That Time Canada Tried to Purchase Greenland

Sir Robert Laird Borden

John C. Mitcham
Duquesne University

President Donald Trump’s recent musings about buying Greenland from Denmark stirred deep emotions abroad.  The idea of acquiring sovereign territory through a real estate purchase seems like a quintessentially American act. As a Canadian writer in the Toronto Star put it, “Whether you love him or hate him, I think we can agree on this: Donald Trump even believing he can buy Greenland is clinically insane.”

Except that Canada also once tried to purchase the Greenland.

At the height of the First World War, the leaders of the vast British Empire assembled in London to lay the foundation for a postwar world dominated by white, English-speaking peoples.  This Imperial War Conference of 1917 included representatives from the overseas Dominions of Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, and New Zealand. It was the kind of Commonwealth gentleman’s club that would make the most romantic Brexiteers swoon with post-imperial nostalgia. Continue reading “That Time Canada Tried to Purchase Greenland”

Why Boris Johnson is drawing parliamentary parallels with Lord Palmerston

Lord Palmerston (left) and Boris Johnson (right)

Alan Lester
University of Sussex

When Laurence Fox played Lord Palmerston in ITV’s Victoria, he admitted that the character “may have had a bit of the Boris about him”. [1] Johnson and Palmerston of course shared undiplomatic careers as flippant Foreign Secretaries and a wit and charm that made them popular with the public, if not always with their peers in parliament. The parallels do not end there, however.

In 1857, when he was Prime Minister, Palmerston suspended parliament in order to force his will by appealing directly to the electorate. Sensing that he was more in touch with the electorate than their elected representatives in the House of Commons, he called a general election and mobilised British patriotism to gain a new parliamentary majority.  In Palmerston’s case, patriotic fervour was brought to bear against the Chinese rather than the EU. In both his journalistic and political careers, Johnson has dedicated himself to narrating the EU as Britain’s bogeyman just as effectively as Palmerston was able to generate Sinophobia. Both men realised that there’s nothing like spinning an enemy to advance a political career. Continue reading “Why Boris Johnson is drawing parliamentary parallels with Lord Palmerston”

The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism

Bogdan Iacob, James Mark, Tobias Rupprecht

First published in Eurozine

Eastern Europe is clearly part of a global populist wave, and is now part of the western right-wing populist imaginary as the bedrock for ‘pure’ European values. Only by looking at ‘1989’ from a new angle can we see how populist governments’ rejection of a ‘decadent’ and ‘imperialist’ West merely continues a communist stance, despite their strident anti-communist rhetoric.

The spread of populist governments in eastern Europe over the last decade, and their nationalist challenging of core tenets of western liberalism, has given currency to talk about a ‘new east-west divide’. A notion has taken hold that draws on a longer history of western views of eastern backwardness: a specifically eastern illiberal ‘infection’ is allegedly threatening the stability of the entire European project. In this vein, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon ‘the EU and the people of Europe to resist the backsliding we are seeing in the east’.1 Yet the parallel ascent of populist parties in much of the West, and a wave of anti-populist mass protests in the east, suggest the divide is not defined by geography alone.

As we argue in 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, the current wave of east European populism, while rooted in local nationalist traditions, is best understood by also considering its global ideological bedfellows. Nativists in eastern Europe, and those who embrace similar forms of ethnonationalist cultural traditionalism elsewhere, have mutually reinforced each other. Radical right-wing figures in western Europe have developed strong bonds with eastern European populists in a common push to ‘re-found’ Europe on an explicitly anti-liberal basis. Beyond Europe, leaders with an authoritarian bent, from the right-wing of the Republican Party in the United States, to Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and Xi Jinping in China, have contributed to eastern European populists’ re-positioning against the West. Through these relationships, leading figures of such nationalist parties as PiS in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary, as well as their intellectual supporters, re-imagined their place in a broader world beyond the liberal rule of law and what they consider the neo-colonial interference of the EU in their countries’ domestic affairs. Together, they clamour for the defence of their societies’ ‘Europeanness’, allegedly threatened by Western multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and ‘political correctness’. Continue reading “The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From reconciling capitalism with democracy to wedding socialism with populism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Major new ERC study tracing the history of psychiatry will show roots of today’s global mental health

University of Exeter Research News

A major new study of the history of psychiatry will show how efforts to create a “global standard” for mental health has left a lasting legacy on the treatment offered today.

After World War II psychiatrists in different countries worked together to create institutions which are still used universally. Psychiatrists, anthropologists and others are still continuing some of the same debates, interrogating the role of local social and cultural factors in the definition and classifications of disorders, diagnoses or treatments. Historian Dr Ana Antic, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, has won a prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant Award of 1,499,952 Euro to investigate the history of transcultural psychiatry and its links to decolonisation.

The five-year University of Exeter project, ‘Decolonising madness? Transcultural psychiatry, international order and the birth of a “global psyche” in the aftermath of WWII’, is the first to trace the emergence and development of the concept of a “global psyche”, and to examine how psychiatrists from different cultures worked together from the 1950s until the early 21st century. This project will involve an interdisciplinary team, who will show to what extent this process resulted in the “decolonisation” of mental health services, and how it impacted on patients in non-Western nations. Continue reading “Major new ERC study tracing the history of psychiatry will show roots of today’s global mental health”

The curious colonial afterlife of the 1837 Select Committee Report on Aborigines

Penny Edmonds and Zoë Laidlaw

In August 1838 from his base in Cape Town, senior Quaker James Backhouse sent the 1837 House of Commons Report from the Select Committee on Aborigines (British Settlements) to at least twenty-five men and one woman of influence across the Australian colonies The precious package, wrapped in sturdy paper, addressed in purple-black iron gall ink and secured with string, was posted across oceans by ship, and later by road, into the hands of a multi-denominational network of humanitarians, religious figures, colonial officials, police magistrates and powerful settlers. Backhouse attached the highest import to the report as a means of bringing moral reform and humane colonization to violent frontiers, where Aboriginal people fought settlers for their lands.

Short letters were attached to each parcel. Backhouse wrote to Reverend John Espie Keane of Bathurst, New South Wales: “The British Government is now awaking to a sense of its error of conduct towards the Native Tribes of its colonies … I hope that reading the Report may stir up thy zeal … on this interesting and highly important subject.” To George Langhorne, a missionary at Port Phillip, Backhouse write that the report was “a work deeply interesting, and well calculated both to restrain outrage against the Aboriginal inhabitants of our Colonies, and to promote rational sentiments respecting their rights.”

The 1837 Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes (British Settlements) ushered in a new era of Aboriginal protectorates across the Australian colonies and New Zealand that would have far reaching consequences for Indigenous peoples, and its regulations and effects under the rubric of “protective governance” resonate still today.   The report has been frequently invoked by scholars as a touchstone or “blueprint” of British humanitarian policy in new settlements in the 1830s, including in Australia, North America, and New Zealand and the Pacific, at the high point of humanitarian reform. It was released in the wake of the abolition of slavery in British settlements (1834), when humanitarians turned their attention from the abolitionist cause to the fate of Indigenous peoples in Britain’s colonies, and coincided with the violent land rush in these new settlements. Alongside its recommendations, the report contained hundreds of pages of affective testimony delivered to the select committee by Indigenous peoples and humanitarians, as well as colonial and military officials.

The 1837 report is well known to historians. Yet, as our research reveals, it is less widely known that there was not one but three editions of the select committee’s report circulating at that time. As a result, most accounts routinely conflate the different versions of the report, and have paid scant attention to their construction as material, textual artefacts, and even less to their various meanings as textual missives, or their circulation in the colonies. Our research revisits an imperial text that has been regarded as canonical, to ask what its sometimes complicated history, as both an embodiment of knowledge and a circulating paper artefact, might tell us. 

Curiously, Backhouse had chosen to post from Cape Town a version of the report published by the Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS), rather than that published by his own Quaker cohort, the Society of Friends.

Why did he do this? And who repackaged the report and why?

The answers lay within the story of Backhouse’s parcels. Continue reading “The curious colonial afterlife of the 1837 Select Committee Report on Aborigines”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The flags of Oklahoma, the United States and the Cherokee Nation fly behind a sculpture of Lady Liberty at the Cherokee Capitol Square in Tahlequah, Okla., Friday, July 8, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Trump’s ignorance of American power to ideas of European union before the EU, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”