in the garden

 

Jan 2009 Journal

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Thank-Offering to Britain Research Fellowship

The British Academy Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship for 2008/09 has been awarded to Dr Patricia Clavin, Fellow in History at Jesus College, Oxford, to carry out research on the role of the League of Nations in fostering international economic, financial and social co-operation. The Fellowship has been funded for some 40 years by money raised by the refugees from Nazi Germany through the Thank-You Britain Fund, administered by the AJR, which had raised £96,000 when it was handed over to the British Academy in 1965. The Fellowship aims to provide a year’s research leave for an established scholar to bring a major piece of research towards completion. Dr Clavin has already written about one of the most distinguished refugee scholars, Professor Moritz Bonn, himself a contributor to the Thank-You Britain Fund. Dr Clavin writes:

There has always been more to the history of the League of Nations than its spectacular failure to preserve peace in the interwar period. Its earliest historians recognised the importance of aspects of its humanitarian work, none more so than the contribution of the Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the League’s High Commissioner for the repatriation of prisoners-of-war. Within a year of his appointment in 1920, he and his three assistants helped return 430,000 men from Russia to their homes in 26 countries, and the Nansen International Office became the world’s first inter-governmental agency charged with refugee assistance and protection. It gave its name to the Nansen passport – the paper lifeline that enabled many stateless refugees, including ex-German Jews, to travel in the 1930s.

But there are other elements of the League’s humanitarian work which are much less well-known, notably its contribution to international economic and financial relations. My research project will recover the lost history of the Economic and Financial Organisation of the League (EFO), the single largest agency in the League after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As the world economy enters a new dark phase, the research project could not be more timely.

Based on archival research in the little used archives of the League of Nations in Geneva and on national and private collections of papers in Britain, France, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia, this project explores the League’s pivotal role in the creation of a new architecture of international economic, financial and social co-operation in the middle of the twentieth century. The economists who worked for the EFO read like a Who’s Who of modern economics: Gottfried Haberler, Gustav Cassel, Bertil Ohlin, Jan Tinbergen, Tjalling Koopmans and James Meade.

But the EFO did more than help to generate new economic ideas and a pioneering set of statistical studies that are still used today. It was a forceful advocate in inter-governmental negotiations of the need for international organisations to help nation-states to co-ordinate their economic and financial policies. Its ideas helped give rise to such pillars of the post-1945 economic system as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (today’s World Trade Organisation), and to the European Economic Community (Jean Monnet also worked for the EFO).

The EFO was also concerned to connect its activities to what it called the ‘common people’, launching pioneering enquiries into world nutrition and poverty and developing a new language of global economic entitlement. This work was important for the global development movement. The EFO’s guiding objective, as its report on The Transition from War to Peace Economy (1943) made clear, was ‘the fullest possible use of the resources of production, human and material, of the skill and enterprise of the individual, so as to attain and maintain in all countries a stable economy and rising standards of living.’ These words remain relevant today as the world economy enters a new phase where the key to recovery remains international co-operation.

 


previous article:Who was Georg Elser?
next article:The getting of wisdom - the hard way