The site, in which published items will be presented alongside commentary and substantive work-in-progress, deals primarily with the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917. This represented the British government’s decision to support the establishment of a Jewish ‘national home’ in Palestine, thereby – and through the subsequent League of Nations Mandate for the territory – laying the foundations of the present state of Israel and the decades of conflict that have afflicted Palestine for the best part of a full century.
My emphasis throughout will be on the strictly British war-time, political, and imperial contexts of the Declaration. To that extent the approach will be technically non-partisan in relation to current Arab and Jewish political sensibilities. That said, I regard British Palestine policy in the period under review as one of the 20-century’s most calamitous acts of statesmanship: in Avi Shlaim’s words, ‘an egregious moral failure’; and in the judgment of Geoffrey Lewis `the triumph of an idea over all principle and reason`. And the statesman who bears the heaviest responsibility was not the elderly foreign secretary after whom the Declaration was named, Arthur Balfour, but the British war leader and prime minister, David Lloyd George. I shall wish to argue that his pro-Zionist policy was, to a greater degree than hitherto acknowledged in the literature, energised by a number of major imperialist considerations.
The site, however, is also multi-purpose in complexion - I hope not too confusingly so. Beyond the Balfour Declaration, imperial questions will – in forthcoming postings – be treated in more universal terms with reference to conceptualisation and theory, stressing the essentially political and military character of the phenomenon, the critical and perennial role of the state in its spread, and the powerful motivating role of national anxieties arising from economic and political destabilisation, great-power rivalry, and the intense desire to hold on to existing, seemingly threatened, territories abroad (the last-cited being a powerful factor underlying the Balfour Declaration).
I shall also take the opportunity to return to past work on `informal` and `business` imperialism and their relevance or otherwise to 19th-century British dealings with Latin America. The main focus here will be on Peru (seven items) which, through its remarkable guano trade, became a country of great commercial and financial importance to early-Victorian Britain. Likewise, I wish to revive issues relating to the slave economy and society of the old Atlantic states of the US antebellum South (five items). In time, a number of other issues treated in disparate research and publications will be added – eg the family and business history of Keiller`s of Dundee, the inventors of modern marmalade; the millennial history of the bitter orange; Scottish educational history; and British war costs in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq interventions.