Teaching ’12 Years a Slave’ and other Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

greatbooksDebating the origins of the First World War will have to wait a few days. Why? Because this week was a big one for other imperial and global news, from teaching the history of slavery to the end of globalization. Here are some of the Forum’s top picks of the week.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, the London-born actor from 12 Years a Slave, made some media waves this week by suggesting that the history of slavery ought to be taught in British schools much like the Holocaust is currently taught. According to the IBT, ‘Ejiofor believes the subject is not given enough attention and there needs to be more honesty about Britain’s past so people can understand how it became the place it is today.English Heritage already publishes details about how English country homes including Kenwood House were wholly or partially funded by “blood money”, and Ejiofor, who is of Nigerian descent, believes the links should be made explicit to young people.’

The Guardian has since followed up on Ejiofor’s comments, offering readers a walk through Bristol, showing ‘how the splendid Georgian townhouses were financed by the suffering of west Africans.’ Historians might also be interested in checking out UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Project, which is owed credit for many of these revelations.

Perhaps teachers will soon be able to use 12 Years a Slave in the classroom, argues Robert E. Wright at the excellent Historians Against Slavery blog: ‘Maybe by next fall term, professors can show 12 Years a Slave to their students legally and at no cost. It is good enough to be used as a straight up period piece to supplement lectures or readings on antebellum American chattel slavery but the connections to modern slavery should be explored in classrooms as well.’

Also on the subject of 12 Years a SlaveBBC News explores the background of the film. ‘With 10 Bafta and seven Golden Globe nominations, 12 Years a Slave looks set to triumph this awards season. The film is based on a 150-year-old account of how Solomon Northup, born a free man, was kidnapped into slavery. But, the article asks, ‘who was Northup and why, until recently, was he virtually forgotten?’

And some hard-hitting pieces appeared this week criticizing the current state of the international economy — and they lay the blame firmly on ‘globalization’. Donald Kaberuka argues at Project Syndicate that disparities of wealth threaten the future stability of the global economy: ‘We are all affected by deep disparities of income and wealth, because the political and economic system on which our prosperity depends cannot continue enriching some while it impoverishes others.’

Noah Smith puts forth a defense of the Seattle protestors of the 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference in his Atlantic article, ‘The Dark Side of Globalization.’ The protestors were the ‘Occupy Wall Street of their time, they focused on globalization rather than the excesses of finance. And, quite like the Occupy Wall Street of their time, they were often mocked by critics as silly, aimless, and overly hand-wringy about the future.’ The events since, he argues, have vindicated them. ‘they were right: a WTO-led globalization could have been implemented a lot better. If I could go back in time, I would make the WTO heed the concerns of the Seattle protesters. They were not silly. They were right.’

And finally an editorial at CNN asks ‘Have we Reached the End of Globalization?’ Pointing (rather narrowly, I might add) toward levels of global trade over the past two years, they suggest that ‘a strange thing has taken place. . . . Growth in global trade has dropped dramatically, to even less than GDP growth. The change leaves one wondering: has the incredible transfer of goods around the world reached some sort of pinnacle? Have we exhausted the drive toward ever-more-globalization?’

Have any other suggestions for reading over the weekend?