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Networks and Actors: New Approaches to the Study of Modern British Diplomacy

This project examines the development of the British diplomatic establishment from the 1860s to the present day. It is designed both to develop new academic knowledge of the roles and work of diplomats and civil servants as well as building new resources (a database and associated visual interface) that will be of value both to scholars and a range of project partners including the UK National Archives and the FCDO historians. The project seeks to identify ways in which ‘the digital’ can be used to extend the scope of traditional humanities research in the field of British foreign policy through the innovative use of technology and the development of new methodologies.

JFK White House reception

About the project

Incorporating a ‘prosopographical’ approach to the study of British diplomacy – exploring the background and careers of generations of individual diplomats – this project locates this data within wider explorations of organisation and culture. The development of a database built on the Foreign Office List (and its variants) facilitates new insights relating to how an homogenous organisational culture was sustained despite the prevalence of a peripatetic career structure (eg via co-location in posts abroad; service in London, etc). The project will provide quantitative material about diplomatic networks, which can be used to facilitate more traditional qualitative research. A pilot study has already identified ways in which the material can be visually presented in map form, providing an interface that will be of value both to researchers and the ‘interested public’ alike. The database will be designed in such a way that material from other sources (links to private papers, memoires, obituaries etc) can be added to enrich the material.

JFK meets Harold Macmillan

Project Team

  • Juliette Desplat, Head of Modern Collections, UK National Archives
  • James Ellison, Reader in International History, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Ian Gregory, Professor of Digital Humanities, Lancaster University
  • Michael Hughes, Professor of Modern History, Lancaster University
  • Gaynor Johnson, Professor of International History, University of Kent
  • Bernard Ogden, Research Software Engineer, UK National Archives
  • Thomas Mills, Senior Lecturer in Diplomatic and International History, Lancaster University
  • Richard Smith, Principal Historian, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Contact the project team

For enquiries about the project, please contact Dr Thomas Mills: t.c.mills@lancaster.ac.uk