This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Left: photo from 1960s Civil Rights protest. Right: Ferguson protest.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Ferguson’s international dimensions to . . . globalization as a game of Scrabble? Here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Politics of Shame: The United States, Ferguson and the World

Chris Dietrich
Truth Out

The ongoing events in Ferguson are shaping the consciousness of an American generation even as it divides members of that generation. But aggressive police racism against unarmed citizens in Ferguson, Staten Island and the rest of the nation is not just a domestic issue. It is also an international one.

For one there is the clear link between the United States’ global military power and the militarization of domestic police – an unfortunate inward turn of what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.” As the New York Times reported last month, war gear has flowed to small police departments at outlandish levels since 1996 as part of the War on Drugs. The military-police connection has inundated popular culture. On his HBO show, comedian John Oliver described Ferguson police as “dressed to invade Fallujah.” In the same breath a critique of American policy toward Iraq since 2003, Oliver is right to note that police militarization is more than just a simple transfer of violent technology. It is a domestic extension of what J. William Fulbright once labelled “the arrogance of power” – that is, the tendency of people, nations, or institutions with authority to equate power with virtue. [continue reading]

Indira Gandhi Assassination: Controversial Film Blocked

Soutik Biswas
BBC News

India has blocked the release of a film on the assassination of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, after complaints it glorified her killers. Intelligence agencies had warned of potential violence if it is released. The film, Kaum De Heere, or Diamonds Of The Community, had been scheduled for release on Friday. It tells the story of Ms Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards who shot her dead apparently to avenge her decision to send troops in a deadly raid on the Golden Temple.

Sikhs say thousands were murdered when the army entered Sikhism’s holiest shrine in Amritsar to flush out militants. Mrs Gandhi’s assassination triggered an outburst of communal violence targeted at Sikhs and more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in attacks across India. Late on Thursday India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) decided to halt the release “because of the law and order situation that might result from the showing of the film”, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported. [continue reading]

John Muir, American Expansion, and the Taking of Yosemite

Eric Michael Johnson
Scientific American

(h/t @HistoryNed)

Indian Camp, Yosemite, 1873. By Thomas Hill.
Indian Camp, Yosemite, 1873. By Thomas Hill.

[. . .] The modern conservation movement began at dawn on December 8, 1850, above the north fork of California’s San Joaquin River. Soft orange light had just begun to spill over the craggy peaks of the eastern mountains overlooking what was then known as the Ahwahnee Valley, causing the jagged minarets to ignite like still burning embers from the Indian campfires below. All remained still inside the wigwams of the Ahwahneechee camp. But an attuned ear might have noticed that the early morning trills of the hermit thrush were strangely absent. A disturbed silence had entered the forest, broken only by the occasional clumsy snap of twigs as if from an animal unfamiliar with its surroundings. There was also the faint smell of smoke.

Suddenly, fires roared to life throughout the camp as multiple wigwams were engulfed in flame. White men quickly scattered from the light and into shadow. A party of vigilantes in the company of Major John Savage of the “Mariposa Battalion” had used embers from the Indians’ own campfires to set the shelters ablaze. It was a tactic that those with experience in the Indian Wars knew to inspire panic, relying on the element of surprise. Dozens of Ahwahneechee fled their burning wigwams as the fire rapidly spread to the surrounding forest. Thick plumes of smoke were bathed in a searing glow that was also now descending from the rocky peaks above. “Charge, boys! Charge!” bellowed Lieutenant Reuben Chandler. [continue reading]

Globalization and Scrabble: In Search of Convergence

Ricardo Hausmann
Project Syndicate

[. . .] The economic expansion of the last two centuries has been based on an explosion of knowledge about what can be made, and how. An apt metaphor is a game of Scrabble: Goods and services are made by stringing together productive capabilities – inputs, technologies, and tasks – just as words are made by putting letters together. Countries that have a greater variety of capabilities can make more diverse and complex goods, just as a Scrabble player who has more letters can generate more and longer words.

If a country lacks a letter, it cannot make the words that use it. Moreover, the more letters a country has, the greater the number of uses it could find for any additional letter it acquired. This leads to a “quiescence trap,” which lies at the heart of the Great Divergence. Countries with few “letters” lack incentives to accumulate more letters, because they cannot do much with any additional one: you would not want a TV remote control if you didn’t have a TV, and you would not want a TV broadcasting company if your potential customers lacked electricity. This trap becomes deeper the longer the alphabet and the longer the words. The last two centuries have seen an explosion in technologies – letters – and in the complexity of goods and services that can be made with them. So the techies get techier, and the laggards fall further behind. [continue reading]