Alice Naisbitt

PhD Thesis: ‘A UK Backchannel?’ A Science Diplomacy History of the British Council in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

My Research

This research explores the science activities and initiatives of the British Council in order to ascertain if the organisation can be regarded as an agent of ‘science diplomacy’. The British Council was established in 1934 to ‘promote abroad a wider appreciation of British culture and civilisation’ and has long been recognised as the ‘cultural arm’ of British foreign relations. However, the scientific dimension of their international work has often been overlooked due to a relatively narrow definition of culture based on ‘the arts’ and a focus on English language teaching. In exploring these overlooked initiatives, it will explore the soft power potential of science in the twentieth century and contribute to the burgeoning literature on science diplomacy, specifically the history of science diplomacy, and determine how the Council fit in this period of turbulent British foreign policy and relations.

The project aims to look at the British Council’s activities in three countries over the course of the twentieth century, all of which had differing relations with the UK. In doing so it will look at their relationship to the USSR/Russia (in the context of the Cold War), India (in the aftermath of independence) and Egypt (pre- and post-Suez Crisis). The first few months of archival research have focused on the Anglo-Soviet relationship and science activities with the USSR, looking at the dual importance of information and personnel exchange. This has been done through a close examination of the archival material of the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the British Council held at The National Archives, Kew.

About me

I am a second year PhD student at CHSTM, having started in October 2021. I achieved my MA in History at the University of Nottingham in December 2020 and my BA (Joint Hons) History and Politics, also from the University of Nottingham, in July 2019. My research before starting at CHSTM was quite different, I focused on identity politics, feminism and western race relations. Though I have always had an interest in international relations, the Cold War and decolonisation – all of which are themes I interact with in this project.

Since August 2022 I have organised the CHSTM Postgrad Seminar Series; a weekly, international seminar series through which we offer a place for postgraduate students from around the world, whose research lies in the broad realm of the history of science, technology and medicine, to present their work and invite discussion about their research topics.

Research Interests

Science Diplomacy, the British Council, 20th Century International Relations, the Cold War, Science Internationalism, Soft Power, British Foreign Policy, Cultural Relations


‘Student Exchange and Overseas Aid: The British Council’s Science Diplomacy in Post-Suez Egypt’, 05 May 2023, University of Nottingham, Contemporary History and Politics Seminar Series

‘Student Exchange as Science Diplomacy: The British Council’s Scientific Exchange Agreements in the 1960s’, 31 March 2023, BSHS PG Conference 2023

‘The Anglo-Soviet Cultural Agreement (1959): The Diplomatic Power of Culture, Science and the British Council’, 17 November 2022, History Lab – The Institute of Historical Research.

‘The Power of Exchange: Anglo-Soviet Scientific Relations at the British Council’, October 2022, Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy (STAND), ECR Seminar Series.

‘Science, Diplomacy and Soft Power: Exploring the British Council’s International Science Initiatives in the Twentieth Century’, 3rd May 2022, CHSTM International Seminar Series.