What does it mean to belong to the human race? Does this belonging bring with it particular rights as well as responsibilities? What does it mean to act with humanity? These are some of the big questions lying at the heart of a new edited collection from Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin, Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present (2016). Based on a 2015 conference at the Leibniz Institute in Mainz, the book, as the title suggests, is not a purely conceptual history of the term ‘humanity’. Rather it looks to discover ‘the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity’ [page 18]. In other words, how did ideas of ‘humanity’ guide European practices in areas like humanism, imperialism, international law, humanitarianism, and human rights? The editors argue that despite the implied timeless, universal nature of the term, humanity is both a changing, dynamic concept, and has been prone to create divisions as much as it promotes commonality. Although the volume is a study of European conceptions of humanity, the contributions are transnational, displaying how conceptions of humanity were practiced in Europe and in the continent’s interactions with the wider world over the course of five-hundred years. Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?”→
Labour historians have been particularly attuned to the global turn. Over the last decade labour historians have become not only more global in their outlook, but they have also begun to pay greater attention to subjects that speak to contemporary concerns associated with globalization. This has given rise to a number of studies considering a diverse array of subjects, including ‘global’ occupations, forms of free and unfree labour migration, and the global dimensions of working-class formation. The benefits of this global approach are immeasurable. Among other things it has highlighted the importance of studying labour in globalized sectors over the longue durée; it has brought into question the teleological assumption that labour movements inevitably develop a national character; and it has underscored the point that working-class formation was driven by processes that occurred across territorial borders.
The danger with global approaches, however, is that they can flatten and homogenize the experience of labour, emphasizing connection over disconnection, and privileging subaltern agency, co-operation, and mobility over class-, gender-, and race-based hierarchies of power. These issues are particularly pertinent to colonial contexts. Racialised labour recruitment practices, punitive and draconian labour legislation, and the deployment of state violence in response to worker protest all served to accentuate differences and inhibit collective action. Put simply, the task for labour historians is to focus not only the ‘free’ movement of labour and the associated flow of ideas, discourses, and practices across territorial borders but to investigate the role of coercion and state regulation in facilitating and restricting such movements.
In the vein of its rich history in Central Asia, China’s quest for economic development has seen it return to the region that was once spanned by the Silk Route. While Central Asia has served as the cross roads between Eastern and Western civilisation for centuries, it also once provided the chessboard upon which the Great Powers of the past had battled each other for land and influence. In sum it is one of the most strategic regions of the world, whether it be the Great Game of the nineteenth century or the superpower conflict of the 1980s.
In line with the power politics of the past, the region has seen a new Great Game where today’s strongest nations compete for the region’s natural resources. With the close of the twentieth century, Central Asia re-entered the spotlight as a result of the War on Terror and, more recently, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路). In light of these developments, the imperial struggles of the past two centuries take on a new importance, as they continue to influence the perceptions of China’s return to the region. These perceptions, real or imagined, have fuelled the struggles of the Great Powers in the region and China’s involvement is simply the latest chapter in a centuries long struggle. Continue reading “China’s New Silk Road: Central Asia and the Imperial Legacy of the Great Game”→
We are delighted to announce a new online collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin. Not Even Pastand theImperial & Global Forum will be cross-posting articles, sharing podcasts, and sponsoring discussions of historical publications and events. We are launching our joint initiative this month with a blog, cross-posted from Not Even Past, based on a new book by Exeter’s own Martin Thomas and Richard Toye, Arguing About Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France.
“At the present moment it is impossible to open a newspaper without finding an account of war, disturbance, the fear of war, diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect, in every quarter of the world,” noted an advertisement in The Times on May 20, 1898. “Under these circumstances it is absolutely essential for anyone who desires to follow the course of events to possess a thoroughly good atlas.” One of the selling points of the atlas in question – that published by The Times itself – was that it would allow its owner to follow “most minute details of the campaign on the Atbara, Fashoda, Uganda, the Italian-Abyssinian conflict &c.” The name Atbara would already have been quite familiar to readers, as the British had recently had a battle triumph there as part of the ongoing reconquest of the Sudan. Continue reading “Arguing about Empire: The Dreyfus Affair and the Fashoda Crisis, 1898”→