Here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global reading:
Hyperbole and Horror: Hijras and the British Imperial State in India
Nineteenth-century British travel writers and colonial officials rarely passed on the opportunity to prefix some derogatory hyperbole to the word ‘eunuch.’ Frequently they offered extensive defamation, referring to eunuchs as “the vilest and most polluted beings” and commenting on the “revolting” practices that they imagined, but could rarely prove, eunuchs carried out. Mrs Postan, who published Cutch, Or Random Sketchesin 1838, was no different. Her access to the wives of Prince Rao Deshalji II, theRao of Cutch was demarcated by the presence of two guards, “the most hideous eunuchs, who sit cross-legged in a sort of basket chair place on each side of the portal.”
The ‘eunuchs’ to which Mrs Postan referred are often also called hijra, a name that defines them as a traditional community of people usually assigned male at birth who may or may not undergo castration and live as women or as a third gender. The hijra are distinct from the more modern, Western understanding of transsexual women… [Continue Reading]
Jean-Luc Dehaene: Obituary
Jean-Luc Dehaene, who has died aged 73, was the Flemish Christian Democrat Prime Minister of Belgium whose hopes of succeeding Jacques Delors as president of the European Commission were shot down by John Major in 1994 because he was regarded as too much of a federalist. Major’s triumph was short-lived, however, as the man who was eventually appointed, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, soon swept away any idea that he was any less federalist than Dehaene by calling for stronger social legislation and closer integration and criticising the British veto.
Although Major’s action boosted Dehaene’s standing in Belgium, he never fully forgave the British. A photograph which had pride of place in his office featured himself and Lady Thatcher at a ceremony to celebrate the Channel Tunnel, with Thatcher perched on the edge of her seat next to the rotund Flemish federalist, slumped beside her, fast asleep. As a consequence of Major’s veto he was left to serve another five years as head of government of an almost ungovernable state riven by bitter language divisions… Continue Reading
Adam Tooze’s New Book The Deluge
[Amazon] On the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Deluge is a powerful explanation of why the war’s legacy continues to shape our world – from Adam Tooze, the Wolfson Prize-winning author of The Wages of Destruction. In the depths of the Great War, with millions of dead and no imaginable end to the conflict, societies around the world began to buckle. As the cataclysmic battles continued, a new global order was being born. Adam Tooze’s panoramic new book tells a radical, new story of the struggle for global mastery from the battles of the Western Front in 1916 to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The war shook the foundations of political and economic order across Eurasia. Empires that had lasted since the Middle Ages collapsed into ruins. New nations sprang up. Strikes, street-fighting and revolution convulsed much of the world.
And beneath the surface turmoil, the war set in motion a deeper and more lasting shift, a transformation that continues to shape the present day: 1916 was the year when world affairs began to revolve around the United States. America was both a uniquely powerful global force: a force that was forward-looking, the focus of hope, money and ideas, and at the same time elusive, unpredictable and in fundamental respects unwilling to confront these unwished for responsibilities. Tooze shows how the fate of effectively the whole of civilization – the British Empire, the future of peace in Europe, the survival of the Weimar Republic, both the Russian and Chinese revolutions and stability in the Pacific – now came to revolve around this new power’s fraught relationship with a shockingly changed world. The Deluge is both a brilliantly illuminating exploration of the past and an essential history for the present. [Read more.]
War of Words
News of war usually travels fast. The sound of battle is a warning to those who can hear it, and our instinct is to alert others. Not everyone involved in a war approves of this. History is full of commanders who would like to “get on with the job” with no interference. Those who instigate conflict desire “good” news above everything else. Families who have someone fighting only want to know the soldier is coming home safe. Nowadays it is said war comes “live” to our homes. Technology offers the possibility of satellite transmission direct from the war zone, with cameras in troops’ helmets, perhaps a tiny drone observing whole armies engaging or a single child in the path of a missile.
The reality of brute warfare usually interferes with technology’s potential. The press are frequently not welcome, military coverage is kept confidential, and people at home have myriad reactions to blow-by-blow action – including not wanting to know disturbing details. In 1914, a remarkably literate public devoured newspapers and illustrated magazines by the million every day. Editors had to meet readers’ expectations while maintaining a distinctive voice. The Manchester Guardian, as it was then, was particularly conscious of trying to reflect what society thought about the war, amid a sea of patriotic coverage. It never forgot that life went on – in politics, in the countryside, in the cinema. Inevitably, the military story dominated and the paper strove for witness accounts to supplement the official reports, for all the press were engaged in their own battle with the army and the government. And the press initially thought they might be winning… [Continue Reading]
Any other suggestions?
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