History Department, University of Exeter
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From the Great War’s global effects to ISIS’s anti-Western gold currency, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Armistice Day and WWI’s Global Effects
Christopher McKnight Nichols
Ninety-six years ago, east of Verdun, France, at roughly 10:45 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, the artillery battery manned by a young Harry Truman fired its last barrage. Across the line, not long before, a German soldier fired a final salvo from his machine gun, tipped his cap, bowed, and walked away from the front. At 11 a.m. the major powers of what was then thought of as the Great War, or the war to end all wars, officially ceased hostilities. This was the day the Armistice took effect. It is now better known in many nations as Veterans Day.
But of course this is not just a day to celebrate. We should ask, why did Truman’s battery, that German soldier, and millions of others, continue to fight, kill, and destroy until — and even beyond — the last moments when they knew it was about to end officially? These final acts marked what Martin Gilbert aptly termed the “self-perpetuating futility” of the war. Given miscommunication and the remarkable expanses covered by the conflict, it is little wonder that in areas such as off the coast of South America, in central Albania, or in east Africa where German troops and their African allies were still on the march, the fighting continued. Deaths, casualties, and losses still mounted. [continue reading]
Apostles of Growth
Mostly young, and mostly specializing in the history of the United States, historians of capitalism are one part of a broader revival in political economy. Yet the success enjoyed by this segment of a larger groundswell remains noteworthy—and surprising. Despite the seeming predictability of the subject’s popularity at a time when economic issues have moved to the forefront of public debate, turning capitalism into the central category of historical analysis requires intellectual sacrifices, pushing some topics into the spotlight and relegating others to the shadows. This has not escaped the capitalism cohort’s peers, many of whom fear that the trend would undo advances made by a generation of cultural historians, while leading to even more scholarship of and by white men. Historians of capitalism vigorously protest those charges, but murmurs of discontent have already begun, and they will grow louder if the field continues to thrive.
Although major intellectual contributions and timely subject matter have boosted capitalism’s newest historians in their ascent, those qualities alone cannot account for their success. They have supplied, as their colleagues in business school would say, a case study in how to shift an intellectual debate. Unlike most case studies, however, tracing the origins of the turn toward capitalism brings into relief a history with profound implications for how we understand the past and the present—and how we envision the future. [continue reading]
The Free Market Did Not Bring Down the Berlin Wall
Melvyn P. Leffler
We Americans like to think that the dismantling of the Wall confirmed the redemptive role of United States, the correctness of containment, the efficacy of the arms buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan, and the universal appeal of freedom. The Wall’s fall reified Americans’ exceptionalist view of themselves. This triumphalism was shared by a group as diverse as George H. W. Bush, the Clintons, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.
But the triumphalism wasn’t immediate. When President Bush first heard news of developments in Berlin, he was cautious. He welcomed the growing freedom of East Germans, but he was determined to avoid rhetoric that might precipitate a Soviet crackdown. “Some have wanted me to jump on top of the Berlin Wall,” he told journalists at the time. “Well, I never heard such a stupid idea.” The president remembered events in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968, and could not ignore the recent violent crackdown by the Chinese communist regime at Tiananmen Square. [continue reading]
ISIS Unveils Gold-Backed Currency to Break Off From Western Economies That ‘Enslaved Muslims’
The leader of the Islamic State group has ordered the terror organization to start minting gold, silver and copper coins for its own currency — the Islamic dinar. A website affiliated with the group posted the order late Thursday, saying IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instructed his followers to mint the coins to “change the tyrannical monetary system” modelled on Western economies that “enslaved Muslims.” The order was approved by the Islamic State group’s Shura Council, an advisory board, according to the website. The authenticity of the posting could not be independently verified but the website has been used in the past for IS postings.
After seizing large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory earlier this year, the Islamic State group proclaimed a caliphate on lands under its control. It has also sought to implement its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, and al-Baghdadi has proclaimed himself the caliph. According to photographs of coin prototypes, they carry the words in Arabic: “The Islamic State / A Caliphate Based on the Doctrine of the Prophet.” [continue reading]
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