This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

“De negro é española sale mulato” (A Black Man and a Spanish Woman Produce a Mulatto). Pintura de castas, ca. 1780.
“De negro é española sale mulato” (A Black Man and a Spanish Woman Produce a Mulatto). Pintura de castas, ca. 1780.

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

From the ‘imperialist’ Second World War to purchasing whiteness in colonial Latin America, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Communism, Anti-Racism and the ‘Imperialist War’ Phase in South Africa, USA and Australia, 1939-41

Evan Smith
Hatful of History

After the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact in late August 1939, the Soviet Union shifted from its prominent anti-fascist stance that it had taken since the beginning of the Popular Front period. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, the Soviets declared that the war was an ‘imperialist’ war to maintain British and French colonial possessions.

Individual Communist Parties followed the Soviet lead and by October/November 1939, denounced the war as an imperialist war and pushed for ‘peace’ between the European powers. Australia and South Africa soon joined the British war effort (which was at first welcomed, then criticised by the respective Communist Parties), but the United States remained out of the war until December 1941. In the USA, the Communist Party’s main slogan was, according to Harry Haywood, ‘Keep America out of the imperialist war!’ [continue reading]

British Library Rejects Taliban Archive Donation

Laura C. Mallonee

It isn’t every day that one of the world’s biggest cultural institutions refuses to host a massive digital archive of great historical significance. But strangely enough, that’s exactly what the British Library did last week. Why? The collection featured articles, broadcasts, military documents, and poetry related to and published by none other than the Taliban — yep, the fundamentalist group in Afghanistan responsible for countless bombings and suicide attacks, not to mention the destruction of cultural heritage objects like the Bamiyan Buddhas. 

According to The Guardian, the library cited British anti-terrorism laws as its reason for rejecting the archive. Under the UK’s Terrorism Act of 2006, anyone who provides access to terrorist publications is viable to answer for it under law. Legal advisors told the institution it would be best not to accept the material, despite the fact that the Taliban is not on the UK’s terrorist group list. The library also already owns a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, which contains recipes for building explosives. [continue reading]

West Point Professor Calls on US Military to Target Legal Critics of War on Terror

Spencer Ackerman

An assistant professor in the law department of the US military academy at West Point has argued that legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism represent a “treasonous” fifth column that should be attacked as enemy combatants. In a lengthy academic paper, the professor, William C Bradford, proposes to threaten “Islamic holy sites” as part of a war against undifferentiated Islamic radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage”.

Other “lawful targets” for the US military in its war on terrorism, Bradford argues, include “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews” – all civilian areas, but places where a “causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited” exist. [continue reading]

Alms Dealers: Can You Provide Humanitarian Aid Without Facilitating Conflicts?

Philip Gourevitch
New Yorker

In Biafra in 1968, a generation of children was starving to death. This was a year after oil-rich Biafra had seceded from Nigeria, and, in return, Nigeria had attacked and laid siege to Biafra. Foreign correspondents in the blockaded enclave spotted the first signs of famine that spring, and by early summer there were reports that thousands of the youngest Biafrans were dying each day.

Hardly anybody in the rest of the world paid attention until a reporter from the Sun, the London tabloid, visited Biafra with a photographer and encountered the wasting children: eerie, withered little wraiths. The paper ran the pictures alongside harrowing reportage for days on end. Soon, the story got picked up by newspapers all over the world. More photographers made their way to Biafra, and television crews, too. The civil war in Nigeria was the first African war to be televised. Suddenly, Biafra’s hunger was one of the defining stories of the age—the graphic suffering of innocents made an inescapable appeal to conscience—and the humanitarian-aid business as we know it today came into being. [continue reading]

Purchasing Whiteness: Race and Status in Colonial Latin America

Ann Twinam
Not Even Past

The only extant depiction of a pardo who purchased whiteness. Dr D. Jose Manuel Valdes of Lima, a noteworthy physician, received a whitening decree in 1806.
The only extant depiction of a pardo who purchased whiteness. Dr D. Jose Manuel Valdes of Lima, a noteworthy physician, received a whitening decree in 1806.

Let’s start with a question and a comparison. What do you think would have happened if a free mulatto — someone of mixed white and African heritage — living in New York or Virginia, had sent a letter to either of the Georges, either King George III (1760-1820) or President George Washington (1789-1797) asking if he might purchase whiteness? Do you think he would have even received a reply, much less transformation to the status of white? The very idea that mulattos could pay to become “whites” or that an English king or a U.S. president might grant such a change seems unbelievable — because it was.

Yet, during the same period in the Spanish empire, such alterations for mulattos –also known as pardos orcastas — became possible. This was so, even though the Spanish state had also institutionalized severe discriminations against those of mixed African descent, just as in the British Empire and in the American republic. Laws forbade their practice of numerous occupations including physician, notary, lawyer, priest, the holding of public offices, service in the regular military, entrance to universities, and marriages with whites. Still, it was also possible for Cuban Manuel Baez to receive a royal decree in 1760 that erased “the defect that you suffer from birth and leave you able and capable as if you did not have it, repealing this time in your favor whatever laws, ordinances or constitutions speak otherwise.” [continue reading]

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