This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

"An ingenious and labored anti-Darwinian exercise inspired by The Descent of Man of the same date (1871); also a bit of a temperance tract. Original artwork displaying a miniaturist's skill. But for what purpose? The decorative margin and minute detail suggest lanternslide copy. If the figures had been intended as book illustrations BWH would have drawn them directly on the lithographic stone. The skeleton-on-body-silhouette renderings recall those in Hawkins's Comparative view of the Human and Animal Frame" -- Baird. Darwin - Wallace / B. Waterhouse Hawkins, 1871. Image available via Academy of Natural Sciences.
“An ingenious and labored anti-Darwinian exercise inspired by The Descent of Man of the same date (1871); also a bit of a temperance tract. Original artwork displaying a miniaturist’s skill. But for what purpose? The decorative margin and minute detail suggest lanternslide copy. If the figures had been intended as book illustrations BWH would have drawn them directly on the lithographic stone. The skeleton-on-body-silhouette renderings recall those in Hawkins’s Comparative view of the Human and Animal Frame” — Baird. Darwin – Wallace / B. Waterhouse Hawkins, 1871. Image available via Academy of Natural Sciences.

Marc-William Palen

Here are some of the Centre’s top reads for over the weekend:

*Historians are busy exploring why the First World War remains so fascinating to school children. Could it be the war’s angst-ridden poetry?

*The Great War isn’t the only conflict stirring up controversy this year. According to the Globe & Mail, The Conservative Harper government has now been warned by bureaucrats that its planned 110th anniversary commemoration of the Boer War should be peripheral at most. According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, civil servants warned: 

“This is a somewhat sensitive war. It was fought primarily over British imperialism. Canada was divided on the war. Quebec in particular wanted no part of it,” came the answer from Veterans Affairs’ “approvals” co-ordinator. The note goes on to say the conflict was even “more sensitive” in that it marked the first use of concentration camps by the British. “The families of Boer fighters were put in camps to stop them giving food and help to the fighters. Houses and farms were burned. At least 30,000 people, mostly children, died in these camps from sickness and hunger.” Bureaucrats also noted that the war was fought only after diamonds were discovered in the region where the Boers had settled, prompting Britain’s interest in the area. “For these reasons, the speech speaks about the war only peripherally.”

*Think you know your Commonwealth trivia? March 10th was Commonwealth Day, and this summer’s Games in Glasgow are fast approaching. Test your knowledge with the BBC’s Commonwealth Day Quiz.

*Partly owing to 12 Years A Slave’s big screen portrayal of the brutality of slavery, 15 Caribbean nations are demanding reparations from Europe owing to the Atlantic slave trade’s long legacy of suffering Sir Hilary Beckles, a historian and pro-vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies in Barbados whose great-great grandparents were owned by the ancestors of 12 Years A Slave actor Benedict Cumberbatch, said that the film had made:

a “very important step in the right direction” in its unstinting portrayal of the brutality of slavery. He said he would like to see a similar treatment of the subject from the perspective of Britain rather than America. America has made efforts to reflect on their own history, but Britain has made no such effort to do so. If the British public were shown slavery in their own society seen through the eyes of the enslaved, they would get a much better understanding,” he said.

*Finally, be sure to read Robert Irwin’s TLS book review of Marwa Elshakry’s Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, which examines the polemical influence of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer within Islamic cultural, political, and religious debates. The book’s findings are remarkable, and hold possible insights for modern day Islamic political militancy. Although the writings of Darwin and Spencer sparked outrage from some, it also found many supporters, who:

enthusiastically embraced the new foreign ideas as tools that might free them not only from the British presence in Egypt, but also from Ottoman and Khedivial despotism, as well as the shackles of what was seen as an outworn religious tradition. Spencerian social Darwinism, with its application of the concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics, could be read as offering hope for the regeneration of the Arab world. Spencer taught that the decay of nations and empires was necessary for the progress of humanity. Ideas about social evolution were at the heart of Egyptian socialism and for a long time social Darwinism had more influence than Marxism on left-wing politics in the region. Das Kapital was only translated in 1947. Spencer’s reputation appears to have been greater in the Middle East than in Britain.

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