This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Sand mining boats work illegally on the Thane River near Nagla Bunder Village in Maharashtra, India, March 20, 2013. Photo by Adam Ferguson for WIRED
Sand mining boats work illegally on the Thane River near Nagla Bunder Village in Maharashtra, India, March 20, 2013. Photo by Adam Ferguson for WIRED

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

From the global war for sand to Russia’s Scramble for Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Deadly Global War for Sand

Vince Beiser

The killers rolled slowly down the narrow alley, three men jammed onto a single motorcycle. It was a little after 11 am on July 31, 2013, the sun beating down on the low, modest residential buildings lining a back street in the Indian farming village of Raipur. Faint smells of cooking spices, dust, and sewage seasoned the air. The men stopped the bike in front of the orange door of a two-story brick-and-plaster house. Two of them dismounted, eased open the unlocked door, and slipped into the darkened bedroom on the other side. White kerchiefs covered their lower faces. One of them carried a pistol.

Inside the bedroom Paleram Chauhan, a 52-year-old farmer, was napping after an early lunch. In the next room, his wife and daughter-in-law were cleaning up while Paleram’s son played with his own 3-year-old boy. Gunshots thundered through the house. Preeti Chauhan, Paleram’s daughter-in-law, rushed into Paleram’s room, her husband, Ravindra, right behind her. Through the open door, they saw the killers jump back on their bike and roar away. Paleram lay on his bed, blood bubbling out of his stomach, neck, and head. “He was trying to speak, but he couldn’t,” Preeti says, her voice breaking with tears. Ravindra borrowed a neighbor’s car and rushed his father to a hospital, but it was too late. Paleram was dead on arrival.

Despite the masks, the family had no doubts about who was behind the killing. For 10 years Paleram had been campaigning to get local authorities to shut down a powerful gang of criminals headquartered in Raipur. The “mafia,” as people called them, had for years been robbing the village of a coveted natural resource, one of the most sought-after commodities of the 21st century: sand. That’s right. Paleram Chauhan was killed over sand. And he wasn’t the first, or the last. [continue reading]

In Russia, Exhibition Seeks to Show Ivan Wasn’t So Terrible

James Marson
Wall Street Journal

Alexander Myasnikov says foreign enemies have unfairly tarred this Moscow leader as a murderous despot who bumped off his enemies and invaded his neighbor. Ivan the Terrible needs better PR, Mr. Myasnikov says. “It was an anti-Russian campaign. It’s a story of European PR about how there is a scary tyrant in Moscow,” says the amateur historian.

Other historians say Mr. Myasnikov’s take on the past is fanciful and politically slanted, but he has received plenty of attention and support from the Kremlin. An exhibition that Mr. Myasnikov, 60 years old, helped curate received funding from the government and a visit from the president. He was invited to give a lecture at the annual Kremlin seminar for regional officials where they hear the party line on all manner of subjects. Long before seizing Crimea, President Vladimir Putin fueled patriotism, digging deep into Russia’s history to highlight heroic deeds and play down darker moments. Official guidelines for new history textbooks that Mr. Putin ordered drafted present Stalin’s repressions mostly as a side-effect of speedy economic modernization and list only positive aspects of Mr. Putin’s rule. [continue reading]

Britain’s ‘Interest’ in Bahrain: Legal Fictions and the Logic of Empire

Louis Allday

In 1783, the Al Khalifa family—originally from the Najd region of what is now Saudi Arabia—captured the islands of Bahrain from Shaykh Nasr Al Madhkur, who had ruled them on behalf of the Qajar dynasty of Persia. In 1926, over one hundred and fifty years later, the status of Bahrain’s sovereignty remained a contentious issue. In December of that year, G. R. Warner, a British diplomat in London, wrote to a colleague in India stating that “on political grounds it is of great importance to avoid any action which would result in the re-awakening of the controversy as to the sovereignty of Bahrein.”

Although Bahrain was nominally independent at this time, it was a British-protected state and Britain had controlled its foreign relations since the nineteenth century. The cause of Warner’s concern was the fact that the Persian Government refused to recognize Bahrain’s independence and instead claimed it as a province of Persia. The manner in which British officials in the region responded to this tension provides a revealing insight into the character of Britain’s role in Bahrain at this time. [continue reading]

Sagallo, Russia’s Short-Lived Cossack Colony In Africa

Radio Free Europe

cossack colony

In 1888, the “Scramble For Africa” was nearly over. European powers had carved out their colonies, and Imperial Russia still lacked a “place in the sun.” But adventurer Nikolai Ivanovitch Achinov came up with a bizarre plan to create a Russian territory in what is now Djibouti. The following year, he and a small group of Cossacks raised their flag above the village of Sagallo. But after French objections, the tsar disowned them and the colony lasted less than a month. [continue reading]

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