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Architecture and World History


Imperial History in Pictures: Goetze Murals in the United Kingdom's Foreign Office

Alexander Mirkovic


     Because of the many representative buildings designed and constructed in the nineteenth century, the Whitehall, originally a street in the City of Westminster, became synonymous with government in Britain. The monumental Neo-Classical representative building for the UK's Foreign Office was constructed at Whitehall between 1861 and 1868. The building was designed by George Gilbert Scott (1811–1878), the famous Gothic Revival architect, best known for his design of Albert Memorial and St Pancras Railway Station. Building (space in general) is a social product and this claim applies especially to a government building. Thus a controversy immediately surrounded the planning of the Foreign Office building.1 Especially contentious was the issue whether this public building should be designed following the popular Neo-Classicism or in the emergent Gothic Revival style. Under the orders of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, Scott was forced to abandon his favorite Gothic Revival style, and construct the building in the Neo-Classical style. Neo-Gothic was considered less connected to revolutionary neo-classicism popular in the United States. From the time the Foreign Office building was constructed, it stood in contrast to the Gothic Revival style of the Houses of Parliament, adopted after the fire destroyed the old Palace at Westminster in 1834. Building of the Palace at Westminster took decades. House of Commons chambers were opened in 1852 and the building was formally completed only in 1860. When deciding on the style of the Foreign Office building, the liberal Lord Palmerston was not impressed by the Neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament. He called the style "the barbarism of the Dark Ages" and, for the Foreign Office, opted for classicism instead.2 Aside from the interesting history of the Whitehall Government buildings themselves and the contrast of styles, the main focus of this paper is the Foreign Office building, in particular the interior decoration of its main and a Grand Staircase, used by ambassadors summoned to a meeting. It literally represents the image that the government of the United Kingdom wished to project to the world, the imperial ideology.

     Style and decoration of the Grand Staircase, such an important space was not left to individual preferences of an artist. In order to enhance the prestige of the state at the end of the Great War 1914–1918 and send the message that Britain was at the peak of its imperial powers, the government approved a lavish decoration of the hall.3 Sigismud Goetze pained those murals during World War I as approved by the British Cabinet, and completed them in 1921 right after the Versailles Peace Treaty ended the Great War. According to a brief description provided by Goetze to the government, the paintings represent "origin, education, development, expansion and triumph of the British Empire, leading up to the Covenant of the League of Nations." 4 What the murals represent is essentially a compressed history of the Anglo-Saxon race, from the landing of the Angles and Saxons in Britain, to the victory of imperial Britain in the Great War.

     The murals tell the tale that was familiar to every child through the readings of popular history, such as the famous "Our Island's Story," a children's history of England and the empire written by Henrietta Marshall and published in 1905. However, I believed that Goetze's visual summary of England's imperial history went beyond the popular children narratives written at the time. I would even argue that it goes beyond the ideas of "constructive imperialism" advocated by Joseph Chamberlain during his tenure in the Colonial Office (1895–1903). Chamberlain and other imperialists of the fin de siècle period argued for closer relations between England and the settlement colonies, such as Canada and Australia, for the purpose of creating an empire as a federation of the Anglo-Saxon race scatted over all the oceans. These paintings tell a story of Britain in racial categories indicating a shift from the nineteenth century evolutionary theories of race toward a "blood and soil" understanding of the hierarchy of nations.

     Goetze organized the murals around the central female figure, Britannia, the symbol of the British soil. Five large narrative paintings include, Britannia Sponsa, Britannia Nutrix, Brittania Bellatrix, Brittania Mater Colonorum, and finally, Britannia Pacificatrix.5 The story told by these painting is fairly simple and it will be further elaborated as the paintings are analyzed. Here I will just give a shortest possible précis. The Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain, they were taught the arts of agriculture and war, they departed for the colonies, and, as depicted in the final painting, Britannia Pacificatrix, they brought peace to the world through benevolent imperial rule.6 In this last painting Britannia is presented as a presiding figure over the gathering of the "imperial federation" on the one side and the major world powers on the other, unmistakably indicating that the victory in the war brought world dominion to British race.

     It is obvious that the story depicted in the paintings simplifies the complicated history of the British Isles as a march of freedom and progress among the Anglo-Saxons, from the time when heroic and freedom loving Hengist and Horsa landed on the beaches of Kent, to the glories of the Empire, and, here in our case, to the Covenant of the League of Nations signed at Versailles in 1919. In England this popular tradition is called Anglo-Saxonism. Historians have often criticized and dismissed these simplistic stories as inaccurate, and they were completely justified in doing so.7 One can, however, learn a lot from these uncomplicated racial meta-narratives. They don't tell us much about history, but they represent social and collective memories that tell us a lot about how history was perceived and presented. Some stories say more about the story-tellers then about the characters involved in their plot.

     These political and racial narratives can be seen as a part of popular history or even a history of a religion.8 It's a story of the perceptions of origins and answers some of the questions traditionally posed by creation myths of world religions, namely, when and how did the world we know now come into being, how did life develop, and finally how did human culture develop to be what it is now and what is its purpose. In short, the racial prejudices are all about meta-narratives, grand-narratives that give meaning and sape identity.The problem of doing research about racial prejudices is then about reading and recovering these meta-narratives of identity that are imbedded in everyday dicourse.

     The Goetze murals, therefore, represent a perfect illustration of a meta-narrative of racial history so popular among the nationalists of the time. Approved by the British Cabinet with only one dissenting vote (Lord Curzon), it can reasonably be assumed that the murals represented cultural presuppositions of a wide section of the upper classes in the United Kingdom.9 Sigismund Goetze (1866–1939), the author of these monumental paintings now surrounding the grand staircase of the Foreign Office, was a well-connected artist. He was a brother-in-law of Alfred Mond, a famous industrialist, financier, and a politician, who between 1916 and 1921 served in Lloyd George's unity government as the First Commissioner of Works, and was, therefore, in charge of the decoration of public and government buildings. Goetze says that he was inspired to undertake this project when he heard the archbishop of Canterbury in 1912 criticize "the drabness of UK's government offices, especially when there were contrasted with the artistic achievement adoring government buildings abroad."10 Goetze lobbied to get the commission and offered to paint free of charge if given the honor. Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary, became the main obstacle to the artist's ambition. Undeterred by the opposition, Goetze painted the murals in his atelier, but Curzon blocked the installation of the paintings in "his" building. Government documents preserve a lot of caustic remarks of Lord Curzon about the paintings, including the one where he compares the paintings with the kitschy decorations of beer halls in Germany.11 Curzon was eventually outvoted by the full cabinet, and his was the only dissenting vote. The cabinet personally inspected the paintings at the artist's atelier and gave its final approval for their placement in the Foreign Office building. One can imagine that Lord Curzon's objections were not only for the reason of style. As an experienced colonial officer, he understood that the immutable categories of "blood and soil" racism are not the best policy for ruling a multi-ethnic empire.

     During a recent visit of president Obama to the United Kingdom in April of 2009, the Ambassador's Hall in the Foreign Office building was used as an important representative space and below I used some of the pictures published in the press to indicate how the Ambassador's Hall is normally used on formal occasions.12 The hall is entered from the Downing Street, right opposite the front door of the Prime Minister's office. The street address is 12 Downing Street. This is where a high dignitary would enter the building into the rectangular hall with two monumental staircases to the left and to the right of the entrance. The two grand staircases lead to the colonnaded gallery on the upper level of the hall, where the paintings are located.

Figure 1

     From the entrance on the lower level, two paintings are visible; to the right (or roughly west) is Britannia Sponsa, representing the arrival of Anglo-Saxons in Britain; to the left (or east) is Britannia Mater Colonorum, representing the beginning of English colonial adventures.13 The painting that begins the story implied in these narrative paintings is Britannia Sponsa. As mentioned before, the arrival of the Saxons to British Isles was associated in popular imagination with Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon twin-brothers who in the fifth century landed on the beaches of Kent. Popular Victorian histories of Britain popularized the view that English liberties originate from the free men of the Teutonic forest.14 In Goetze's interpretation of this common-theme of English popular imagination, the Anglo-Saxons take possession of the female figure, Britannia, violently. The beginning of English history is the union of masculine Anglo-Saxons with the feminine land and the painting shows a clear submission of the female figure to the virile invaders, representing the racial superiority of the Anglo-Saxons presumably over the dark haired enslaved Celts, Romans, and others represented on the left side. Abduction and rape of Britannia by the virile Anglo-Saxons is represented as a blessed event for the race and humanity. The painting can be immediately interpreted in the context of a popular myth of the time, the racist concept of the Nordic race.15 In Britain, this view is commonly called Anglo-Saxonism.

Figure 2

     To the right of the entrance is the painting Britannia Mater Colonorom. In this painting the female figure of Britannia is represented standing proudly, ruling the waves with the trident in her hand, watching her sons depart across the seas to "spread the race" into the colonies, creating the foundation of the world empire. The special organization of the painting indicates the simplicity of the narrative and its clarity. The Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain, they were nurtured by the home soil, and they left the isles conquering the world. The two paintings depicting arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, Britannia Sponsa, and the departure of the race into colonial possessions feature most prominently in the architectural space, as they are located on the top of the two grand staircases and are visible from every part of the hall.

Figure 3

Figure 4

     The centerpiece of the whole ensemble is the painting Britannia Pacificatrix and we get to its central position on the upper gallery of the hall passing by two smaller murals flanking the centerpiece. Spatial organization indicates that these two smaller murals are of a lesser significance. The Britannia Nutrix painting depicts the nourishing mother taking care of the infant race. The Brittania Bellatrix, according to the author, deals with "the adolescent period of the race, where the sons of soil learn the skills of war."16 Though secondary in significance, they represent an important link in the story by telling the visitor what did the Anglo-Saxon do in Britain between their arrival in late antiquity and their departure to the overseas colonies. Two smaller paintings represent the history of the Anglo-Saxon race in Britain. In Britannia Nutrix, the mother country nourishes her son in the arts of agriculture, music, pottery, and spinning. This is then followed by another panel, called Britannia Belatrix, where her sons are educated in the "art of war." Through agriculture and war, the Anglo-Saxon race is educated for the conquest of the world.

Figure 5

     The centerpiece of the whole ensemble, called Britannia Pacificatrix, is located on the upper gallery wall right opposite the entrance, but since it located on the upper gallery, it cannot be seen from the entrance below. In this painting the Anglo-Saxon race had achieved the world domination after the British victory in World War I. The painting represents World War I exclusively from the British side. All the allied nations represented in the painting, France, Russia, United States, Japan, and other smaller nations are deemed of secondary importance. The painting's focus is on the right side where the various races of the British Empire are depicted. Furthermore, the peace at Versailles is represented as an eschatological event, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth, because the architectural backdrop is framed by words, Gloria in excelsis Deo, obviously connected the Pax Romana during the birth of Jesus, and the Pax Britannica and the birth of the new world order. Britannia Pacificatrix represents the final triumph of the race, a reunion of the mother with all her children, as they together dominate the world and guarantee world peace.17 As a whole, the murals represent the culmination of the history of the Nordic race, in its Anglo-Saxon incarnation, and its triumphs, from the "rape" of Britannia, to the achievement of world domination after the Great War. In order to understand this painting better, to be able to define the racist meta-narrative embedded in it, it is necessary to sketch out a brief history of scientific racism.

     Anglo-Saxonism was a well-known phenomenon in the British culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and H. G. Wells has a lot to tell us about it. As a well-known member of the Fabian society, H. G. Wells mentions Anglo-Saxonism in his popular world history The Outline of History, which went through many editions since its first appearance in 1918–19. When it comes to World War I, Wells is unambiguous. He wrote his Outline of History in opposition to national histories, whose excesses flamed irrational nationalisms that fueled and caused the war. In the chapter called Catastrophe of 1914 Wells clearly blames narrow and bigoted nationalism. He did not stop with the critique of German nationalist/imperial legend of German (Nordic) superiority advocated by Kaiser William II (sic), but was equally, if not more critical, of the "ethnological invention" of the Anglo-Saxon race. Wells talked about "Anglo-Saxon fabrication" as a relatively new invention, since Disraeli's New Imperialism, where the Anglo-Saxons were represented as the imperial culmination of humanity, which "accumulated the efforts of Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Jew, Mongol, and such-like lowly precursors of its white splendor." 18 This is exactly the meta-narrative of racial superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race that Wells detested and then Goetze decided to canonize as the official policy of the Empire.

     H. G. Wells was a grand master of meta-narrative of world history and much like many progressives of the time, such as William Beveridge, John Maynard Keynes, George Bernard Shaw, and Sidney Webb, he was a passionate eugenicist. As far as origins of man were concerned, H. G. Wells stood in opposition to the popular racial theories of the time, in particular those suggested by Madison Grant and later Lothrop Stoddard. Being one of the most popular and influential "internationalists" of the time, Wells believed that human diversity, caused by the process of natural selection, did not create "races" of humankind. Instead Wells uses the term "variety" because "two sets of forces [are] at work, one tending to separate men into a multitude of local varieties, and another to remix and blend these varieties together."19

     The genealogy of the myth of Anglo-Saxon race could be traced to the influences outside of Britain, for example to the international community of anthropologists, such as Joseph Deniker (1852–1918), the chief librarian of the Natural History Museum in Paris. Deniker's publication of The Races of Europe (1899) was an influential moment in the development of European and Western racism. For the first time, ethnic and cultural prejudices, received the mantle of the scientific discourse. Deniker's classifying of "races" in Europe was based on anthropometric measurements, and did not award any special historical role to the Anglo-Saxon race. This was to happen later, first when William Z. Ripley in 1899 published his The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study, and second when Madison Grant in 1916 published his (in)famous The Passing of the Great Race. Grant formulated a quite popular meta-narrative of World History, where the Anglo-Saxon race was its engine of development.

     William Z. Ripley, Madison Grant, and later Lothrop Stoddard were not only active in the nascent eugenics movement, but they also were the most responsible for creating a new kind of "scientific racism." While racial prejudices existed at all times in history, they were now backed up by the authority of "science" which was often turned into legislation.20 In addition, Ripley, Grant, and Stoddard, in contrast to the convoluted system of Deniker, adopted a simple tri-partite division of Europe into Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean races, which became extremely popular. This teaching of scientific racism, here in the form of the Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, spread quickly and in 1908 the Royal Anthropological Institute awarded Ripley with its most prestigious award, Huxley Memorial Medal.21  The medal awarded by a ballot of scientific anthropologists and the prestigious lecture that is entailed gives us a clear indication that Anglo-Saxon racial meta-narrative was widely spread on both sides of the Atlantic even before the start of the First World War.

     Now, this Anglo-Saxon racial meta-narrative was not the only one present at the time. I was able to identify at least two other possibilities. The first was the ethical or Judea-Christian model, as it was later developed by Arnold Toynbee, and even later turned into the notion of Western or Judaeo-Christian Civilization. Toynbee's concept of civilization did not receive popular acclaim until after World War II and is, therefore, not a serious contender. Furthermore, Toynbee, in A Study of History (1934) believed that most successful civilizations were culturally and racially mixed, thus rejecting the views of Ripley, Grant, and Stoddard. Toynbee's vision of grand narrative of humanity was imperial, but it was also multi-cultural.22 It is interesting to mention that A. J. Toynbee was working in the Foreign Office during and after World War I. Especially significant is his work in the Political Intelligence Department (1918–1920) who purpose was to prepare reports of importance for the Versailles Peace Conference.23 Three historians, namely, Arnold Toynbee, Lewis Namier, and Alfred Zimmern, all worked for the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, and it is well know that all three clearly did not support the racial narrative of world history as it was formulated by Ripley, Grant, and Stoddard. In the reports of the Political Intelligence Department I have not been able to locate the proverbial "smoking gun" in this case, but I believe it reasonable to assume that the three historians' position on this issue might have had some influence on the Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, and his opposition to the Goetze murals.24

     It was actually two Americans, Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard who did the most to popularize the Anglo-Saxon meta-narrative. To use here again the religious metaphor, Grant and Stoddard were its most successful missionaries. Now, there were a good number of eugenicists and racists on the both sides of the Atlantic, but, in general, one might say that the British eugenicists were more concerned with the issue of class, the elimination of the "undeserving poor," while the US eugenicists were more interested in the issue of racial purity.25 For example, Winston Churchill in 1910 wrote to Prime Minister Asquith as a cabinet member, urging him to support the bill requiring mandatory sterilization of the feeble minded. Lord Balfour, like Winston Churchill, was a member of the Eugenics Education Society as was Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin's son.  The Eugenics Education Society originated in Britain, under Francis Galton and Leonard Darwin, but it was American eugenicists, most of them activists against immigration of the "lesser breeds", who nudged the movement into a decisively racist direction. The International Eugenics Congress first met in London in 1912 and then in New York's Museum of Natural History for the second meeting; originally scheduled in 1915, it finally met in 1921. The Congress in 1921 brought together the eugenicists from both sides of the Atlantic and it took an active part in the on-going anti-immigration debate in the US.26

     In 1920 Stoddard published a book called The Rising Tide of Color. The book represents a popular and racist explanation of the causes of World War One. The book was being recommended to its readers by the patron of Fin-de-Siecle eugenics movement, chairman of the biological society, and the trustee of the America Museum of Natural History, Madison Grant. Stoddard, like many others, saw World War One as a tragic event, but unlike H. G. Wells, his reasons are racial. He saw the war as tragic "civil war" between the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race, the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, and the Saxons-Prussians in Germany. Grant and Stoddard clearly placed themselves in opposition to the "internationalist" meta-narrative put forward by people like H. G. Wells.27

     Having received his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1914, Stoddard (in collaboration with Grant) ventured to provide a racial explanation of the Great War. He saw the war as the suicide of the Nordic race, the modern Peloponnesian War that signaled the end of Greek, or in this case Nordic civilization. Pan-Germanism, emphasis on national and imperial glory, and the consequent lack of concern for the Nordic race led Germany to the "perilous" path of racial war with Britain. Instead of standing united on the both sides of the North Sea, the Nordic race, and their most "pure" offshoot, the Saxons, became divided and engaged in a war of mutually assured self-destruction. I believe that this particular kind of meta-narrative stands behind Goetze's murals.

Figure 6

     Having sketched out the meta-narrative implicit in Goetze's painting, it is time to have a more revaling look at the final painting in the series, Britannia Pacificatrix and interpret it in the light of the meta-narrative of racial superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race. In the painting that celebrated the just peace at Versailles, the ultimate triumph of Britannia, and her world domination, Goetze does not accept all the elements of the Grant-Stoddard meta-narrative. In particular, it would be self-defeating to represent the Great War as the Modern Peloponnesian War of the Nordic race. Germany and Britain are not Sparta and Athens. That would elevate Germany into a worthy opponent. Thus the figure of Germany is not in the painting. Instead Goetze combined the racist message of Anglo-Saxon superiority with the vision of imperial supremacy, through which the world had achieved peace. In addition to providing peace and harmony among human races, the imperial domination also testified to the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race. However, this kind of racial superiority is not overtly flaunted, but only implicitly sketched in.

Figure 7

     The figures in the painting are obviously divided in two parts, on the right is the British Empire, on the left are the other nations of the world, led by America shaking hands with Britannia. Behind Britannia are her four sons, four "Great Dominions" of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, all portrayed as picture-perfect examples of the pure Nordic race. In the very right corner of the picture are figures representing British India, an Arab (Prince Faisal) representing the newly acquired Middle Eastern Empire, and finally a little Swahili boy carrying a basket of fruit, representing, to quote directly from Goetze, "our obligations and possibilities in the dark continent."28 The racial world of Britannia is ordered, The superior Anglo-Saxons show their naked bodies, but cover their loins, subordinate races, such as Indian and Arab, are fully clothed, and the "least" of races, the African is still a naked infant. Here we have a racial meta-narrative clearly imprinted on the body.

     The contrast between the racially ordered world of British Empire on the right and a confusing multi-racial world of the "nations" on the left is obvious. Italy is presented as a Roman matron and France in the uniform of the Roman legionary. The masculine dress of France could only be attributed to the war-like elements of the "Nordic or Germanic" race in its population, according to Grant's map, and as depicted in the painting Britannia Bellatrix. America is dressed in the Phrygian cap of liberty, the symbol of the revolution and it is the only one among the nations that Britannia is looking straight in the eye. The meaning of the "look in the eye" of Britannia is that the stray daughter had seen the errors of her ways, and by joining Britain in the Great War it was ready to return to the imperial fold.29 Behind the Great Republics of France and America, stand Greece, Romania, and Japan, in their ethnic dresses. Russia is behind, mourning wrapped in fur, obviously because of the Bolshevik Revolution.

     Finally, there are three girly figures clutching at the hips of Britannia seeking her protection. There three girls represent Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro. Among the three, Belgium stands out as the "causus belli" and her broken sword represents her broken honor. It was the "rape of Belgium" that led Britannia into the war to save the honor of an innocent "girl". The irony of the whole situation is that it was the Nordic Germans who committed "rape of Belgium" and who are not represented in the mural by a figure, like the rest of the nations. This seems to be a conspicuous absence. Here the panel stands in a clear contrast to the first panel, Britannia Sponsa, where the Anglo-Saxons cross the North Sea and take possession of Britannia. Goetze here uses the words "to take possession," but we would today take those word to mean "to rape." How is one to reconcile the two images? How come the rape of Britannia by the Anglo-Saxon race is actually a blessed event, whereas the rape of Belgium by the same race was somehow a hideous crime worth revenging? The answer, again, can be found in Grant and Stoppard. Apparently, what was acceptable in the sixth century, is no longer acceptable in the twentieth. Races, like babies, grow from infancy to maturity. The pinnacle of human evolution, according to both Goetze and Stoppard, was the Anglo-Saxon race, represented by Britannia. At this stage of development, raping of young girls, or conquering of small nations is unacceptable. In other words, it is not what Germany did that was the problem, but how it was done. The conquering of smaller nations and inferior races should be done within the imperial framework, which allows for diversity, but keeps together the empire, by invisible lines of racial hierarchy, which are rarely, if ever, spelled out openly.

     As I said in the beginning, extracting the meta-narrative out of particular symbols and signs is a fairly subjective procedure. I am perfectly aware that these paintings could be interpreted in the context of other meta-narratives. But, I am also convinced that this hermeneutical method which attempts to contextualize the paintings has revealed something about hidden racial presuppositions of the time. After all, Goetze's murals were not a private art piece done by a lone artist obsessed with racial hierarchy in the privacy of his atelier. It was, and still is, a very prominent public art, displayed in the Ambassadors Hall of the United Kingdom Foreign Office, approved by a practically unanimous vote of the Cabinet in a National Unity government, consisting of members from both the Liberal and the Conservative party. It represented the ideal of the upper echelons of the society on how the British Empire should be seen by the rest of the world. In a way, these paintings represented a short and effective summary of the British Imperial missionary message and its transformation before and after the Great War. It was a message of racial superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, represented by Britain, indented for the ambassadors on their regular visits to the Foreign Office.

     In conclusion, the murals themselves and the method here applied indicate that the so-called the "blood and soil" or "scientific racism" was fairly widespread among the governing elites of the United Kingdom after World War I. Many scholars have previously argued that history of Britain was the best example of so-called civic nationalism, the identity not based on race, but on the sense of belonging to a civic society. Liah Greenfield, for example, insisted that whereas Britain and France developed a "civic nationalism", the states of central and Eastern Europe, Germany and Russia in particular, favored "ethnic nationalism", based on blood and soil as their preferred tool for building national identity. 30 This view probably needs to be revised, because as the research here presented indicates, nationalism based on race and racial superiority of Anglo-Saxons was rather popular among the ruling elites. Further research of this problem is definitely warranted and will, I am sure, further clarify and fine-tune conclusions suggested here.

Alexander Mirkovic is currently a visiting fellow at Eisenberg Historical Institute of the University of Michigan. Born and raised in Belgrade, then former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, he earned his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Ancient History and Historical Studies of Religions. His first book, Prelude to Constantine: Abgar Tradition in Early Christianity (2004), explored religious diversity in Late Ancient Syria. He is currently working on a project that explores the anti-Greek and the anti-Orthodox prejudice among the Byzantine scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth century, and especially during the Cold War. He is also interested in classical tradition, its reception in the modern period, architectural and urban history, and the social construction of space.


1 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 27.

2 Ian Toplis, The Foreign Office. An Architectural History (London: Mansell, 1987), 45.

3 The government approval for the artist came from Lloyd George's national unity government in 1921. The only dissenting voice was George Curzon, who said that "he could not possible submit the morals of his ambassadors to these paintings." See, The Beaverbrook Papers, Transcripts of correspondence from the Curzon Papers, memoranda from (Lady) Sheila Elton and Rosemary Brooks, BBK/G/4/18, London: UK Parliamentary Archives.

4 S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist Government Publication, n.d., c. 1921, reprinted 1953). Obtained courtesy of Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This description is now archived on the web by The National Archives.  See,

5 See, The Beaverbrook Papers, Transcripts of correspondence from the Curzon Papers, memoranda from (Lady) Sheila Elton and Rosemary Brooks, BBK/G/4/18, London: UK Parliamentary Archives

6 S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist Government Publication, n.d., c. 1921, reprinted 1953).

7 The most famous criticism of these kind of meta-narratives came in 1931 in the classic, Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, (New York: W. W. Norton), 1965

8 Emilio Gentile, Politics as Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 1–16.

9 The government approval for the artist came from Lloyd George's national unity government in 1921. The only dissenting voice was George Curzon, who said that "he could not possibly submit the morals of his ambassadors to these paintings." See, The Beaverbrook Papers, Transcripts of correspondence from the Curzon Papers, memoranda from (Lady) Sheila Elton and Rosemary Brooks, BBK/G/4/18, London: UK Parliamentary Archives.

10 See, The Beaverbrook Papers, Transcripts of correspondence from the Curzon Papers, memoranda from (Lady) Sheila Elton and Rosemary Brooks, BBK/G/4/18, London: UK Parliamentary Archives.

11 See, The Beaverbrook Papers, Transcripts of correspondence from the Curzon Papers, memoranda from (Lady) Sheila Elton and Rosemary Brooks, BBK/G/4/18, London: UK Parliamentary Archives

12 London's Independent, April 09, 2009, published a photo gallery documenting president Obama's visit to the Ambassador's Hall of the Foreign Office. See, Pictures are copyrighted to Getty Images. Permit not obtained.

13 Images of Goetze paintings obtained courtesy of UK Foreign Office.

14 The most popular among these historians was Edward A. Freeman (1823-1892), Regius professor of history at Oxford, who consistently explained events in English history by race. His comments about race mixing in the United States are revealing, ""This would be a great land if only every Irishman would kill a negro, and be hanged for it." See, Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud: the Cultivation of Hatred (New York: Norton, 1993), 81. Other similar figures include J. R. Green, the author of the extremely popular A Short History of the English People, first published in 1874.

15 Goetze writes: "oversea tribes land to obtain possession of Britannia, conceived as a wild, fair-haired shepherd girl, and the withdrawal of an earlier and ruder race."  The fact that the painter saw the picture in these racial terms is important, but essentially not necessary for the approach advocated here. The connection between the signs in the painting and the myth could be entirely arbitrary. S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist (n.d., c. 1921).

16 See, S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist (n.d., c. 1921).

17 S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist (n.d., c. 1921).

18 Wells, Outline, 1012.

19 H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing, Garden City, 1920), 106.

20 Many congressmen and senators who voted for the Immigration Act of 1924 were directly influenced by Madison Grant and other racial eugenicists. The Act had a purpose of limiting the immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans (Mediterranean and Alpine Races) and encouraging the immigration of the Nordic Race. See Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

21 See

22 Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946), 36.

23 Ephraim Maisel and Martin Gilbert The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 19191926 (Sussex Academic Press, 2004), 5.

24 Though probably not a decisive influence, since Lord Curzon was fairly isolated in the Lloyd Georges' government, and often the foreign policy decisions were in the hands of the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary. See Alan Sharp, "Adapting to a New World? British Foreign Policy in the 1920s." Contemporary British History 18.3 (2004): 76.

25 On the relationship between the Eugenics movement and the Labor Party see Dennis Sewell, "How Eugenics Poisoned the Welfare State" in Spectator, November 29, 2009.

26 The New York Times, September 25th, 1921. See also, Second International Congress of Eugenics: Abstracts of Scientific Papers, (New York, 1921).

27 Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), 169.

28 S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist (n.d., c. 1921).

29 Cecil Rhodes statement to his Trust in 1877 provides a good narrative illustration of the hand-shake between Britannia and America: "To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonization by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labor, and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Isles of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South Africa, the Islands in the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of system of colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire, and finally the foundation of so great a power as hereafter to render wars impossible and promote the best interests of humanity." See, Anthony Thomas, Rhodes: The Race for Africa (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 98.

30 Liah Greenfield, Five Roads to Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 11.

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