This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The cover art for Sue in Tibet shows a smiling girl, poised for adventure
The cover art for Sue in Tibet shows a smiling girl, poised for adventure, William Arthur Smith.

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

From rediscovering Tibetan children’s novels to Stalin’s growing popularity, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


The Amazing Adventures of Sue in Tibet and her Creator

BBC News

Everybody remembers when Tintin went to Tibet, but not what happened when Sue was there. While browsing around a tiny second-hand bookshop in Nottingham, I came across a dusty, worn cloth-covered out-of-print book entitled “Sue in Tibet”. As a scholar of Tibetan studies, I was familiar with Tibet-based adventure and mystery novels published in the 1920s, but these were invariably centred on the stories of the men.

This was intriguing because it looked like it could be the first piece of western children’s literature ever set in Tibet, and its main character was a teenage girl. Published in 1942, it tells the story of Sue Shelby, the eldest daughter of an American missionary family stationed in the remote Tibetan border town of Batang. [continue reading]

Historians Worldwide: Global Links among Historians, Past and Present

Patrick Manning
Perspectives on History

As we historians adjust to the expanding global connections among scholars and teachers in our day, we might remind ourselves of historians’ international ties in earlier years. In the 19th century, historians born in the United States often completed their doctoral studies in Germany, where the field of history was strongest. The leader in the formation of the AHA in 1884, Herbert Baxter Adams, completed his PhD at Heidelberg in 1876; James Harvey Robinson received his doctorate at Freiburg in 1890; and W.E.B. Du Bois studied in Germany under a fellowship before completing his PhD at Harvard in 1895. J. Franklin Jameson, founding editor of the American Historical Review was one step removed: his 1882 PhD from Johns Hopkins University was the first under Herbert Baxter Adams. In the same era, American works were translated into Japanese to launch the study of world and Western history, while American scholars set up universities in Japan, China, and Korea.

Large-scale historical meetings in Europe began in 1898, convened by German scholars; they met twice more before the Great War. Out of the tradition of periodic congresses came the 1926 foundation of the Comité International des Sciences Historiques (CISH), with quinquennial meetings. The United States, a founding member, was represented by Waldo Leland, who had earlier been AHA executive secretary and became president of CISH in 1938. [continue reading]

Vicissitudes of Globality: The Many Connections of Eighteenth-century Charleston

Emma Hart
Global Urban History

What is the promise of global urban history for the pre-nineteenth-century era? As the vast majority of discussion about cities and “the global” continue to focus on the decades after 1850, I want to return to an earlier time.  Concentrating our attention on Charleston, South Carolina, a city that was the product of early modern Atlantic crossings and circulations, reveals the expansive contexts in which this imperially-driven growth happened.  Charleston’s setting has mostly been labeled as the “Atlantic World,” which was created when European and Africans moved around the Atlantic Ocean and the former claimed territories in the Americas.

Charleston and its environs, 1866.
Charleston and its environs, 1866.

While we now have a pretty good grasp of these connections and it is fairly easy for me to describe them, the question of Charleston’s role in a global urban process is much less clear. And, what holds for Charleston, also holds for the other major cities of Britain’s early modern Atlantic world, such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Kingston, Jamaica.  What is more, even the specific role of cities in creating an Atlantic system is often taken for granted by historians, meaning that the urban is not often analyzed very precisely as a historical force, even in an early modern world that often subjugated individual agency to the body corporate.  So, bringing the global AND the urban into focus in a history of Charleston, what new things can we learn about global urban issues before 1800? [continue reading]

The Racist Dawn of Capitalism

James Hudson
Boston Review

A decade before his assassination at the hands of a nationalist in 1914, French socialist Jean Jaurès completed a historical work that radically changed the study of the French Revolution. Where others had focused on disputes over politics and political ideology, Jaurès’s four-volume Histoire socialiste de la Révolution française took as its subject the transformations wrought by an emergent capitalism, foregrounding irruptions within the French economy. Through a Marxist lens, Jaurès emphasized the conflict between the ancien régime and the newly empowered bourgeoisie and excavated from the archives of the revolution the struggles of French workers and peasants.

Though discounted by later scholars anxious to distance themselves from Jaurès’s Marxism, the Histoire socialiste was history “from below” avant la lettre. Its analytical concerns also anticipated those of a historical subfield—the history of capitalism—now taking off on this side of the Atlantic. An energetic startup within the U.S. historical profession, the history of capitalism has grown rapidly over the past few years and won media attention most academics only dream of. [continue reading]

Stalin, Russia’s New Hero

Alec Luhn
New York Times

Penza, Russia — AT School No. 58 in Penza, a regional capital that is an eight and a half hour drive southeast of Moscow, the jury is still out onJoseph Stalin. “He was a great man, unique in history,” Zhenya Viktorov, an 11th grader, told me on a recent visit. His classmate Amina Kurayev was more circumspect: “It wasn’t as terrible as they say.” And what about the millions of Soviets who were shot or sent to the gulags? “No one was repressed for no reason,” Zhenya said. When I asked him how many political opponents Stalin killed, he told me “thousands,” and argued that the purges weren’t as “big or inhumane as the media likes to say.”

At least 15 million people were killed in prisons and labor camps under Stalin and his predecessor Vladimir Lenin, according to Alexander Yakovlev, who led a commission on rehabilitating victims of political repression under President Boris N. Yeltsin. Estimates vary, but Stalin’s victims alone certainly number in the millions. And yet views like Zhenya’s are becoming more common in Russia. [continue reading]

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