This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Women in fire masks, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, 1941. Photo by Lee Miller.
Women in fire masks, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, 1941. Photo by Lee Miller. Featured in the Guardian.

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

From the ambiguous legacy of Free Trade England to the long fight for Swiss suffrage, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Richard Cobden: Hero of the Left or Right?

Anthony Howe
OUP Blog

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great Victorian politician and ‘sage’, Richard Cobden, born in 1804, who died on 2 April 1865. Once a name familiar to every school-child, the prophet of ‘free trade, peace, and goodwill’ is now all but forgotten save among professional historians but he has spawned a diverse political legacy.

On the one hand, his name, so strongly associated with free trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, can be vicariously linked with any subsequent free trade movement, for he loudly proclaimed the virtues of the free market, and ‘the unsoundness of any & every action that is incompatible with the most perfect freedom of trade’. From this it is a short step to Cobden’s becoming the prophet of globalization, and linking him with the full panoply of neo-liberal values enshrined in today’s institutional structure of world trade. [continue reading]

Jamaica Calls for Britain to Pay Billions of Pounds in Reparations for Slavery

Rowena Mason

David Cameron is facing calls for Britain to pay billions of pounds in reparations for slavery ahead of his first official visit to Jamaica on Tuesday. Downing Street said the prime minister does not believe reparations or apologies for slavery are the right approach, but the issue is set to overshadow his trade trip to the island, where he will address the Jamaican parliament.

Ahead of his trip, Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission, has led calls for Cameron to start talks on making amends for slavery and referenced the prime minister’s ancestral links to the trade in the 1700s through his cousin six times removed, General Sir James Duff. In an open letter in the Jamaica Observer, the academic wrote: “You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors … You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather. [continue reading]

Female Foreign Labour and the Nazi War Economy

Elizabeth Harvey
Royal Historical Society

Foreign labour was an essential resource for the Nazi war economy: by September 1944, around six million civilian labourers from across Europe were working in the Reich. Any initial readiness on the part of the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe to volunteer for work in the Reich had quickly dissipated as the harsh and often vicious treatment of foreign workers became known. The abuse and exploitation of foreign forced labourers by the Nazi regime is well documented.

Less well understood is why women formed such a substantial proportion of the labour recruited or forcibly deported from occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet territories: in September 1944, over 50% of Soviet civilian forced labourers and more than a third of Polish forced labourers were women. This lecture explores the factors influencing the demand for and the supply of female foreign labour from occupied Eastern Europe, particularly after the appointment of Fritz Sauckel as the head of labour mobilization in March 1942.

Kafka’s Tanks: an Early US Attempt to Enter the Gulf Arms Market

Louis Allday
The 36th Chamber

Collectively, the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) form one of the largest and most lucrative markets in the world for the global arms industry. American companies in particular have benefitted from the GCC’s extremely high levels of military spending. Kuwait, with an annual military expenditure of over $5bn, is no exception to this trend. In 2012 alone, it was reported to have signed weapons contracts with American suppliers worth approximately $4.2bn. These arms sales form a key component in the strong military and political alliance that exists between the US and the Arab Gulf states.

However, eighty years ago, in 1934, the situation was dramatically different. At that time, Kuwait did not possess a formal military force at all and the oil deposits which have since given the country enormous wealth had not been discovered, let alone exploited. Politically meanwhile, the British Empire was still very much in the ascendancy in the Persian Gulf. The US, in common with any other foreign power, was barred by Britain from establishing any formal diplomatic presence or representation in Kuwait. Nevertheless, files in the India Office Records held at the British Library, reveal that even then – in a pre-cursor to the US’ later hegemonic position in the region – American arms companies had begun to target Kuwait as a potential market for the sale of their goods. [continue reading]

Swiss Suffragettes Were Still Fighting for the Right to Vote in 1971

Emma Gatten

The start of the 1970s was a febrile time politically. Protests against the Vietnam War were in full swing; student revolts that had begun in France in 1968 had spread throughout the world as clamour for social change and political rights became louder and more insistent. In Britain, the Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher, caused outrage over her decision to ban free school milk. And yet in Switzerland, at the heart of Europe, not only were there no national women politicians, there were no women voters either.

Four decades on, and despite her 97 years, Marthe Gosteli is still a commanding presence and a reminder of a largely unheralded revolution: the fight to get Swiss women the vote. She has lived for decades amongst the archive boxes and political posters that form the Marthe Gosteli Foundation, which is housed on her family’s farming estate on a hill in Worblaufen, an idyllic French-Swiss suburb just outside of Bern. [continue reading]

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