Need some fun reading on imperial and global history over the holiday break? Here are some of the Imperial & Global Forum‘s top recommendations: Continue reading “Top Christmas Picks in Imperial & Global History”
The crowd’s booing of Zuma at the memorial service embodied Mandela’s oppositional legacy.
Following Nelson Mandela’s passing early this month, international media and public interest in South Africa has abounded. From the fake sign language interpreter at the memorial to President Obama’s embarrassing ‘selfie’ taken during the service, journalists have had plenty of scandals to sink their teeth into. In particular, the crowd’s booing of current South African president Jacob Zuma during last Tuesday’s memorial has struck a particular chord with journalists, twitter users, and politicians alike. Continue reading “South Africa’s Long Walk: Political Dissent and the Spirit of Resistance at the Mandela Memorial”
As a child there were few experiences I looked forward to more than a trip up to London with my father to visit Hamleys toy store in the run-up to Christmas. Rather unusually perhaps, these visits to the capital were also occasionally marked by a stop at South Africa House to see the Anti-Apartheid picket of the embassy, organised to call for the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. We had moved to the UK from New Zealand a few years beforehand, and Dad would always use such occasions to regale me with proud memories of the protests which greeted South Africa’s notorious rugby tour in 1981. When the Springboks came to our home city of Hamilton, a key centre of Maori culture, crowd protests led to the abandonment of a test against the All Blacks. Another game became a farce when flour bombs and leaflets were scattered over the pitch from a light aeroplane. Continue reading “Boycotting Apartheid: the Global Politics of ‘Fair Trade’”
James Bryce Professor of European Legal History, Columbia University
Cross-posted from Humanitarianism and Human Rights
Much ink has now been spilled on the historical origins of human rights. That debate will continue no doubt. I have surveyed the wreckage in a recent review essay (in English here, but for some similar thoughts auf Deutsch see here) but there is no doubt that problems large and small remain to resolve.
One of the biggest is how to formulate the historical relationship between humanitarianism and human rights. In my view, the best thing to say is that the former is old and the latter (conceptualized as the quest for an international regime pursued by transnational movements) is new, though humanitarianism certainly did create many norms originally framed outside an individualist or rights-based paradigm that contemporary movements have now put in one. Continue reading “Human Rights and ‘Neoliberalism’”
Need some new visual resources for next term’s imperial or global history class? The British Library has now made available over 1 million images dating from the 17th to the 19th century. Continue reading “Over 1 Million Historical Images Made Available by British Library”
Looking for some weekend reading recommendations? Here are some of our top picks from the web this week: Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”
Visiting Assistant Professor, Quinnipiac University
Why historians should study the regime, not just its opponents
Last week’s death of Nelson Mandela prompted outpourings of both admiration and introspection across the globe. Public figures scrambled to portray themselves as long-time supporters of the anti-apartheid cause — even where the historical record of their organisation’s relationship with Mandela undercut the credibility of such posturing (the British Tories readily come to mind). Yet amid the panegyrics, there was plenty of consideration of Mandela’s complex legacy. When Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz declared common cause with Mandela, a supporter wrote on his Facebook page: “Tell the truth Ted!!! Who are you??!! Obama?? Don’t rewrite history to try to get people to like you!!! Educate them!! Mandela was a murderer, terrorist, and a Communist!!!! Can we even trust you to be honest now??!!” A more nuanced analysis appeared in an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs. Historian Ryan Irwin traced Mandela’s elusive legacy to his willingness to embody a pluralist and inclusive vision of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than imposing his own ideological litmus test for would-be allies—be they liberals, pan-Africans, union leaders, or communists.
And yet one thing was conspicuous for its absence over the last week. There has been no effort to describe with any similar specificity what Mandela had defined his life against: the apartheid regime itself.  Continue reading “The Black Hole of Apartheid History”
Historians of empire have long suspected that documents from the colonies were transferred back to Britain during the last days of imperial rule, only never to enter into the public domain. It was no small surprise therefore when in April 2011 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), under pressure from a high court judge, admitted that it had a secret archive of nearly 9,000 files from 37 colonies. Perhaps the biggest surprise from the ruling was how easy it was for the FCO to keep these documents hidden from historians for so long. Continue reading “Covering Up the Dark Side of Decolonisation”
The sad news of the death of Nelson Mandela has led many commentators to reflect on how he will be remembered. His reputation is now, and has been for many years, almost uniquely positive. So it should be, and let’s hope it will remain that way. Let this not, however, be at the expense of historical complexity. Here are some points which historians should bear in mind when reflecting on Mandela’s career and on his evolution from freedom fighter to world statesman. Continue reading “How Should Historians Consider Nelson Mandela?”
In case you missed it, the newest book by the Centre’s own Professor Richard Toye, The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s Wartime Speeches (2013), has been featured in the New York Times and the Boston Globe this past week, the most recent in a flurry of high-level reviews, which include the Financial Times and the Daily Mail.
The New York Times concludes that what Toye ‘has found deeply complicates, and in many cases utterly destroys,’ Churchill’s ‘popular image of 1940’: Continue reading “The New York Times and Boston Globe Rave about ‘The Roar of the Lion’”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of ‘Operation Coldstore’, when in 1963 Singapore’s Internal Security Council authorised the arrest of over 100 leftist and labour activists. The arrests severely weakened both Barisan Sosialis, a left-wing political party, and the trade union movement, thereby consolidating the Popular Action Party’s (PAP) position as the dominant political force in Singapore. As a result of the PAP’s triumph, the role of trade unions in official histories of Singapore’s struggle for independence has largely been overlooked, with left-wing activists commonly depicted as nothing more than stooges for the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The marginalisation of the role of trade unions in Singapore’s fight for independence is typical of many former colonial territories, where the actions of labour activists and trade unions during the period of decolonisation are overlooked in favour of broader narratives that focus on imperial decline and the triumph of nationalist elites. Yet, as was demonstrated in the 1950s and 1960s during the struggle for independence and again during the pro-democracy campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, trade unions in the global south have and continue to play a critical role in movements for social and political change. Continue reading “Reconciling Trade Unionism with Decolonisation in the Global South”
This autumn I spoke at several universities in Australia and New Zealand on the subject of the various shopping weeks that were launched to promote Empire trade during the 1920s and 1930s. The story of the Empire Marketing Board’s efforts to develop the idea of ‘Buying Empire’ in inter-war Britain is well known, and its posters still appear regularly on the covers of books written about imperial culture (and also currently featured as the background to this blog!). What is less well known is that the same cause was taken up with enthusiasm by a variety of organisations in the Dominions, and arguably achieved greater and more lasting prominence there than it did in Britain.
At the same time, it quickly became clear to me that the archives in England and Australasia were telling different stories. Politicians and businessmen in Wellington and Melbourne may have conceived themselves to be members of a ‘British’ trade community, but their understanding of what the future of the Empire as an economic unit should be often differed from their counterparts in London. Continue reading “Buying British Across the World”
International Law and Legal Pluralism, British Style
In 2008, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams courted controversy. He stated that recognition of certain aspects of Islamic law, Shari‘a, was essential for Britain in the interest of community cohesion. ‘As a matter of fact’, he said, ‘certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law’. The erudite archbishop was referring primarily to religious principles being valid bases for conscientious objections, and alternative marital dispute resolution methods. But had he chosen to use historical material, Dr. Williams would have had far more to go on.
And that is where my new digital archive project would have come in most handy to the archbishop. Shari‘a – alongside Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Jewish, and African customary laws – has indeed been part of the British legal system for a very long time. It has been administered by the final court of appeal for the British Empire, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This tribunal, which sat in London, was originally an expression of royal prerogative. Then, in 1833, it was given its modern form. Between then and 1998, it has heard around 9,000 appeals from all over the British Empire. Continue reading “New Digital Resource: The British Empire’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council”