This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

turkey map
Flickr/The Atlantic

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

From the international origins of ‘turkey’, to the global response to Ferguson, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey’

Zach Goldhammer
Atlantic Monthly

(h/t Emily Bridger)

Within the turkey lies the tangled history of the world. OK, not quite. But not far off, either. “Turkey” the bird is native to North America. But “turkey” the word is a geographic mess—a tribute to the vagaries of colonial trade and conquest. As you might have suspected, the English term for the avian creature likely comes from Turkey the country. Or, more precisely, from Turkish merchants in the 15th and 16th centuries.

[. . . . ]The etymology expert Mark Forsyth, meanwhile, claims that Turkish traders brought guinea fowl to England from Madagascar, off the coast of southeast Africa, and that Spanish conquistadors then introduced American fowl to Europe, where they were conflated with the “turkeys” from Madagascar. Dan Jurafsky, another linguist, argues that Europeans imported guinea fowl from Ethiopia (which was sometimes mixed up with India) via the Mamluk Turks, and then confused the birds with North American fowl shipped across the Atlantic by the Portuguese. Here’s where things get even more bewildering. Turkey, which has no native turkeys, does not call turkey “turkey.” [continue reading]

When FDR Moved Thanksgiving

Andrew Prokop
Vox

Thanksgiving is rarely too far removed from politics. Whether it’s the holiday’s origins in a 1621 alliance, its first presidential commemoration by Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War, or the contentious arguments many families have over their dinner tables today, political controversy often manages to intrude on a day that celebrates gratitude. All of those pale, however, compared to the uproar that swept the nation in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the holiday’s date. States split on whether to abide by his decree, and for three years, many celebrated the holiday on separate dates — with FDR’s new chosen date being derisively dubbed “Franksgiving” by Republicans.

Since the late 19th century, Thanksgiving had traditionally been celebrated on the final Thursday in November. But in 1939, Roosevelt’s seventh year in office, that last Thursday fell on November 30. And that left a mere 24 days of shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.Retailers believed this would lead to less money spent on holiday gifts, and would therefore hurt the economy (and, of course, their own bottom lines). The solution seemed obvious — the date should be moved one week earlier, to Thursday, November 23. Roosevelt agreed, and announced on August 15, 1939, that he would do just that, with an executive proclamation. What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. [continue reading]

The Death of International Development

Jason Hickel
Africa at LSE

International development is dying; people just don’t buy it anymore. The West has been engaged in the project for more than six decades now, but the number of poor people in the world is growing, not shrinking, and inequality between rich and poor continues to widen instead of narrow. People know this, and they are abandoning the official story of development in droves. They no longer believe that foreign aid is some kind of silver bullet, that donating to charities will solve anything, or that Bono and Bill Gates can save the world.

This crisis of confidence has become so acute that the development community is scrambling to respond. The Gates Foundation recently spearheaded a process called the Narrative Project with some of the world’s biggest NGOs – Oxfam, Save the Children, One, etc. – in a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide of defection. They commissioned research to figure out what people thought about development, and their findings revealed a sea change in public attitudes. People are no longer moved by depictions of the poor as pitiable, voiceless “others” who need to be rescued by heroic white people – a racist narrative that has lost all its former currency; rather, they have come to see poverty as a matter of injustice. [continue reading]

Ferguson From Afar

Mary Dudziak
Foreign Affairs

As the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, unfolds, questions about the United States’ commitment to human rights are once more headlining news coverage around the world. The uncomfortable international spotlight on such domestic problems should not be surprising. American racial inequality regularly dominated foreign news coverage during the 1950s and 1960s. U.S. policymakers were eventually forced to respond, in part to protect America’s image abroad. As it reflects on how to handle the protests in Ferguson, the Obama administration would do well to consider the fact that, in previous decades, federal intervention was eventually needed to protect both civil rights and U.S. foreign relations.

The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by a police officer — and the resulting protests — have been front-page news in many countries. On August 20, Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan and the Kuwait Times published the same shocking photograph of an officer in riot gear pointing a rifle at a woman on the ground. The United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News featured white law enforcement officers in military-style gear holding high-powered rifles. Coverage of the events in Ferguson has been particularly extensive in Turkey, too. And news services across Europe, Africa, and South America have followed the story. Of particular note, the unrest in Ferguson was featured prominently on Russian state television, reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s extensive coverage of American race discrimination during the Cold War. And in China, commentary in Xinhua, the state news agency, suggested that Ferguson shows that a “racial divide still remains a deeply rooted chronic disease that keeps tearing U.S. society apart.” [continue reading]

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