From Confederates in Brazil to Jacobins in India, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
New York Times
On a stage festooned with Confederate flags, a singer was belting out “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama near an obelisk honoring the Americans who fled to this outpost in the aftermath of the Civil War. “We’re not racists,” said Cícero Carr, 54, an engineer whose great-great-grandfather hailed from Texas. Wearing a fedora featuring the rebel battle flag, he explained in Portuguese, “We’re just revering our ancestors who had the good sense to settle in Brazil.”
At the annual celebration of Brazil’s self-described Confederados one scorching Sunday in April, Confederate flags adorned the hoop-skirted gowns of young belles and the trucker caps worn by beer-guzzling bikers, as well as the graves of pioneers with surnames like McAlpine, Northrup and Seawright. The commemoration reflected the resilience of what some historians call the lost colony of the Confederacy in this region of sugar cane fields and textile factories. Unencumbered by the debate raging in the United States over whether Confederate symbols promote racism, the Brazilian descendants of the American settlers, many of them clad in Civil War uniforms, mingled at food stands offering Southern fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits. The motto of the organizers: To Live and Die in Dixie. [continue reading]
When many people think of slavery, they think of the translatlantic trade that took place between Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. The legacy of enslavement in the Americas (particularly in the United States) is known globally through the cultural and political impact of African-American iconography, films, history and references in popular culture. For many people of African descent across the world, it is one of the clearest historical links that binds us together, even if we do not have west African or American ancestry.
But the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean is not the only history of longstanding mass global enslavement. Less well-known is a system that went on for centuries longer, but which took place across its opposite oceanmass, the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean slave trade encompassed Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with people from these areas involved as both captors and captives. The numbers of people enslaved and the exact length of the trans-Indian slave trade have not been definitively established, but historians believe that it preceded the transatlantic enslavement by centuries. Even though it is largely ignored as an international slave trade, examples of its impact abound. Writing on Indian Ocean slavery frequently mentions African people in China and Persia as well as in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which also served as central slave markets. [continue reading]
Louis A. Pérez Jr.
The premonition of a historic moment often contemplates the imminence of change, a sense of crossing thresholds of before and after, even if the “before” is unknown and the “after” is unknowable. December 17, 2014, was one such moment, the date on which President Barack Obama announced the resumption of U.S.-Cuba relations. A “historic announcement,” pundits and policymakers uniformly agreed, a “historical change in U.S. relations with Cuba” promising “a historic new era.” This was the United States pushing history forward, the United States “making historic changes” and initiating a “historic overhaul of relations” among President Obama’s “trophy legacies” based on a “bold decision to chart a new course in U.S.-Cuban relations.” By traveling to Cuba in March 2016, President Obama “stepped into history” and “made history,” seizing a “historic opportunity” during his “historic three-day visit” to Cuba, where he delivered “a historic speech to the Cuban people.”
Traces of hubris, to be sure, and evidence of the ways people often live hermetically sealed within their own history. But self-congratulations of an American “historic achievement” implied more than the performance of a self-contained history. The narratives also served to lift aloft a larger history, informed with a point of view as a matter of discursive intent and into which was inscribed the plausibility of the American purpose, that is, a politics. The narratives anticipated the history through which to problematize U.S.-Cuba relations, a way to merge myth and memory into a usable past, thereupon to situate the United States as subject and Cuba as object, the Americans as actors and the Cubans as acted upon. [continue reading]
The camp, pop-filled bonanza that is the Eurovision Song Contest took a turn toward the serious on Thursday night, when Ukrainian jazz singer Jamala’s performed her evocative “1944” during the contest semi-finals. Performing live to millions of viewers, the 32-year-old Jamala sang: “when strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say, ‘we’re not guilty, not guilty.’”
The harrowing song refers to the mass deportation of Tatars from Crimea under the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin during World War II. Jamala has said that the somber lyrics were inspired by the experiences of her great-grandmother, who was one of the quarter million Crimean Tatars deported during that time. The tragedy, which the Ukrainian government recently recognized as genocide, dates back to the early 20th century. [continue reading]
Age of Revolutions
In May 1797, the French Revolution came to Mysore. Although it had been reduced in size after a defeat to the British East India Company in 1792, Mysore, located in what is now southern India, remained a formidable obstacle to British designs on the region. Its ruler, Tipu Sultan (1750-99), drew on French support while pursuing an ambitious project of domestic reform and engaging in frequent wars with his neighbors. His good relations with France had been capped by an embassy to Paris in 1787-8, and were given lasting shape by ‘Tipu’s Tiger’, an automaton created by French technicians and Mysorean artisans. But now, in the shadow of his palace at Srirangapatnam, a contingent of mercenaries and advisors from France (forbidden by treaty with Britain to maintain a formal military presence) gathered to seal the special Franco-Mysorean relationship in a revolutionary way.
In the years after the fall of the Bourbon monarchy, representatives of the new French Republic had debated how to break the news to Tipu that Louis XVI would no longer be answering his letters, but until the spring of 1797 no one had thought to expose this South Asian ally to the doctrines of republicanism. Now, however, the emissary François Ripaud had arrived to enlist Tipu and his French soldiers in a Jacobin Club. Ripaud led an assembly of soldiers before “Citizen Tipu,” and, in a speech that established the first Jacobin Club in Asia, had them take a collective pledge confirming their “hatred of all kings, except Tipu Sultan.” [continue reading]