This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

greatbooksMarc-William Palen

Searching for your weekend dose of imperial and global history? Here are this week’s recommended reads from the Centre for Imperial & Global History:

  • Greg Grandin has an excellent piece in the Nation and TomDispatch revisiting the ways in which slavery created the modern world: ‘The idea that slavery made the modern world is not new, though it seems that every generation has to rediscover that truth anew…. How would we calculate the value of what we today would call the intellectual property—in medicine and other fields—generated by slavery’s suffering? I’m not sure. But a revival of efforts to do so would be a step toward reckoning with slavery’s true legacy: our modern world.’ And how about an interactive map that challenges our longstanding theories of slave insurrections?
Interactive Map
Harvard Professor Vincent Brown has launched an interactive map of slave insurrections in Jamaica.
  • The Act of Killing‘s bloody retelling of the brutal persecution of Indonesian leftists from the perspective of the murderers themselves has been racking up honors and awards. As the documentary film’s director has described it in a passionate response to critics, ‘It is an exposé of a present-day regime of fear. The film is not a historical narrative. It is a film about history itself, about the lies victors tell to justify their actions, and the effects of those lies; about an unresolved traumatic past that continues to haunt the present.’ But the BBC‘s documentary series editor, Nick Fraser, doesn’t think it deserves the Oscar: 

Writing in 1944, Arthur Koestler was among the first to gain knowledge of the slaughter of eastern European Jews and he estimated that the effect of such revelations was strictly limited, lasting only minutes or days and swiftly overcome by indifference. Koestler suggested that there was only one way we could respond to the double atrocity of mass murder and contemporary indifference and that was by screaming. I’m grateful to The Act of Killing not because it’s a good film, or because it deserves to win its Oscar (I don’t think it does), but because it reminds me of the truth of Koestler’s observation. What’s not to scream about?

  • We probably don’t have to tell anyone at this point that historical controversies have been quick to arise alongside the dawning of the First World War centenary. The British Library has provided a open outlet for such debate. Santanu Das, for example, now has a fascinating article challenging our understanding of the Indian sepoy’s role in the conflict. And last Monday’s debate over the war is now available on Youtube:
  • Hysteria has taken hold of the American Right following US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he would seek a substantial downsizing of US military forces. With alarmist headlines such as that of the New York Times (‘Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World-War II Level‘), such a response is not entirely unexpected. But a great article in the Atlantic (‘Opponents of Pentagon Budget Cuts Just Played the Entire Media‘) debunks the myth of military decline: ‘Will our national defense be roughly as strong as it was right before we fought Germany and Japan, as a casual reader might assume? Not even close. What about the Army taken in isolation? No…if the proposal takes effect, then the narrow focus on the Army and the pre-World War II comparison are poorly chosen.’ Stephen Colbert has been having some fun with the irrational response, as well. Professor Frank Costigliola suggests we turn our attention to the warnings of George Kennan. But perhaps Eisenhower’s warning of the military-industrial complex over half a century ago is more fitting?
  • What does a new book on Margaret Mead say about the relationship between anthropology and imperialism?
  • Was there really an economic recovery, or has it just been one big bubble about to burst? asks Ha-Joon Chang in the Guardian.
  • And last but not least, be sure to check out a fascinating story of the Cold War on ice – that is, a series of excessively dirty Cold War hockey games – provided by our friends at

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