There’s a lot to be said for emphasizing the structuring role of colonialism and anticolonialism across the twentieth century. To contextualize the world wars, the Cold War, and contemporary global capitalism as embedded in a larger set of imperial continuities is to offer an indispensable corrective to the overemphasis of 1945 as epistemic break; the embellishment of US history as an empire-free zone; or the exaggeration of the distance between imperialism and free trade. Fredrik Petersson’s astute Versailles-to-Bandung emplotment of transnational anticolonial activism is thus a very compelling one, especially when read alongside several concurring periodizations. But how we might conceive of antifascism in this empire-centered genealogy requires further attention. Whether antifascism was itself an anticolonialism, in other words, matters much for how we make sense of the twentieth century. Continue reading
Call for Papers: New Directions in Imperial Labour History
The European Labour History Network is hosting its first conference at the University of Turin from 14-16 December 2015. The aim of the conference is to connect historians working in the sub-fields associated with Labour History, one of which is imperial labour history. CIGH’s Gareth Curless and Yann Beliard, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, are responsible for co-ordinating the Imperial Labour History Group. As part of the conference, Gareth and Yann will be organising a workshop on the subject of imperial labour history. The objective of the workshop is to consider imperial labour history within the wider context of imperial historiography, investigating how labour historians can contribute to ‘new imperial history’, as well as emerging trends resulting from the ‘global’ or ‘transnational turn’. The Call for Papers can be found below and the organisers would welcome contributions from not just historians but also political scientists and social movement theorists:
The ‘cultural turn’ has revitalised the study of imperialism, moving imperial history away from its traditional focus on administrative and diplomatic elites, conquest and administration, and the geo-politics of empire, to subjects such as race, gender, and sexuality. Few studies, however, have focused on the concepts of class and labour. Such neglect is unsurprising but it is detrimental both to the study of empire and to the exploration of how imperialism affected metropolitan societies. Continue reading
Cross-posted from Asian Review of Books
The first Portuguese embassy to China, headed by Tomé Pires, set out from Canton in 1517, reaching the capital Peking in December 1520. Although they carried gifts and letters from King Manuel, the Portuguese did not see the Emperor but were treated as spies, thrown into jail and some executed.
Meanwhile, in November 1519, a Spanish expedition led by Hernán Cortés entered Mexico-Tenochtitlán where they were received with spectacular pomp by the emperor Moctezuma. Months later, in August 1521, the Aztec capital would fall to the Spanish, opening the door to their conquest of much of the American continent.
These first encounters between the Iberians and the two world civilizations of Mexico and China took place therefore around the same time although with completely different outcomes. Serge Gruzinski’s The Eagle and the Dragon, the title referring to the iconic symbols of Mexico and China, is a groundbreaking study that sets to explain the timing and implications of these events. Continue reading
University of New Brunswick
In 1949, the French historian Fernand Braudel completed his first book, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Piecing together a history of the sixteenth-century Mediterranean that transcended religious and national boundaries, Braudel ushered in the enduring trend of utilising sea and ocean basins as frameworks of historical analysis. Over the next few decades, a series of early American historians would likewise centre their work around maritime space, following European commerce and politics out of the Mediterranean Sea and across the Atlantic Ocean to America, where, in the late eighteenth century, Florentine republicanism, English common law, and the European Enlightenment merged to create the United States, the New World ‘Empire of liberty’ that was to inherit global hegemony in the mid-twentieth century.
Though quick to incorporate cultural, demographic, and social studies of the region, the Atlantic World was initially conceived as a political-economic project, a heuristic device that accounted for the continuity between European and American imperialism. As a result, twentieth-century American historians were very much the products of their time, constructing an Atlantic World that reflected the bifurcated international climate of the post-war era. In doing so, however, their stories tended to neglect the historical interconnectedness that existed between early modern Eastern and Western Europe.
Ironically, just as Braudel was writing to counter notions that the Mediterranean had been a backwater, Western Europe and North America were politically and militarily reorganizing themselves around the Atlantic Ocean. In 1949, the same year that The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World was published, twelve of the modern incarnations of the historical Atlantic powers in Italy, Iberia, France, the Low Countries, and Britain, along with their former colonies in Canada and the United States, formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance of collective defence against the Soviet Union. Turkey joined soon thereafter in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955. In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, the Soviet Union spearheaded the Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, institutions analogous to NATO and the European Common Market in the West.
In the wake of the post-war partition of Europe and the onset of the Cold War, the Atlantic Ocean basin was reconceptualised as an exclusively Western European space. And historians, in a sort of primitive accumulation, began to pull chapters from various Western national histories for incorporation into a larger Atlantic World narrative, one with its ultimate destination in the New World. It was during this period that the medieval Norse expeditions to northeastern North America gained widespread acceptance among American scholars, and it was Americanists with their careers rooted firmly in the Cold War who reframed the story of colonial America by emphasizing how migration from France, Germany, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia was as central as that from the British Isles. The emergence of Atlantic history, as David Armitage aptly puts it, thus ‘owed more to NATO than it did to Plato.’ Continue reading
Leibniz Insitute of European History, Mainz
Follow on Twitter @FabianMKlose
Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights
In about four weeks the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) will meet for one week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva.The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.
The GHRA received a huge amount of applications from an extremely talented group of scholars from more than fifteen different countries around the world. The selection committee considered each proposal very carefully and has selected these 12 participants for the GHRA 2015: Continue reading
What does Taylor Swift have to tell us about the nature of imperial crisis? How can DJ Khaled inform our understanding of revolutionary consolidation? We know Beyoncé can shed light on current events – that’s clear – but what can Queen Bey explain about the human rights consequences of nineteenth-century transatlantic religious reform movements?
More than you might expect. I teach the history of the early United States in the world, and over the last few years I’ve adopted a pop-flavored shtick to help my students and I as we investigate America’s transnational, global, and imperial history. I pair each class meeting with a piece of modern popular music, creating a playlist as the semester goes along, so that by the end students have a set of sonic references for the course’s topics. The result is a historical mix-tape that, given a friendly hearing, helps the big histories make more sense – or at least draws a cathartic chuckle at the end of an intense lecture.
I started doing this just for fun. It was my attempt at emulating my colleagues teaching 20th-century history, whose use of period-appropriate music I saw enrich their classrooms. Now, I’m all for including a hearty Whig Party campaign song or a sea chanty – but they have a tendency to kill momentum in an undergraduate crowd. So I chose an easier path, loosely tying themes of globalized American history to top 40 hits. To my surprise, what began as a self-indulgent experiment in dubious musical taste has steadily become a pedagogically useful crowd-pleaser (though still dubious and self-indulgent).
The main problem the tunes help solve is one of orientation. American students, in particular, often come to my classes expecting an encounter with a national history they know well (sometimes far too well) already. They find some familiar people and events in my classroom, but in startlingly unfamiliar, and much more complex, contexts. That defamiliarization is intentional – a primary benefit of taking transnational perspective is the critical thought it provokes – but widening the field to situate Americans’ stories within the entire world can also overwhelm at times. The pop songs provide a friendly opening for discussions on difficult topics, as well as a potential hook on which to hang unraveled course themes, keeping the threads slack and untangled as we fly through decades of revolution, slavery, revival, and frenetic capitalist development. Continue reading
Call for Papers
Alternative Global Geographies, Imagining and Re-Imagining the World
Late 19th century – Present Day
Conference of the Research Network “Socialism Goes Global”
In contrast to public claims of the early 1990s, space and geographies have not lost their central role in defining an ever more globalized world. We still live in territorialized spaces: not only in the narrow sense of states and societies that reside within their borders, but also geographies and spatial formats on regional and world scales. Research in the aftermath of the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences is increasingly drawing our attention to the importance of understanding large-scale spatial dynamics for global history. Continue reading
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Cross-Posted from Dissertation Reviews
A review of Between dictatorship and dissent: Ideology, legitimacy, and human rights in East Germany, 1945-1990, by Ned Richardson-Little.
[Editor’s note: Dr. Richardson-Little is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Exeter. His dissertation was awarded the Fritz Stern Prize by the German Historical Institute.]
Ned Richardson-Little’s well-argued and well-researched dissertation challenges the idea that human rights gained importance in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) only after the signing of the Helsinki accords in 1975 – in other words, that the language of human rights was a gift from the West. The problem with this narrative is that it cannot explain why the Socialist Unity Party (SED) signed a document that was so obviously contrary to its own interests. Richardson-Little’s dissertation traces the evolution of the SED’s human rights policies through several stages between 1945 and the 1980s and shows how human rights rhetoric became mobilized by East German citizens as early as 1968. Rather than presenting a narrative of liberal triumphalism from Helsinki to 1989, he demonstrates that human rights discourses existed in the GDR before the 1970s while insisting that these discourses were unstable and contested. Continue reading
Richard Toye and David Thackeray
University of Exeter
Forty years ago today Britain went to the polls to decide a crucial question: would the country remain in the European Economic Community (EEC)? It had only joined the EEC, the EU forerunner organisation, two years previously, and this was the first UK-wide referendum. When the votes were counted the results were emphatic. The nation had voted ‘yes’ to Europe by a two to one margin. The Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson hailed the result, noting that no one in Britain or the wider world could be in doubt about its meaning. Margaret Thatcher, the recently-chosen Tory leader, observed that the ‘massive “Yes” vote could not have come about without a massive Conservative “Yes”.’ Today, as the British people prepare for a new European plebiscite, what lessons can be learned from the experience of 1975? Continue reading
Cross-Posted from the Guardian
During the early stages of the recent election campaign, Tony Blair emerged to deliver a speech in support of the Labour party’s European policy and to declare that he was backing Ed Miliband “100%”. The decision to make use of his predecessor in this way cannot have been easy for Miliband, as Blair remains potentially toxic, not least to many in the party itself, but doubtless he could not risk offering a rebuff. Blair’s motivation remains more obscure: previously he had done little to conceal his dislike of Miliband’s political approach, and he probably feels more than a little vindicated by Labour’s defeat. Certainly, a lot of people would reject with a laugh the idea that he said what he did because he genuinely believed it. Continue reading
University of Exeter
How do narratives of national AIDS epidemics draw from global discourses of health and development? In my own study of AIDS reportage in Indian medical journals, I argue that in the early years of the disease crisis, doctors initially made sense of the social and cultural dimensions of AIDS as it existed in India locally, through episodes of their individual interactions with HIV positive patients. They also gathered information on AIDS in a variety of cross-cultural settings to translate to an Indian context. However, as the epidemic progressed, the story of AIDS in India became increasingly politicized. Particularly around 1998, doctors began to critically engage with debates concerning the politics of unequal access to standard treatments in developing countries. Thus, by tracing the narrative of AIDS in Indian medical journals, we can see the moment of transition when the ‘global became problematic’.
In the early years of the epidemic, doctors focused on episodic local cases relating to a variety of medical ethics issues. Articles focused on problems such as the appropriate attitudes of medical professionals when delivering diagnoses, whether HIV status should be determined in an arranged marriage, and how to obtain consent for collecting blood samples. Typically, the particulars of an AIDS related incident or news story in Delhi, Chennai or Pune is reported, then analyzed for what it illuminates about the medical profession and the delivery of healthcare in India. Because of the nature of transmission and the social stigmas particular to India associated with it, AIDS was treated as a prism, which revealed the shortcomings of medical care. Continue reading