interwar years.
Bower, Ashley Kristen, "Rebranding Empire: Consumers, Commodities, and the Empire Marketing Board, 1926-1933" (2020). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5397.