This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Photo of Askaris (local soldiers) during shooting practice in German East Africa (now Tanzania)
Photo of Askaris (local soldiers) during shooting practice in German East Africa (now Tanzania)

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

From the Mã Lai Origins of the Viet to the global war on blackness, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Mã Lai Origins of the Việt

Le Minh Khai
SEAsian History Blog

One of the things that makes reading the works of South Vietnamese philosopher Kim Định so interesting is that they are filled with ideas. Kim Định of course had his own ideas, but in order to understand those ideas, one also needs to know a lot about other people’s ideas and actions as well. To get a sense of this, let’s take a look at what he wrote in two pages of his book Việt Lý Tố Nguyên. The first topic he touches on is archaeology.

The field of archaeology began in Vietnam with the work of amateur French archaeologists. While they deserve a great deal of credit for pioneering a new field, their techniques were by today’s standards at times quite rudimentary. To put it bluntly, in the first half of the twentieth century scholars like Madeleine Colani and Henri Mansuy dug up bones from the ground, measured them, and then declared them to belong to a certain “race,” such as the “Indonesien” or “Mongoloid” race. [continue reading]

The African Soldiers Dragged into Europe’s War

Oswald Masebo
BBC Magazine

I was born and raised in a simple home in the rural district of Ileje about 1,000km from Dar es Salaam, in south-west Tanzania. The district is at the border with Malawi where the hilly plateaus of Ileje and Rungwe districts rise above the plains of Lake Nyasa and Kyela district. My family has made a living from the land of Ileje for generations. During World War One, Ileje and the surrounding environments became a battle ground between German forces and British allied forces from Malawi.

Although the war began in 1914, it was the battles fought in 1915 and 1916 which were most intense and which had grave consequences to the generation of my great-grandparents. Ten years ago, I asked my own grandfather Jotam Masebo what he knew about World War One. His recollections remind us of grinding hardship. [continue reading]

History in a Box: UNESCO and the Framing of Japan’s Meiji Era

William Underwood
Asia-Pacific Journal

Japan has a great deal to be proud of regarding its rapid modernization and industrialization beginning in the mid-1800s, which launched the nation on the path to becoming the world’s second-largest economy scarcely one generation after a devastating war and the third-largest economy today. But is it possible to tell this impressive, even inspirational, story while skipping over the deplorable middle chapters involving Japan’s massive use of forced labor during the Asia Pacific War?

That question is the crux of the controversy involving “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution,” a Japan-sponsored nomination now before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that would grant World Heritage status to two dozen mines, ports, factories and shipyards located mainly in the nation’s southwest. In May 2015 an advisory body recommended that the UNESCO committee approve the Japanese proposal when it meets in Germany from June 28 to July 8. The advisory report describes a “series of industrial heritage sites … seen to represent the first successful transfer of industrialization from the West to a non-Western nation.” [continue reading]

The Illusion of Afro-Asian Solidarity? Situating the 1955 Bandung Conference

Tamara Nopper
African American Intellectual History Society

One way the US enforced its “encouragement, not discouragement” strategy was to push African and Asian countries they identified as cooperative or allies to attend. The US especially encouraged the attendance of Japan, who emerged out of the bitter ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be a junior partner of the US. The White House also pushed for members of the now defunct Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) to go. SEATO was an alliance established in 1954 that included Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States. It is important to point out that despite the inclination to see Bandung as a gathering driven by feelings of kinship, some suggest that the Columbo powers who organized Bandung (which included SEATO member Pakistan) actually hoped Bandung would prove an important counterpart to SEATO. Additionally, Brenda Gayle Plummer points out that the US discouraged white run countries such as SEATO member Australia from attending the Bandung Conference so that white Soviet Union would not have an excuse to attend.

Ethel Payne, Shanghai.
Ethel Payne attended Bandung as a reporter for the Chicago Defender.

Basically, the US was, on the surface, either keeping its critiques of Bandung to themselves or feigning support for the all colored gathering while conducting power plays behind the scenes to insure its dominance. As Fraser puts it, “The United States was thus participating in the Afro-Asian conference although it had not been invited. [continue reading]

The Dominican Republic, Haitians and the Global War on Blackness

Claudia de la Cruz

My grandmother was born Black and poor in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic. She was only five years old when the state-sanctioned killings of thousands of Haitian migrants widely known as “the Parsley Massacre” occurred.  As a means of survival, like many other poor Blacks in the Dominican Republic, my grandma worked the sugarcane and rice fields side-by-side Haitian migrants. She often told stories about the way they were discriminated against and often beaten for being Black and poor. She cried telling stories of women and girls who were sexually assaulted by the overseers of the fields and military men. In a spirit of hope and affirmation she would add, “The good thing was that we did what we could to survive together [Haitians and Dominicans] on those fields.”

The 2013 Court ruling to denationalize nearly 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, the lynching of Henry Claude ‘Tulile’ Jean in February 2015 at a public plaza in Santiago, the mass deportations and hostility against Haitian immigrant workers are part of a long tradition and a constant attempt at “ethnically cleansing” or “whitening” Dominican society. As horrifying, infuriating and disgusting as these recent actions have been, they are not surprising to many of us who have been in the long struggle to end anti-Haitianismo/racism, and who are in the process of rethinking and redefining ourselves as part of a global community of Afro-descendants. [continue reading]