The propagandist

September 4 2008

I have had certain opportunities for first-hand study of Greek and Turkish affairs. Just before the Balkan Wars, I spent nine months (November 1911 to August 1912) travelling on foot through the old territories of Greece, as well as in Krete and the Athos Peninsula, and though my main interest was the historical geography of the country, I learnt a good deal about the social and economic life of the modern population. During the European War, I edited, under the direction of Lord Bryce, [footnote: Whose death has removed one of the most experienced and distinguished Western students of Near and Middle Eastern questions, though this was only one among his manifold interests and activities.] the Blue Book published by the British Government on the “Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: 1915” (Miscellaneous No. 31, 1916), and incidentally learnt, I believe, nearly all that there is to be learnt to the discredit of the Turkish nation and of their rule over other peoples. Afterwards I worked, always on Turkish affairs, in the Intelligence Bureau of the Department of Information (May 1917 to May 1918); in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (May to December 1918); and in the Foreign Office section of the British Delegation to the Peace Conference at Paris (December 1918 to April 1919). Since the beginning of the 1919-20 Session, I have had the honour to hold the Koraís Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature, and History, in the University of London; and on the 20th October 1920 the Senate of the University kindly granted me leave of absence abroad for two terms, in order to enable me to pursue the studies connected with my Chair by travel in Greek lands. I arrived at Athens from England on the 15th January 1921, and left Constantinople for England on the 15th September. During the intervening time, I saw all that I could of the situation from both the Greek and the Turkish point of view, in various parts of the two countries.

Toynbee gives us this short account of his early career in the Preface to The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922). And see the page here called Cv.

He left Balliol, where he had been teaching Greats, in 1915 to do propaganda work at the Foreign Office, starting on May 1. He was twenty-five years old.

He doesn’t name that first (pre-1917) war job. Nor does McNeill, his biographer. It was a unit charged, according to McNeill, with publishing propaganda directed at America. Toynbee privately referred to it as the “Mendacity Bureau”. That period saw the production of most or all the wartime propaganda works, from Armenian Atrocities to Turkey, A Past and a Future, listed below.

They were written, as far as possible, with a scholar’s scruples, but must have reinforced a desire to escape from a national viewpoint in the way he would eventually write history. To his friend Rob Darbishire, September 16 1917:

There is a “Terror in France” out to complete that damned “Terror in Belgium”, but that is the last.

The last for a while. He would describe further terror when reporting on the Greco-Turkish war for The Manchester Guardian in 1921.

I’ve created three new Categories in this blog:

Armenian massacres

German terror

Greco-Turkish War

McNeill makes no distinction between the Intelligence Bureau and the Political Intelligence Department and has him starting at the latter in May 1917 (or rather “1971”). He writes: “Not surprisingly, he became responsible for political intelligence pertaining to the Ottoman Empire; but, with the collapse of Russia, his expertise was soon applied to the Moslems of Central Asia as well, and from there he went on to explore the risks of confrontation between a newly self-conscious Islamic world and a weakening British Empire – a clash which would affect India, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Africa as well as the lands directly subject to Ottoman administration.”


Hugh Trevor-Roper on his work in the Political Intelligence Department and its sequel, in The Prophet, review of William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989, New York Review of Books, October 12 1989:

“Lloyd George wished to award part of Asia Minor – in particular the Greek city of Smyrna – to the Greeks. Toynbee, supported by Harold Nicolson, was opposed to this. Lloyd George’s view, naturally, prevailed. Toynbee, who anyway had little love for the Greeks, now extended his antipathy to Lloyd George. He waited for an opportunity of revenge. It was not long in coming.

“In 1919, having resigned his fellowship, Toynbee was in need of paid employment. Encouraged by his father-in-law, Gilbert Murray, he applied for a newly created professorship in the University of London. This was the Koraes Chair of Greek and Byzantine Studies at King’s College. It had been endowed by a group of rich Greeks in London, headed by the former Greek minister there, the scholar and bibliophile Ioannes Gennadius, and named after Adamantios Koraes, the literary leader of the Greek revival in the nineteenth-century. The duties of the professor were to give lectures which would emphasize the continuity of Greek culture from Antiquity through Byzantium and the dark age of Turkish oppression to the present day. On the face of it, Toynbee, with his antipathy to modern Greece [developed in part during his Wanderjahr there, 1911-12], was not an obvious choice as the first occupant of the chair. Events quickly followed which nearly made him the last.

“For only a few months after taking up his duties, Toynbee saw, no doubt with some satisfaction, the Near Eastern policy of Lloyd George, which he had vainly opposed, heading for disaster. The Greek occupation of Anatolia, authorized by the Treaty of Sèvres, provoked a Turkish nationalist revolt under Mustafa Kemal, which would ultimately lead to a Greco-Turkish war. Toynbee, who had already missed one term by visiting the Near East, applied again for leave of absence in order to see ‘how Greece is handling her Muslim minority.’ He did not tell the university authorities that he had arranged to act as special correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Already, when he left London, he was inclined, if only through hatred of Lloyd George, to favor the Turkish cause, and he may have felt guilty of overdoing anti-Turkish propaganda during the war when he had compiled a Blue Book on “The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”. [Actually, that was the name of its pamphlet distillation.]

“At all events, what he witnessed of Greek excesses in Anatolia completely converted him. He sent strong denuciations of the Greeks to the Manchester Guardian and on his return wrote, with great speed, a book on the subject. By the time it was published, the Greeks had been defeated in war and were being driven out of Asia Minor. It was now the turn of the Turks to commit atrocities, at which they were not backward. Smyrna, the birthplace of Koraes, was burned. But Toynbee, in his despatches to the Manchester Guardian, was remarkably reticent about these Turkish excesses and even suggested that Smyrna had been burned by the Greeks. He was in fact ‘blatantly partisan’ – on the Turkish side. His biographer explains that he needed to show that he had not evaded military service in vain and to enjoy the humiliation of Lloyd George.

“Such arcane psychological extenuations would hardly satisfy the London Greeks who were paying his salary as professor.”


Here are the books that he published before (in one case in) 1934, when the Study was launched. (As in my main bibliography, I don’t promise to show the correct order of publication within a year – nor does Morton’s bibliography – and confine the list to published items or contributions of 70 pages or more.)

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

The first magnum opus was completed before he left Balliol, and published on April 1, one month before the start of his war work. I’ve done a post on it based on an online review and will address it at length later. It was the first evidence of the ability rapidly to synthesise diverse materials that would serve him in the Survey of International Affairs.

Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation, with a Speech Delivered by Lord Bryce in the House of Lords, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915

A little over a hundred pages. It contains a Statement by Lord Bryce, a Map, and chapters called Armenia before the Massacres; The Plan of the Massacres; The Road to Death; The Journey’s End; False Excuses; Murder Outright; The Toll of Death; and The Attitude of Germany.

The New Europe, Some Essays in Reconstruction, Dent, 1915

Essays. All but one had been printed in The Nation. A spinoff, for wider circulation, of the much longer Nationality and the War, though it does not reproduce its material directly.

Contributor, Greece, in The Balkans, A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915

A view of the whole of Greek history, ancient and modern.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916

The “Blue Book” on the massacres of Armenians in Turkey presented to the Foreign Secretary, and subsequently to both Houses of Parliament, in 1916, and still one of the main bodies of evidence for the alleged genocide. Toynbee worked under the direction of Bryce, whom he met first in 1915. I have mentioned Bryce several times.

The report as published contains a Map; Correspondence between Viscount Grey of Fallodon and Viscount Bryce; a Preface by Viscount Bryce; a Letter by Mr. H.A.L. Fisher, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Prof. Gilbert Murray, Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Mr. Moorfield Storey, ex-President of the American Bar Association, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Four German Missionaries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Berlin; a Memorandum by the Editor of the Documents (Toynbee); and 149 General Descriptions, eye-witness and other documents presented in twenty sections.

After that we have A Summary of Armenian History up to and including the year 1915 in six parts by Toynbee; six Annexes prepared by Toynbee; an Index of Places referred to in the Documents; and a Message, dated 22nd July, 1916, from Mr. N., of Constantinople; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

I have a post called Propaganda and intelligence here, looking at how hearsay was used as intelligence during this period.

The Belgian Deportations, with a Statement by Viscount Bryce, T Fisher Unwin, 1917

The German Terror in Belgium, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The German Terror in France, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Those three titles belong together. Toynbee writes in a Preface:

The German Terror in France is a direct continuation of The German Terror in Belgium, which was published several months ago. The chapters are numbered consecutively throughout the two volumes […].

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

A study of the consequences of the Turkish revolution of 1908 and the events leading up to the Armenian massacres and deportations.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

An important work, the second magnum opus, based on Toynbee’s second visit to Turkey, reporting on the Greco-Turkish war for The Manchester Guardian in 1921.

Introduction and translations, Greek Civilization and Character, The Self-Revelation of Ancient Greek Society, Dent, 1924

Introduction and translations, Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, with two pieces newly translated by Gilbert Murray, Dent, 1924

Two volumes of translations which Toynbee had made before the war. (Another work, based at least on pre-war notes, which was not published until much later, was Hellenism, The History of a Civilization, OUP, Home University Library, 1959. It had been commissioned by his father-in-law Gilbert Murray in 1914. The war intervened. Hannibal’s Legacy, the magnum opus of 1964, had been been on his agenda since the same year. The Preface of Some Problems of Greek History, 1969, begins: “The problems discussed in this book have been in my mind since the years 1909-11, when I was reading for the Oxford School of Literae Humaniores.”)

Contributor, The Non-Arab Territories of the Ottoman Empire since the Armistice of the 30th October, 1918, in HWV Temperley, editor, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, Vol 6, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1924

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

This was published on its own, but GM Gathorne-Hardy, the Institute’s Honorary Secretary, writes in a Preface that it was

originally written as an introduction to the Survey of International Affairs in 1920-3, and was intended for publication as part of the same volume.

In Experiences, Toynbee calls this cross-section of the world c 1920 a “base-line” for the Survey.

With Kenneth P Kirkwood, Turkey, in The Modern World series edited by HAL Fisher, Benn, 1926

I have not consulted this.

The Conduct of British Empire Foreign Relations since the Peace Settlement, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1928

A Journey to China, or Things Which Are Seen, Constable, 1931

The book of a journey to Japan and back (via China, pace the title) in 1929-30.

Editor, British Commonwealth Relations, Proceedings of the First Unofficial Conference at Toronto, 11-21 September 1933, with a Foreword by Robert L Borden, OUP, Issued under the joint auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 1934


One could add to this pre-Study list two short works, among many articles and other material:

The Destruction of Poland, A Study in German Efficiency, T Fisher Unwin, almost certainly 1916


“The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Soughton, 1917

A rather blatant piece of work. A pamphlet distillation of the two other Armenian works.


Let’s look again at his evolution. According to Morton, Toynbee published his first learned article while he was at Oxford in 1910: On Herodotus III. 90, and VII. 75, 76, Classical Review, Vol 24, No 8. You can find it online. Another, The Growth of Sparta, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 33, Part 2 followed in 1913. 1914 sees two more: Greek Policy since 1882, Oxford pamphlets, Vol 9, No 39, OUP and The Slav Peoples, Political Quarterly, No 4, December 1914. In those first four pieces we see classical interests vaulting towards urgent contemporary ones.

Toynbee’s first visit to Greece and territory that was then Turkey had been made during a post-University “gap year” in 1911-12. It was a formative experience, and often alluded to, but did not produce its own book. His longest piece of published historical writing on Greece before 1934 was a contribution, Greece, in The Balkans, A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915.

The second visit to Greece and Turkey took up most of 1921, when CP Scott’s Manchester Guardian sent him to report on the Greco-Turkish War. He had been appointed, in 1919, to the Koraes Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature, and History at King’s College, University of London, but was given leave to travel. The result was The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922).

This is a rugged work of reportage of a war (and to some extent a travel narrative) which shows an utterly out-of-the-ordinary grasp of history for such a piece, but does not lose touch with the subject. The language is simple, different from the sinuosities and contortions of the Study (particularly the later parts of the Study). One almost regrets that Toynbee was about to leave its sturdy realism behind and set off on his grand project.

At the same time, the other book is trying to get out. The subtitle, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, hints at what was to follow; and it was on a train, while en route back to England from this assignment, somewhere after Adrianople on September 17 1921, as he tells us in a Preface to Volume VII of the Study, that he formed thoughts which led to the drafting that evening of part of the plan for his work. Of course, the Study’s origins are more complex than that, and I will trace them in another post.

During his 1921 travels, Toynbee began to take a position more favourable to Turkey. I have done two posts which look at this change: Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1 and Atatürk’s frown. His later reminiscences make clear that it came partly from a sense of shame at the tone of the propaganda writings. He writes in The Western Question in Greece and Turkey:

It may, I fear, be painful to Greeks and “Philhellenes” that information and reflections unfavourable to Greece should have been published by the first occupant of the Koraís Chair. I naturally regret this, but from the academic point of view it is less unfortunate than if my conclusions on the Anatolian Question had been favourable to Greece and unfavourable to Turkey. The actual circumstances, whatever personal unpleasantness they may entail for me and my Greek friends and acquaintances, at least preclude the suspicion that an endowment of learning in a British University has been used for propaganda on behalf of the country with which it is concerned. Such a contention, if it could be urged, would be serious; for academic study should have no political purpose, although, when its subject is history, its judgments upon the nature and causal connection of past events do occasionally and incidentally have some effect upon the present and the future.

But these views, published in 1922, and following an absence from duty of nearly a year, forced him out of the Greek-funded Koraes Chair in 1924, and towards Chatham House. He never held another conventional full-time academic post. Chatham House offered something mid-way between academia and public affairs.

In the post here called Atatürk’s frown Toynbee describes some of his Turkish friendships. In Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1, he remembers

the atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks in which I had grown up.

He writes in Experiences (1969):

I originally broke my way into current affairs by following up the main line – that is, the Levantine line – of the sequel to the Graeco-Roman civilization till this mental journey brought me to the living civilizations of the Near and Middle East. Between 1911 [his first visit to the region] and 1923 [his third], I was, I think, in danger of letting myself become imprisoned in a couple of specialisms. I was then heading for becoming a combination of “Balkanist” with “ancient historian”. Fortunately I was saved from being caught in this blind alley by a personal mishap. I became personally involved in a conflict between two Near Eastern nationalisms. I had, in consequence, to resign the Koraes Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies in the University of London; and, in taking another job [at Chatham House], I found that I had committed myself to expanding my study of current affairs from the Near and Middle East to the contemporary world as a whole. I had undertaken to produce a Survey of International Affairs for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and the commitment required me not to leave any region of the present-day world out of account. I must try to follow current events not only in the Near and Middle East and not only in Europe and the United States but in Latin America, the Soviet Union, and China as well.

History and current affairs were parallel seams in his career from then on. He often says that he could not have written A Study of History, which was published between 1934 and 1961, if he had not also been working, from 1924 to ’56, on the The Survey of International Affairs. The Survey, which was not propaganda, was published under Chatham House’s auspices between 1925 and 1977 and covered the years 1920 to 1962.


This post describes the pre-Study œuvre. Before 1934, “Arnold Toynbee” meant not the historian, but his uncle, the economic historian and social reformer (1852-83). The older Arnold Toynbee’s brother Paget, the Dante scholar, took Toynbee to task for using his uncle’s name on the title page of his first book. He could have added or substituted an initial.

I described the post-1933 œuvre here. I listed the main post-Study works there in order to emphasise that the Study was not the end of Toynbee any more than the beginning. It’s a sign of sanity to finish a project and move on; which, apart from the Caplan collaboration, is what he did.


The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989 (letter quotation)

The German Terror in France, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

Experiences, OUP, 1969

5 Responses to “The propagandist”

  1. […] the First World War, though neither fought in it. Russell was too old; Toynbee did office-bound war work. The war turned Russell into an activist and campaigner in ways shown in the last post and changed […]

  2. […] That is what the Germans did on the road from Aix-la-Chapelle; but, before reaching Warsage, the road sends out a branch through Aubel to the left, which passes under the guns of Fort Barchon and leads straight to Liége. The Germans took this road also, and Barchon was the first of the Liége forts to fall. The civil population was not spared. The propagandist […]

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Toynbee’s shift of allegiances on Greece and Turkey mirrored a broader one. When the Ottoman Empire was dying, the West, fired up by much historical sentiment, supported Greece. Ever since then, the West has regarded Turkey as more strategically important.

  4. […] displeasure, resigned from his fellowship in December 1915. He had left in April that year to do war work in […]

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