This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Mozambican women in a building that used to serve as slave housing. Photo: Joao Silva, New York Times.
Mozambican women in a building that used to serve as slave housing. Photo: Joao Silva, New York Times.

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

From the grim history of a sunken African slave ship to Canada’s cultural genocide, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Grim History Traced in Sunken Slave Ship Found Off South Africa

Helene Cooper
New York Times

On Dec. 3, 1794, a Portuguese slave ship left Mozambique, on the east coast of Africa, for what was to be a 7,000-mile voyage to Maranhão, Brazil, and the sugar plantations that awaited its cargo of black men and women. Shackled in the ship’s hold were between 400 and 500 slaves, pressed flesh to flesh with their backs on the floor. With the exception of daily breaks to exercise, the slaves were to spend the bulk of the estimated four-month journey from the Indian Ocean across the vast South Atlantic in the dark of the hold.

In the end, their journey lasted only 24 days. Buffeted by strong winds, the ship, the São José Paquete Africa, rounded the treacherous Cape of Good Hope and came apart violently on two reefs not far from Cape Town and only 100 yards from shore, but in deep, turbulent water. The Portuguese captain, crew and half of the slaves survived. An estimated 212 slaves did not, and perished in the sea. On Tuesday, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, along with the Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Slave Wrecks Project, and other partners, will announce in Cape Town that the remnants of the São José have been found, right where the ship went down, in full view of Lion’s Head Mountain. It is the first time, researchers involved in the project say, that the wreckage of a slaving ship that went down with slaves aboard has been recovered. [continue reading]

Why Is Mark Zuckerberg Reading Ibn Khaldun’s ‘al-Muqaddimah’?


Arabic Literature Blog

If Facebook-mogul Mark Zuckerberg really is reading a book “every other week,” we’ll assume that he’s reading the abridged version of Franz Rosenthal’s translation of the great fourteenth-century scholar’s work. Or — if he is taking on all three volumes — then one hopes he’s cancelled meetings for the fortnight.

zuckerberg khaldun

Although there was initially great fanfare about the January 2015 launch of Zuckerberg’s book club, eliciting numerous comparisons to Oprah’s bestseller-making club, it was also rather quickly declared a dud. Still, Zuckerberg has persisted. His choice of Ibn Khaldun as his 6/1 bookseems to have — if nothing else — delighted a number of Tunisians, who hurried to post images of their hometown scholar to the thread. According to Business InsiderZuckerberg’s A Year of Books selections have thus far have been “mostly contemporary,” so Ibn Khaldun is a bit of a curveball. [continue reading]

Artists and Empire

Daniel Haines
Historians at Bristol

In the relative cool of an Indian winter, a train of elephants lumbers through the heart of old Delhi. Atop one beast are the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, brother and sister-in-law to the British King-Emperor Edward VII. Ahead of him on another are Viceroy Curzon, the King’s representative in India and head of the colonial government, and his wife Mary. Beneath them, both literally and figuratively, uniformed Indians march along a parade route lined by soldiers. The viceroy and his staff have planned every detail of the day’s ceremonies to convey the might and power of the Raj.

This was the scene of the 1903 Delhi Durbar, a spectacular festival held to mark Edward VII’s ascent to the throne. Celebrations continued for another fortnight afterwards. The vista comes to us via an enormous oil painting that dominates the entrance hall at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, part of the Wills Memorial Building at the edge of the university campus. It’s worth a visit to take in the sheer scale of the painting, which feels virtually life-size when you’re in front of it. The painter has very clearly tried to capture the sense of awe that the Durbar was supposed to instil in Indian attendees, especially the semi-autonomous Indian Princes who collaborated closely with the British. [continue reading]

“Cultural Genocide”: Landmark Report Decries Canada’s Forced Schooling of Indigenous Children

Pamela Palmater
Democracy Now!

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada has concluded the country’s decades-long policy of forcibly removing indigenous children from their families and placing them in state-funded residential Christian schools amounted to “cultural genocide.” After a six-year investigation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report concluded: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their lands and resources. If every aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ there would be no reserves, no treaties and no aboriginal rights.”

The first schools opened in 1883. The last one closed in 1998. During that time over 150,000 indigenous children were sent away to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into mainstream Canadian society. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages and losing touch with their parents and customs. The report also documents widespread physical, cultural and sexual abuse. We are joined by Pamela Palmater, associate professor and chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, an Idle No More activist and author of “Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity and Belonging.” [continue reading]

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