From what is global history to uncovering illegal documents of the slave trade, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Toynbee Prize Foundation
It’s a common question that teachers of global history face. We belong to one of the most quickly-moving, contested, and changing subfields within the historical profession, and the travel schedules on many of our dockets—Istanbul one week, Tokyo the next—make our colleagues who slave away in the same provincial state archive blush. The years spent learning foreign languages begin to pay off, as one can not only read the newspaper but also foreign colleagues’ peer review comments on an article scheduled for publication in this or that journal. Life, it seems, is good.
But when it comes time to teach global history as a field, one hesitates. For audiences of graduate students, of course, it’s possible to follow the tactic of assigning a pile of monographs bringing global history perspectives to different regions of the planet: China the one week, the Gambia the next. But how to put it all together into one common language that speaks to the Americanists and the East Asianists in one seminar? Worse yet: how to teach this all to undergraduate audiences for whom the monograph approach would incite revolt? [continue reading]
Doing global and transnational history alone is challenging. Tracking flows and connections — of people, ideas, goods, whatever — across the world demands wide contextual knowledge and visits to multiple repositories in far-flung places. Enjoyable and privileged as tackling such challenges undoubtedly are, they are also time-consuming — in building that knowledge base and, more prosaically, fitting adequate (and costly) research trips into increasingly packed academic calendars. Even then, paper trails on peripatetic individuals and transnational networks can be lost or missed as mobile historical figures flit out of one archive and into the next. It is tricky to piece together connections single-handedly, especially where bureaucratically thin associations, short-lived organisations and obscure persons evade state surveillance.
For a week in January 2016 at the International Institute of Social History(IISH) in the Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, a group of twelve young scholars with interests in Afro-Asian activism and decolonisation tested a novel approach to surmount such problems: ‘real time archival collaboration’. [continue reading]
I have always struggled to explain to my friends that even though I am writing a dissertation on medieval Indian history, it is not about the Mughal Empire. That medieval Indian history is not just about the Mughals comes almost as a revelation to them. But this is not entirely their fault. In India, middle school history textbooks give unprecedented importance to the Mughal Empire as compared to its contemporaries in the South and East.
It’s not just middle school. The current NCERT textbook for high school students devotes two of five chapters on medieval Indian history solely to the Mughals. In school, I too was exposed to a similar framework, but I was lucky that my tryst with history took me far enough to realise that there is more to the medieval era than just the Mughals. Not all of us are so lucky. [continue reading]
Counter Voices in Africa
Nationalist icon, fervent anti-colonialist and populist demagogue – these are just some of the phrases and titles that have been used to describe the former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated in 1961. The murder of Congo’s first democratically elected leader has recently been styled by Meike De Goede, as ‘an original sin of independent Congo from which people seek redemption ever since.’ Quite apart from the impact on the Congolese people and their efforts to martyrize him, Lumumba’s bloody killing has also left a permanent stain on the relationship between the Congo and the United Nations.
Lumumba was dramatically assassinated by Belgian and Katangan authorities in 1961, with the connivance, if not the assistance, of the American, British and French intelligence services. The Western powers had become increasingly alarmed at Lumumba’s perceived radicalism since Congo gained independence on 30 June 1960 and the United States in particular feared the creation of a communist regime under the influence of the Soviet Union, in the heart of Africa.Lumumba’s increasingly belligerent attitude towards the United Nations, whose assistance he had originally sought to protect the sovereignty of the Congo following the breakdown of law and order shortly after independence, served as a justification for a variety of attempts to oust him between September and December 1960. To the Western powers, Lumumba’s public criticism of the UN damaged the prestige of the organization and impacted upon its status as a neutral arbiter. While they negotiated behind the scenes to arrange his demise, they also denounced Lumumba’s perceived leanings towards Moscow and painted him as a volatile and unpredictable leader. What is curious about his death and its impact however, is the ways in which it impacted upon international public opinion, helping to construct the image of Lumumba as a martyr to the Congo. [continue reading]
Historic papers about the slave trade are among the enormous cache of public documents that the Foreign Office has unlawfully hoarded in a secret archive, the Guardian has learned. Some of the papers appear to date back to 1662 and are thought to contain information about England’s involvement in slavery, while others were created in the 19th century and detail British attempts to suppress the trade.
They are contained in a vast archive of 1.2 million files that the Foreign Office has kept at Hanslope Park, a high-security compound that it shares with MI5 and MI6 in the Buckinghamshire countryside north of London. Under the Public Records Acts, the slavery papers should have been handed over to the National Archives in Kew, south-west London. The Foreign Office has not answered questions about the papers, and historians say it is difficult to be sure of their significance without having an opportunity to examine them. [continue reading]