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This paper emerges out of a three-year collaborative research project on Petitioning and People Power in Twentieth-Century Britain. Britons petitioned a lot, but petitioning has been largely invisible to scholars of twentieth-century Britain. To illustrate why petitioning matters—to those who engaged in it and to historians studying it—this paper will focus on one strand of our research: international petitioning. We will show how people living in Britain embraced petitioning as a tool of international engagement, using its associated practices (such as signature gathering) to shape international imaginaries, build allegiances, and seek to influence foreign states and new systems of global governance. While NGOs were responsible for plenty of important international petition campaigns, petitioning was open to and used widely by individuals, informal groups, and voluntary associations, including many groups less likely to participate in the world of NGOs. Using international petitions on issues ranging from women’s rights to teaching Esperanto, from nuclear disarmament to imperial prosperity, our paper will show how petitioning practices have been embraced by wide-ranging groups as tools in the formation of national, diasporic, global and imperial identities and solidarities. Those who signed and coordinated international petitions enacted new forms of global citizenship and established expectations of obligation and responsibility beyond the British state. By focusing on the practice of petitioning rather than any specific campaign, we seek to illuminate changes and varieties of everyday politics in the era of mass democracy, finding comparisons and connections between scholarship that has tended to focus on institutions, organisations, and issues.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.