From the psychology of empire to independence-era African funk, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Science of Us
If you were told you’d have to take an intelligence test, what would you expect? Maybe some tests of reading and math, some pattern recognition? Probably not this:
On the other hand: It doesn’t seem too hard, right? Not totally unfair? But here’s the catch: Wobbling your pencil and touching the borders will dock points, and moving toward a dead end will dock even more. Also, the test-taker is already convinced that you are less intelligent than he is, and is looking to prove this belief in a “scientific” way. Oh — and his tribe swept in a while ago and conquered your own. That’s more or less what happened in real life. The Porteus Maze test, as it’s known, was administered throughout the world from the 1910s to the 1930s. It was created by an Australian psychology professor and used as a means of establishing the superiority of white Australians over their aboriginal counterparts. [continue reading]
This past summer the American public awoke to the spectacle of thousands of children from Central America, some as young as five, crossing into the United States without authorization. News accounts detailed these children’s treks: traveling on the tops of trains, sleeping in the open air, and navigating violent encounters with criminal gangs and corrupt officials. The images of these children herded into detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas launched a public debate and stirred criticism of the Obama administration. Responses to their arrival varied widely. Some towns, cities, and counties opened their doors and institutions while other jurisdictions declared these children unwelcome.
And those hoping for a dispassionate and sober discussion on immigration policy—what to do with the roughly 11.5 million people living here in the United States without authorization—have been disappointed. Although the images of these children walking through the Americas are startling, they are part of a much older and more enduring story. Mass migration of humans across the globe is a signature feature of the modern world, and the Americas have long been at the forefront of these complex, worldwide dynamics. [continue reading]
On 11 September 2015, a remarkable journey will begin from a little temple in the tiny northern Hokkaido town of Tadoshi. Over the following ten days, a group of Japanese, Koreans and others will wind their way through several Hokkaido towns, to Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima and the port of Shimonoseki, and then across the straits to Busan in Korea, and finally to Seoul, where they will participate in a public memorial ceremony in the square in front of the city hall.
The most important participants in this journey are not the living, but the dead: the bones of 115 Koreans brought to Japan as labourers during the Asia-Pacific War will be carried along the route, with ceremonies of remembrance along the way, to their final resting place in Korea. The itinerary they will trace in September follows, in reverse, the route they travelled in trucks and boats and trains when they were taken to remote mines and construction sites in wartime Japan, unaware that they would never see their homes or families again. More than seventy years on, they are at last going home. [continue reading]
For many of the African countries that declared independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and 60s, the post-independence era was characterised by a radical restructuring of social and political life. In some nations such as Guinea, political self-realisation went hand-in-hand with cultural renaissance — with music firmly at the heart of the project. Guinea, led by Sékou Touré, was emblematic of the approach adopted by many of the predominantly left-wing governments of the continent. Musical traditions that had often been marginalised by the colonial powers were now boosted to help shape the political climate of the self-rule era.
This mixtape has been put together by Tocantins, a record collector and occasional DJ based in London, whose interests focus on the popular musics of West Africa and Latin America. Here he attempts to foreground the role of music during that period of African self-determination. In so doing he draws from a variety of different cultures and times. Opening with Bembeya Jazz National’s Le Chemin du P.D.G., the mixtape explores the optimism of the 1960s (Grand Kalle et l’African Jazz’s Indépendance Cha-Cha) and the celebratory fervour of Marxist-Leninist funk (Les Volcans’ 26 Octobre 1976 A Lakossa) along with the paranoias of the Cold War (William Onyeabor’s Atomic Bomb, Zao’s Ancien Combattant) and the distress of civil war (Santos Junior’s Invasores de Angola). Also included are some more contemporary reflections on the legacies of two of the key figures of African independence (Boss Mike’s Thomas Sankara, Obrafour’s Kwame Nkrumah). [continue reading]