This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Samurai and Courtesans colour photos from 1865. Felice Beato was one of the first people to photograph the far east – and he made life bloom with colour. Here are his rare hand-coloured shots of Edo-era Japan See them at the London Photograph Fair, 23 & 24 May 2015.
Samurai and Courtesans colour photos from 1865. Felice Beato was one of the first people to photograph the far east – and he made life bloom with colour. See his rare hand-coloured shots of Edo-era Japan here and at the London Photograph Fair, 23 & 24 May 2015.

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

From Disney’s fanciful film about African colonization to how the Civil War changed the world, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Virginia Mining Exec Claims He’s an African King, Daughter a Princess; Disney Making a Film of It

Shaun King
Daily Kos

When I came across social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram about this yesterday, I sincerely thought it was a hoax. It couldn’t be true. Everything about the story was so offensive and ridiculous and racist I thought it must be some type of modern-day satirical joke. See, 17 years ago, as a freshman at Morehouse College, I read Walter Rodney’s classic text,How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and what I was seeing yesterday on social media was truly a personification of the very colonial BS that Europeans pulled during the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 in which they studied maps of Africa and decided how they would divide up the continent among themselves. They acted on that impulse and their colonial pursuits cost millions of lives. The artificial borders they drew up and enforced still cause problems to this very day.

Jeremiah Heaton, a mining executive and native of Mt. Airy, Georgia, a town with 604 residents and hometown of Ty Cobb, the most racist player in the history of major league baseball, heard his daughter say she wanted to be a princess and doggone it, what Jeremiah’s daughter wants, she gets. Where Jeremiah’s from, they don’t read Walter Rodney. Now living and working in Virginia, Heaton, as a birthday gift for his daughter, has claimed the land as his own. He didn’t buy it—he just put his homemade flag on it. [continue reading]

1776: The Revolt Against Austerity

Steve Pincus
New York Review of Books

Was the Declaration of Independence a powerful indictment of British austerity policies? Does America’s founding document need to be seen as part of an economic debate about the British Empire?

These questions may seem jarring, almost anachronistic. But eighteenth-century political argument, like that of our own day, often revolved around responses to fiscal crisis. Just as political debates in Britain and the United States today turn in large part on the response to the great recession of 2008, so the events that made the United States were shaped by the British imperial government’s reaction to the debt crisis of the 1760s. What made the Declaration so offensive to British politicians then, and what makes it highly relevant to Europeans and Americans today, is that America’s founders offered a blueprint for a different kind of state response to fiscal crisis. The controversy over austerity in the British Empire had a long history. [continue reading]

George Takei Helps Save Internment Camp Artifacts

The History Blog

Thanks to the efforts of George Takei, his legion of fans and thousands of people around the round, a collection of 450 artifacts from Japanese American internment camps have beensaved from the auction block and acquired by the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. The collection had been consigned to the Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey, for sale on April 17th, but on April 9th Japanese Americans and heritage organizations including the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundationcame together to start a Facebook page and Change.org petition protesting the auction.

The Japanese American History: NOT for Sale campaign quickly garnered thousands of supporters, among them actor and activist George Takei. Takei, long before he became famous for playing Star Trek‘s Hikaru Sulu, spent three years of his childhood imprisoned in internment camps with his family — first the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, and then the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. He now serves as chairman emeritus on the JANM’s Board of Trustees. He publicized the efforts to halt the sale and contacted David Rago to work on a solution that would spare the artifacts of Japanese American internment from being dispersed to the highest bidders. Takei negotiated on behalf of the Japanese American National Museum and personally wrote a check to ensure the collection was kept together in the public interest. [continue reading]

Latvians Refuse to Lift Lid on KGB Past

BBC News

In Latvia this place is known as the House on the Corner – and for much of the 20th Century, as home to the KGB, it was the most feared building in the country. Now, as Latvia marks 25 years since it declared independence from the Soviet Union, pressure is growing to publish the names of KGB agents who spied on their fellow citizens. A stooped elderly man slowly opens the heavy metal door which half a century ago imprisoned him.

“It was deadly silent,” he remembers with a sad smile. “And if you were brought out into the corridor and another prisoner came, you had to turn round to the wall, with your face to the floor, so that you didn’t know who else was here.” In a beret, and with a distinguished white beard, Knuts Skujenieks, 78, is exactly how you would imagine a dissident poet from the former Soviet Union. In 1962 he spent six months here, before being sent to a Soviet labour camp near the Ural mountains in Russia for more than six years. His crime was writing poetry. [continue reading]

How the Civil War Changed the World

Don Doyle
New York Times

Even while the Civil War raged, slaves in Cuba could be heard singing, “Avanza, Lincoln, avanza! Tu eres nuestra esperanza!” (Onward, Lincoln, Onward! You are our hope!) – as if they knew, even before the soldiers fighting the war far to the North and long before most politicians understood, that the war in America would change their lives, and the world.

The secession crisis of 1860-1861 threatened to be a major setback to the world antislavery movement, and it imperiled the whole experiment in democracy. If slavery was allowed to exist, and if the world’s leading democracy could fall apart over the issue, what hope did freedom have? European powers wasted no time in taking advantage of the debacle. France and Britain immediately each sent fleets of warships with the official purpose of observing the imminent war in America. In Paris, A New York Times correspondent who went by the byline “Malakoff” thought that the French and British observers “may be intended as a sort of escort of honor for the funeral of the Great Republic.” [continue reading]

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