HELEN MCCARTHY. The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c. 1918-1945.The American Historical Review

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Authors
G. Egerton
Year
2013
DOI
10.1093/ahr/118.3.934
Subject
Archaeology / History / Museology

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artistic, fashionable, bohemian, and business communities (pp. 44–45).

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the discussion of the commercial undertakings that evolved to promote and sustain the culture of dancing. Unfortunately, Buckland’s fascinating account of the rise of the professional dance master and the formal dance lesson is not paralleled by extended attention to the musicians who provided the musical accompaniment to society dancing. One or two stray references to large string orchestras at royal balls, small groups of musicians in converted drawing room dances, or smaller affairs with a single pianist fail to provide an adequate picture of who these musicians were, and how amenable they were to the changes affecting dance culture (notably the arrival of jazz and the Tango) in the early years of the twentieth century. More significantly, Buckland identifies the professional dance instructor as a gatekeeper against the forces of change, particularly in the

Edwardian period when s/he advocated standardized regimes of instruction in order to keep at bay dance forms associated with a variety of social, racial, and national others. In fact, the very existence of dance instructors suggests the rise of professional and commercial forces that had already emerged as a challenge to those who attempted to maintain the distinction between insiders and outsiders. Those who sought to use dancing as an instrument of demarcation and regulation were always confounded by the potential of a leisure activity predicated on movement and bodies in contact to emblematize the shifting, ultimately democratic, possibilities of the age.

BRENDA ASSAEL

Swansea University

HELEN MCCARTHY. The British People and the League of

Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c. 1918–1945. New York: Manchester University Press. 2011. Pp. x, 282. $100.00.

The League of Nations Union (LNU) was the most important public lobby group addressing British foreign and defense policy in the interwar years and has attracted substantial scholarship—notably Donald Birn’s superb The League of Nations Union 1918–1945 (1981).

Helen McCarthy advises readers early on that she intends to go beyond existing studies of the LNU as a minor player in policymaking and explore the league “movement” as a major presence within the wider political culture, one which contributed in important ways to the recasting of social, political, religious, and imperial identities in the changing dynamics of democracy following the franchise extensions of 1918 and 1928.

She also promises to surpass conventional methodologies, joining historians of political culture whose interests focus on the complex interactions between formal politics and forces at work in the wider culture, such as technology, socioeconomic change, shifting class and gender relations, and religious and intellectual traditions. McCarthy draws on the records of the grassroots movement of LNU members and local branches, relationships with organizations beyond the conventional peace movement, and the local archives of political parties, unions, churches, newspapers, and other civic associations.

For the most part the author delivers impressively on her promises. Certainly the scope of her research unearths copious new and interesting information on the motives and behavior of LNU members and their efforts to convince the British government to support fully the goals spelled out in the Covenant of the

League of Nations. Equally, the adopted methodological focus on political culture allows for an engaging fresh reconceptualization of the history of the LNU.

Accordingly, the book is not ordered chronologically but rather along a framework of thematic chapters. Major new information and insight can be found in chapters on the central ideas of the “New Diplomacy” that attracted members to the LNU in the wake of the catastrophe of the Great War; the operation of the proLNU movement within the major political parties; the contribution of British Christianity to the goals of the

LNU; the place of the League in education and the quest for a world citizenship; the relationship between the League and evolving British imperialism; the relationship of League activism and class politics; the construction of a gendered internationalism; and the silencing and failures of the LNU’s political centrism in the crises of 1936–1939.

If each of this book’s chapters offers rich new data and conceptualizations, several chapters stand out for the scope of their research and the quality of the perspectives offered. The chapters on the League in British education and the support given by the Christian churches are rich in new archival research and analysis.

The LNU was very successful in attracting broad support from British educators at all levels of schooling and in working a commitment to internationalism and world citizenship into core areas of school curricula, while also placing LNU ideals in the rituals of the academic year. Only when LNU advocacy threatened to impose a didactic interpretation of history did some critics point to the dangers of surrendering curricula even to benign propaganda. The role of the churches in providing institutional support, meeting rooms, volunteers, leadership, and middle-class respectability was vital to the functioning of the LNU while, in turn, the ideals of the League movement gave focus, hope, and some healing to those who had experienced the ravages of the

Great War and were committed to an ideal of “never again.” The author shows that the Free Churches excelled in enthusiasm and effort for the League, with the

Church of England in second rank and Roman Catholics the least engaged.

Woodrow Wilson’s vision of an internationalist ideology centered on a social contract and a covenant of nations to respect and enforce peace and law through collective security represented the principal ideological response of liberalism and Protestantism to the challenges of war, communist revolution, and fascism in the 934 Reviews of Books