This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


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

From the memory of Soviet famine to how a Sioux chief was buried in Dresden, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Recalling Famine, Russians Decry Kremlin Destruction of Food Imports

Fred Weir
Christian Science Monitor

Larissa Tarkhanova well remembers the Soviet-era rituals of lining up, often for hours, to obtain basic foodstuffs in the “grocery stores” of those days. As a clerk in a pretty well-stocked local food shop, Ms. Tarkhanova says she knows how far her country has come, generally supports its leadership, and seldom complains about anything. But today something has upset her – the Kremlin’s destruction of perfectly good food.

A broken head of cheese lies on the ground as illegally imported food is bulldozed in Russia's Belgorod region. Reuters.
A broken head of cheese lies on the ground as illegally imported food is bulldozed in Russia’s Belgorod region. Reuters.

The Russian government has been destroying vast quantities of foodstuffs, from pork and cheese to apples and tomatoes, because they originated in Western countries covered by retaliatory counter-sanctions ordered by President Vladimir Putin a year ago. And that waste – almost 400 tons of food incinerated or bulldozed in the past several days – is rubbing a lot of Russians, who have memories like Tarkhanova’s, the wrong way. [continue reading]

Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on The League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire

Timothy Nunan
Toynbee Global History Forum

Travel to the shores of Lake Geneva, disembark from your ferry or catamaran onto the narrow streets of bourgeois Geneva, and take one of the Swiss city’s speedy trams up the hill to your north, and you won’t be able to miss it: there, at the end of one of the tram lines, sits the massive compound of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), housed in the majestic Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations), one of the largest buildings in Europe. Fluttering in front of it (next to the gate for UN employees passing into the complex) are the 193 flags of all members of the United Nations, from founding members like the United States, Great Britain, or France, to newer member-states like South Sudan or Kosovo–all flying at equal heights and equally spaced out along four grand rows.

And yet this current arrangement of things in Geneva–and international order writ large–is quite new. The Palais des Nations, today home to meetings for UN organizations, was originally built as the headquarters for the now-defunct League of Nations, the interwar system of international governance that today (where it is remembered) is probably most associated with failing to keep the peace of Versailles and not having the United States of America as a member. Had one flown the flags of the nation-states of the day in front of the Palais following its opening, however, the number of flags would have been much, much smaller, with Africa and Asia barely represented. And as the maps that hang in the elegant Reading Room of the League’s Archives (themselves in a wing of the Palais) remind us, most of the world’s population then who was not Chinese lived not in nation-states, but in empires–in the British and French Empires, to be specific. [continue reading]

The Great Sushi Craze of 1905, Part 2

H. D. Miller
An Eccentric Culinary History

In Part One of “The Great Sushi Craze of 1905″ I introduced to you what might have been the first real Japanese restaurant in the United States, a bare-bones place that opened in the summer of 1889 at 84 James Street in downtown New York City. That year’s August 31st issue of Harper’s Weekly gave this unnamed restaurant a five-star review, complete with an engraving of stout Americans in pince-nez giving their order to a prissy waiter.

If you recall, the story of the possible first Japanese restaurant ended with a cliffhanger, a curious newspaper clipping that reported that the restaurant had closed for good on September 1st, the day afterHarper’s Weekly published its review.

The reporter and his guest went elsewhere for dinner, after having discovered the only case on record where a restaurant closed up on account of a splendid free advertisement that would have brought it patronage and wealth.

But that story told to the reporters was a lie. [continue reading]

75 Years Later, the Deadly Bombing that Rocked the New York WOrld’s Fair is Still Unsolved

Luke Spencer
Atlas Obscura

The World’s Fair of 1939-1940 was conceived as a way to pull New York out of the doldrums of the Great Depression. The fair’s theme was “Dawn of a New Day,” and in order to create this gleaming vision of the future, the vast ash dumps of Corona, Queens were transformed into a glittering playground with expansive displays from 60 countries, all trying to out-do one another.  The USSR built a life-sized replica of a Moscow metro station. In the British Pavilion, visitors could marvel at the Magna Carta and the Crown Jewels, while in the French Pavilion, the celebrated Le Pavilion restaurant proved so popular it would move to Manhattan after the fair.

An oblique view of the Helicline, the curved walkway that led to the Perisphere. (Photo: Library of Congress).
An oblique view of the Helicline, the curved walkway that led to the Perisphere. (Photo: Library of Congress).

The fair’s hometown was not so lucky. New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Chief of Police Grover Whalen, who together spearheaded the site’s evolution from a place the New York Timesdescribed as having “dog-sized rats” that skittered through ash mounds that “towered as high as 90 feet” to a suitable place for President Roosevelt to visit, picked the perfectly wrong time for such a spectacle. In 1939, the world was teetering on the precipice of war. The buttons handed out by General Motors, which read “I Have Seen The Future,” suddenly took on an ominous meaning. [continue reading]

Bury My Heart in Dresden

Bettina Renner
Al Jazeera

At a Catholic cemetery in Dresden, Germany, the inscription on a weather-beaten tombstone reveals who was buried in the grave in 1914: Edward Two Two, Sioux chief. So where did he come from and why was he buried in Germany, thousands of kilometres away from his native homeland? This film tells the fascinating story of a Sioux chief from South Dakota who came to Germany as part of one of the so-called human zoos. In those days, people who fulfilled the local audience’s desire for the exotic would be taken from all over the world and presented in elaborately choreographed shows.

Edward Two Two initially came with his wife and a granddaughter to Hagenbeck, a zoo based in Hamburg, later moving on to Dresden’s Sarrasani circus. At the time, Indians were a big attraction. Living in tepees in front of the circus tent, they were required to wear a feathered headdress and traditional clothing at all times as well as dance and sing. Flocking past, the large audiences loved them. They corresponded to a common, romanticised image of the Indians. Yet in their homeland the reality had long been far different. From their free life on the prairie, Native Americans had been forced into reservations and subjected to a programme of re-education.  So how are things today in the reservation Edward Two Two left behind for Germany at the beginning of the last century? Filmmaker Bettina Renner embarks on a journey to trace the roots of Edward Two Two in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where she meets several descendants of the man whose grave she had stumbled on in Dresden. [Click Here to Watch the Film]

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