This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Claudia Jones

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

From how colonial borders still influence the way academics study Africa to the transnational activism of Claudia Jones, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Why the UK Must Teach More Chinese History

Zheng He, the eunuch admiral.

Tom Harper
University of Surrey

The Sovietologist E.H. Carr once asked “what is history?” in his book of the same name. It is a question that may need to be asked again in light of plans by Oxford University to introduce exams in non-Western history. Such a move is cast against the background of the apparent backlash against the traditional notions of imperial history as symbolised by the protests over the philosophy courses of the School of Oriental and African Studies for focusing on European thinkers at the expense of Asian and African philosophers.

These Oxford initiatives should not be considered as merely simplistic, politically correct gesture politics. Instead, with the rise of the Eastern powers, most notably China, it has become imperative to reconsider the limitations of the current Eurocentric curriculum. As the influence of China grows, so too does its historical experiences with imperialism, as epitomised by Xi Jinping’s utilisation of China’s imperial past as a source of national pride. In order for UK universities to stay afloat in changing waters and to cast off the shackles of their Eurocentrism, they will need to start placing a greater emphasis on Asia – and China, in particular. Continue reading “Why the UK Must Teach More Chinese History”

Call for Papers – Britain and the World Conference 2018 (Exeter, June 2018) #BATW2018

Reed Hall, University of Exeter, where the 2018 conference will be held.

This serves as the Call for Papers for the 2018 Britain and the World Conference, Exeter, June 2018 (#BATW2018).

After our tenth anniversary conference in Austin in April 2017, Britain and the World returns to the UK for 2018: Thursday 21 to Saturday 23 June. It will be at Exeter University: the venue is Reed Hall and accommodation is at the neighbouring Holland Hall, and, as always, the conference is concerned with interactions within the ‘British world’ from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present and will highlight the importance of transnational perspectives.

The Keynote Speaker will be Professor Richard Overy (Exeter), and the Plenary Speaker is Professor Audrey Horning (Queen’s University Belfast). There’ll be lunchtime roundtables on cinema and history, and on public history. Publishers present will include our journal publisher Edinburgh University Press, and our book series publisher Palgrave Macmillan, and the commissioning editor will be present throughout to discuss your publishing plans.

We accept both individual twenty-minute papers and complete panel submissions. Panels are expected to consist of three papers and should be submitted by one person who is willing to serve as the point of contact. Complete panels should also include a chair. In addition to abstracts for each individual paper, panel submissions should also include a 100-150 word introduction describing the panel’s main theme. The conference does not discriminate between panels and individual paper submissions, nor between graduate students and established academics.

As ever the conference icebreaker will be held on the Thursday evening, the Dinner Party on the Friday, and the outings downtown on the Saturday. These events will provide numerous opportunities for networking and more in the capital of Devon.

Exeter is two hours by direct train from London, and there is a direct National Express bus line from Heathrow Airport. Exeter also has its own international airport, and is one hour by train from Bristol.

Exeter Cathedral.

On campus is the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, home to one of the largest collections in Britain of material relating to film. The University’s special collections are noted for archives relating to twentieth-century South West Writing (and include the papers of Daphne du Maurier), literature and visual culture, Victorian culture and imperial endeavour, Arab and Islamic studies, and religious and parish book collections. In city centre there are Exeter Cathedral and archives, the Devon and Exeter Institute (which houses a large collection of local archival materials), Exeter Castle, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). Continue reading “Call for Papers – Britain and the World Conference 2018 (Exeter, June 2018) #BATW2018”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Newspaper notice, June 19th, 1942. (Province Newspaper/Vancouver Public Library)

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

From making liberal internationalism great again to why nation-states are good, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Victoria & Abdul: Simulacra & Simulation

Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, 1893 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Gajendra Singh
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from Not Even Past

One of the earliest films to be shot and then screened throughout India were scenes from the Delhi Durbar between 29th December 1902 and 10th January 1903.[1] The Imperial Durbar, created to celebrate the accession of Edward VII as Emperor of India following the death of Victoria, was the most expensive and elaborate act of British Imperial pageantry that had ever been attempted. Nathaniel Curzon, as Viceroy of India, oversaw the construction of a tent city housing 150,000 guests north of Delhi proper and what occurred in Delhi was to be replicated (on a smaller scale) in towns and cities across India.

The purpose of the Durbar was to contrast British modernity with Indian tradition. Europeans at the Durbar were instructed to dress in contemporary styles even when celebrating an older British Imperial past (as with veterans of the ‘Mutiny’). Indians, however, were to wear Oriental (perceptibly Oriental) costumes as motifs of their Otherness. This construction of an exaggerated sense of Imperial difference, and through it Imperial order and Imperial continuity, was significant. It was a statement of the permanence of Empire, of Britain’s Empire being at the vanguard of modernity even as the Empire itself was increasingly anxious about nascent nationalist movements and rocked by perpetual Imperial crises.[2]

It’s unlikely that Stephen Frears watched these films from 1902 or 1903 upon finalising the screenplay and then shooting Victoria & Abdul. They have only recently been digitized and archived by the British Film Institute.[3] But his recent movie, filmed when most visions of the past are obscured by the myopia of the present, is an unconscious reproduction of films produced and shown when Empire was an idée fixe in the British mind. Abdul Karim, one of several Indians at Victoria’s court during her long reign,[4] is a cypher throughout the film who has no emotion or sentiment or stirring rhetoric except when genuflecting before his Empress – kissing her feet upon their first meeting, stoically holding her hand upon her death, sitting as a sentinel by her statue in Agra into his dotage. Continue reading “Victoria & Abdul: Simulacra & Simulation”

Decisions more than a century ago explain why the U.S. has failed Puerto Rico in its time of need

Puck v. 47 (April 25 1900) The Ill-Fated sister 1900 Hawaii Puerto Rico free tradecropped
“The Ill-Fated Sister:—A Case of Unjust Discrimination.” A forlorn female Puerto Rico looks on as President McKinley rides past, carrying a well-dressed female Hawaii and Uncle Sam on a buggy labeled “Free Trade.” Puck 47 (April 25, 1900).

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

Cross-posted from the Washington Post

Fears about trade prompted the decision to make Puerto Rico a colony.

The tragedy befalling Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — beholden as it is to the dictates of Washington — stems directly from the territory’s subordinate political status. This was highlighted again last week when Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of the territory’s largest city, made a desperate appeal to President Trump “to save us from dying.” The mayor’s plea provoked only scorn from the president, who took time out from working on his golf stroke in New Jersey to lash out at her on Twitter for her “poor leadership.”

Trump’s callous response only underscores Puerto Rico’s precarious position within the U.S. body politic; nearly half of Americans today don’t even know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.  This combination of apathy and amnesia is symptomatic of more than a century of absent-minded imperialism, stretching back to when Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony.

The decision made in the late 19th century to make Puerto Rico a colony without the full political equality of statehood is now crippling the island’s ability to recover from Maria. The Trump administration’s initial enforcement of the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from entering Puerto Rican ports, and the indifference of many Americans toward the plight of Puerto Ricans were born out of this nearly forgotten turn-of-the-century imperial decision. Americans must reconcile and rectify their imperial legacy, or Puerto Rico will continue to suffer.

Puerto Rico was among a handful of colonies acquired by the United States in the wake of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Almost immediately, members of Congress began to debate what to do with America’s new possession, with little concern for what Puerto Ricans themselves wanted. The main question: Would the United States treat Puerto Rico as it would a state, or would it treat it like a foreign country?

One issue overrode all others in determining the result of that debate: free trade. For Republican protectionists back then, as with Donald Trump now, free trade was seen as a conspiracy of foreign interests to undermine U.S. industries. Paranoid, protectionist Republicans not only decided that Puerto Rico should be prohibited from trading freely with the rest of the world, they initially didn’t even want it to trade freely with the rest of the United States. [continue reading at the Washington Post]

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

From “Ken Burn’s Vietnam War” – Marines marching in Danang, Vietnam, March 15, 1965. AP / PBS.

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

From the ongoing war over the Vietnam War to declassifying apartheid profits, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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