In last week’s blog post I wrote about the difficulties I had finding the sort of sources I would need to get kick-started on my project. My topic, whilst not yet clearly defined, revolves around the fact that welfare states in Europe all evolved at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, and influenced one another. At school I remember being fascinated by the way in which the Liberal social reforms in Britain at the start of the twentieth century had taken so much inspiration from Otto von Bismarck’s welfare system in Germany, a country they would be at war with in less than a decade. When prompted to choose a topic for our projects in this module, my mind immediately went back to the relationship between the social reforms which took place in Europe and the ideas which flowed across borders. The thought of carrying out a project on this was exciting, it could lead to so many things. I could explore the ideas shared amongst policy-makers, not just in Germany and Britain but elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world. It would also be interesting to look at the wider public attitudes towards welfare reforms and the impact they had on individuals. The problem I had is that I didn’t really have a clear point from which to start. I have read numerous secondary sources by historians that provide brief details about the ideas shared between nation states, particularly the impact Bismarckian reforms had on the New Liberals in Britain, before going elsewhere without really expanding on these connections. Then, I had a slight ‘bingo’ moment. Reading Marvin Rintala’s account of the creation of the National Health Service in Britain, I thankfully stumbled across what he had to say about the role of David Lloyd George in the Liberals’ push for welfare reforms. He stresses the importance of a particular visit Lloyd George took to Germany in 1908, where as Chancellor, he was inspired enough by the German system to take some of its ideas back to Britain with him. Finally, I had a solid instance where ideas were shared across borders. Yet, advancing from here could prove difficult. This is an area of history I had always assumed had been well written about, yet my struggle to find any reference to these transnational links has proved me wrong. The only histories I am finding are those written from an insular perspective, e.g. the rise of the British welfare state or the rise of the German welfare state. Finding written evidence for the points at which ideas cross borders is proving difficult, largely due to the fact it has barely been touched upon by historians and finding relevant primary sources is harder than I had previously imagined. However, I found the comments made on my previous post extremely useful as it has led me down the direction of exploring historiographies and as a method of discovering wider processes outside of national histories. Although I’m not completely sure of the specific details of my project yet, I’m optimistic that the direction I’m going to take is becoming much clearer.
When Things Start to Come Together