From Gandhi the imperialist to writing global intellectual history, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Wm. Roger Louis
Not Even Past
At the close of his presidency in 1999, Nelson Mandela praised Mohandas Gandhi for believing that the “destiny” of Indians in South Africa was “inseparable from that of the oppressed African majority.” In other words, Gandhi had fought for the freedom of Africans, setting the pattern for his later effort to liberate India from British rule.
Nothing could be more misleading. Gandhi’s concern for the African majority — “the Kaffirs,” in his phrase — was negligible. During his South African years (1893-1914), argue Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed in “The South African Gandhi,” he was far from an “anti-racist, anti-colonial fighter on African soil.” He had found his way to South Africa mainly by the accident of being offered a better job there than he could find in Bombay. He regarded himself as a British subject. He aimed at limited integration of Indians into white society. Their new status would secure Indian rights but would also acknowledge white supremacy. In essence, he wanted to stabilize the Indian community within the stratified system that later became known as apartheid. [continue reading]
Bipartisan Policy Center
Kurdish Regional Government leader Mesut Barzani recently announced that, with the hundredth anniversary of the Sykes-Picot treaty fast approaching, “[world leaders] have come to this conclusion that the era of Sykes-Picot is over.” For Barzani, the implication was obvious: it was time to redraw the region’s outdated, arbitrary, European imposed borders and create an independent Kurdish state.
It’s easy to see why Kurds in particular would resent the borders that emerged from the defeat of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. But a closer look at the historical origins of these lines reveals that the Kurds did not lose out through bad luck or arbitrary imperial fiat. Rather this history shows some of the embedded challenges that faced Kurdish nationalists a century ago, and sheds light on the factors influencing regional politics today. [continue reading]
New York Times
When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she relied on Henry A. Kissinger’s counsel. He would send her “astute observations about foreign leaders” and “written reports on his travels.” She would joke with him that smartphones would have made his covert Cold War trip to Beijing impossible. The two diplomats had a cordial, warm and respectful relationship, based on writings about their interactions during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.
“Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in The Washington Post, in a positive review of his book “World Order.” The friendship came back to haunt her in the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday night, when Senator Bernie Sanders pointedly questioned Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy judgment, saying President Richard M. Nixon’s secretary of state had enabled genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot. “I’m proud to say Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Mr. Sanders said. [continue reading]
Alex Q. Arbuckle
For much of the world, the visual history of the Vietnam War has been defined by a handful of iconic photographs: Eddie Adams’ image of a Viet Cong fighter being executed, Nick Ut’s picture of nine-year-old Kim Phúc fleeing a napalm strike, Malcolm Browne’s photo of Thích Quang Duc self-immolating in a Saigon intersection. Many famous images of the war were taken by Western photographers and news agencies, working alongside American or South Vietnamese troops.
But the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had hundreds of photographers of their own, who documented every facet of the war under the most dangerous conditions. Almost all were self-taught, and worked for the Vietnam News Agency, the National Liberation Front, the North Vietnamese Army or various newspapers. Many sent in their film anonymously or under a nom de guerre, viewing themselves as a humble part of a larger struggle. [continue reading]
Speaking of the emerging calls for transnational and global intellectual history in a 2011 article, David Armitage wrote that ‘[w]hat is certain is that the possibilities for such a global history – or even for multiple histories under this rubric – remain enticingly open-ended.’ In the five years that have passed since that article’s publication, scholarship contemplating the potential of such a history has proliferated.
Not least of these contributions is Samuel Moyn’s and Andrew Sartori’s brilliant edited collection Global Intellectual History, published in 2013. That volume – like their essay posted on the Imperial & Global forum – sought to ask the hard questions about the idea of ‘global intellectual history’ – not only questions of how historians might write such histories but whether or not the sub-field should exist at all. The diverse range of approaches that appear in the volume itself certainly speak for the multiplicity of possible understandings and methodologies historians might adopt. [continue reading]