This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

University of Cape Town (UCT) students demand the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes.
University of Cape Town (UCT) students demand the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes.

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

From toppling the memory of Cecil Rhodes to searching for Che in Gaza, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Students’ Attack on Cecil Rhodes Statue Leads to Soul Searching in South Africa

David Smith

When students hurled a bucket of excrement over a statue of Cecil John Rhodes at South Africa’s highest ranked university, they could scarcely have guessed how their act would trigger national soul searching about heritage, identity and race. Protesters at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are demanding the statue’s removal as a catalyst for becoming a less “eurocentric” and more African institution. In what one newspaper dubbed “Rhodes rage” and Twitter users embraced as #RhodesMustFall, they argue that the colonialist has no place on campus 21 years after the end of apartheid.

The brittle multiracial consensus subsequently built by Nelson Mandela and others is tested every so often by some event that comes seemingly out of the blue. In 2012, it was a satirical painting of president Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed, leading to a divisive debate about humiliating portrayals of black men versus the artist’s right to criticise. This time it is a statue that has brought frustration and resentment bubbling to the surface. [continue reading]

Isis and the Destruction of History

Jon Lee Anderson
New Yorker

It does something to our sense of ourselves, and of humanity, when we see pictures of men, willfully and with impunity, destroying some of the world’s oldest and rarest archeological treasures. A couple of weeks ago, it was video clips of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham’s extremists wielding sledgehammers and drills, methodically destroying an exquisitely carved stone lamassu, or winged man-bull, at the Assyrian complex of Nimrud, which was created by artists nearly three thousand years ago. A few days later, it was the ancient temple complex of Hatra, in northern Iraq, which was built by the Seleucid Empire around two or three centuries before Christ. Hatra had been the site of a series of glorious colonnaded buildings and statues; it is reported that beginning on March 7th, ISIS destroyed what was left of them. On Monday, there were new images on social media showing ISIS extremists attacking the grounds of St. George’s, a centuries-old Chaldean Catholic monastery outside of Mosul. In this world of all-seeing, all-hearing killer drones, these acts somehow continue.

UNESCO, the international body that has been given the powers of judgment over what sites on this planet constitute our “world heritage,” has denounced these incidents of vandalism as “acts of barbarism.” That’s about it, in terms of a concerted international response. UNESCO has no policing powers. We have empowered a body to recognize the rare and beautiful things of this planet, yet we do nothing when they are destroyed. [continue reading]

‘A Proud Walk’: 3 Voices On The March From Selma To Montgomery


Fifty years ago, civil rights protesters began their successful march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., two weeks after a crackdown by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. NPR talked with three people from different parts of the country, of different races and religions, who answered the call from Martin Luther King Jr. to join the marchers.

Todd Endo:

My name is Todd Endo. I am Japanese-American and I was born right after Pearl Harbor. From the ages of about 1 to almost 4, my family along with 100,000 other Japanese were removed by the federal government because we were Japanese-Americans, not because we had done anything.

The specific reason that I went to Selma is that an acquaintance of mine was killed. The summer before, I had worked in Washington, D.C., for three churches, one of which was All Souls Unitarian and at that point Jim Reeb was an assistant minister.Turnaround Tuesday was the march that Jim Reeb participated in, which was two days after Bloody Sunday. That evening he was clubbed in the head coming out of a restaurant and died. And I went two or three days after that. [continue reading]

Che in Gaza: Searching for the Story Behind the Image

Yoav Di- Capua
Not Even Past

On June 18th 1959, dressed in full army fatigues and accompanied by several comrades exhibiting an equally imposing revolutionary appearance, Che Guevara landed in Gaza. Considering his reputation today, one might have expected the 31-year-old Che to, perhaps, instruct the Palestinian resistance fighters (theFedayeen) in the ways of guerrilla warfare, tell them in detail about his grand foco tactics, or take notes on their then-decade-long battle of resistance against Israel. Indeed, upon first learning of Che’s first – and only – visit to Gaza, I myself was filled with such questions. Was such an exchange of revolutionary tactics the legacy of his visit? Did he come there on purpose in order to build long-term relationship with Palestinian fighters? Was he attracted to Gaza as a hotbed of universal resistance to colonialism? What exactly came of this visit and who did he meet there? I was curious to know.

Text reads “With Guevara, hero of the Cuban Revolution. Mansion of the Governor General, Lieutenant General Ahmad Salim. Gaza, 1959.”
Text reads “With Guevara, hero of the Cuban Revolution. Mansion of the Governor General, Lieutenant General Ahmad Salim. Gaza, 1959.”

I first heard of Che’s intriguing visit about three years ago. The random person I met in the archives could not tell me much besides the fact that he read somewhere (but where?) that Che visited the Shati refugeecamp and was warmly welcomed by its Palestinian inhabitants. That was not much. Searching the web yielded the image above which shows Che and other dignitaries with Ahmad Salim, the powerful Egyptian governor of Gaza. Che’s trustworthy biographer, Jon Lee Anderson, added a few more details and a date but nothing else. So, with this modest beginning, I ventured into the archive to find the story behind the visit and the photo. I started with the Israeli State Archives. [continue reading]