This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


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

From global struggles for racial justice to remembering the Iran-Iraq War, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Black Politics and Global Struggles for Racial Justice

Keisha N. Blain
We’re History

In February 2015, the body of Lulile, a young man of Haitian descent, was found hanging from a tree in a public square in the Dominican Republic. Amidst an international public outcry about the DR’s treatment of citizens of Haitian descent, Lulile’s lifeless body, hanging in the same public square where he once shined shoes, signified the horror that continues to unfold in the DR. It has been months since Lulile’s body was found in the market square in Santiago and media outlets have been largely silent on his death or the investigation DR officials promised to initiate. Also silent are some black activists and political leaders in the U.S., who tend to be far less vocal about racial injustices taking place outside of U.S. borders.

Silent Protest parade, New York City, July 28, 1917.
Silent Protest parade, New York City, July 28, 1917.

Black activists and political leaders in the U.S. have not always been this quiet about racial injustices taking place outside of the country. Historically, black men and women in the United States frequently linked national concerns to global ones. [continue reading]

The Vivid Paintings That Record a Briton’s Love of Delhi

William Dalrymple
BBC News

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal emperor, and one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty. Born in 1775, when the British were still a coastal power clinging to the Indian shore, he lived long enough to see his dynasty reduced to humiliating insignificance, and the British transform themselves from simple traders into the most powerful military and economic force India had ever seen.


Zafar came late to the throne, succeeding his father only in 1838 when he was in his mid-60s, and when it was already too late to reverse the inexorable political decline of the Mughals. But despite this he succeeded in creating around him a court culture of unparalleled brilliance, and partly through his patronage there took place in Delhi a last great literary renaissance. [continue reading]

U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies

Joseph Goldstein
New York Times

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base. “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan,particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records. [continue reading]

The Complicated History of the South African Gandhi

Ashwin Desai
The Wire

Over the past decade many South Africans awaited with great anticipation the works of Indian scholars on Gandhi’s South African years. Sometimes the pre-publicity material builds up this expectation by describing particular authors as ‘one of the world’s great minds’ or ‘a genuinely independent-minded Indian intellectual’. Often, such works raise more questions than answers.

Gandhi in the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War. Courtesy of the Wire.
Gandhi in the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War. Courtesy of the Wire.

There is a trend to these studies. They tend to argue that it was on African soil that Gandhi honed his sense of empathy, anti-racism, anti-colonialism and quest for equality, and occasionally even that he had links with Africans. Sometimes these studies muddle or complicate the image of the South African Gandhi, but it is largely a sanitised, universalist Gandhi that is portrayed. [continue reading]

Remembering the Iran-Iraq War

Shaherzad Ahmadi
Not Even Past

Thirty five years ago today, Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein made a dangerous gamble that did not pay off: with Iran vulnerable after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Hussein attacked the oil-rich province of Khuzistan, inhabited mostly by Arabs. Since its independence in 1932, Iraq was critical of the Pahlavi monarchy for fashioning Iran as a Persian nation, and had disputed Iran’s right to a province so heavily populated by Arabs. Hussein’s early successes on the warfront compelled Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s new leader, to deploy an enormous number of recently, and often poorly, trained soldiers to the front. By 1982, Khomeini had forced Hussein’s hand. Retreating to the internationally recognized borders, Iraq’s President offered Khomeini peace. An emboldened Khomeini went on the offensive. The war reached a fever pitch in 1986 when Iran overtook Iraq’s al-Faw Peninsula. Western governments, until then satisfied with funding both sides, stepped in to resolve the conflict, which finally ended in 1988.

The Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), largely overshadowed in the United States by Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, cost roughly one million lives. While Iran drew the attention of the West to Hussein’s illegal use of chemical weapons, Iraq paraded before the international press Iranian child soldiers (under the age of fifteen), who constituted a staggering 100,000 of Iran’s casualties. Hussein and Khomeini, both egregious violators of human rights, caused Iranians and Iraqis tremendous trauma. [continue reading]

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