This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 – February 1940). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4

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

From the CIA’s role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest to forgetting the Cultural Revolution, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


Nelson Mandela: CIA tip-off led to 1962 Durban arrest

BBC News

Nelson Mandela’s arrest in 1962 came as a result of a tip-off from an agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a report says. The revelations, made in the Sunday Times newspaper, are based on an interview with ex-CIA agent Donald Rickard shortly before he died. Mandela served 27 years in jail for resisting white minority rule before being released in 1990. He was subsequently elected as South Africa’s first black president.

Rickard, who died earlier this year, was never formally associated with the CIA but worked as a diplomat in South Africa before retiring in the late 70s. The interview was conducted by British film director John Irvin, who has made a film, Mandela’s Gun, about his brief career as an armed rebel, the Sunday Times said. The events leading up the the arrest of Nelson Mandela, on a dark night near Durban in 1962, have always been murky. In the era of Cold War politics, Mandela, then leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), was considered a terrorist and a threat to the West. [continue reading]

The European Union: To leave or not to leave? Two historians take opposing sides

Martyn Rady and Richard Overy
History Today

In the current wave of anniversaries commemorating the two World Wars it is striking how much emphasis there has been on Britain’s contribution to the process of building a free and liberal Europe. It is an important component of contemporary British identity that its soldiers, sailors and airmen fought and died not just to defend Britain, but to ensure that all Europeans should share the prospects of greater economic security, an end to tyranny and a common democratic culture. This was the ideal, popular with broad elements of Britain’s wartime population, which accepted the sacrifices made if the promise at the end of the war was a continent cleansed of nationalism, racism and political repression.

The historical reality was rather different. Britain’s liberal credentials were compromised by the existence of an Empire in which the freedoms fought for in Europe in two world wars were denied to non-white peoples. British identity until the middle of the last century was schizophrenic: one part composed of the belief that British political evolution represented the progressive development of a free and tolerant society, the other composed of popular memory of centuries of warfare, violent imperialism and national self-assertion. The post-1945 order saw the rapid eclipse and disintegration of the imperial project for Britain and all the other European empires, changing forever the nature of Britain’s place in Europe and of British identity. Then the wartime ideal of liberating Europe was undermined by the coming of the Cold War, which divided the continent once again into rival blocs, potentially as dangerous as the ideological confrontations of the 1930s. Few people looking forward from 1945, or even 1985, would have imagined a continent-wide European Union in which national, ideological and racial rivalries had been transcended in a common commitment to shared, economic, social, cultural and security interests. Britain is an essential element of that new Europe. [continue reading]

Online Historical Resources for the Study of the Modern History of Bahrain and the Persian Gulf 

Louis Allday
Asian and African Studies Blog

The Qatar Digital Library (QDL), launched by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership in October 2014, contains a huge – and growing – number of British colonial documents related to the history of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East from the 18th to 20th Century, all of which are now freely available to search and download. This post will introduce two series of documents on the QDL that are useful for those interested in the history of Bahrain and the surrounding region in the first half of the twentieth century; namely the Intelligence Summaries of the British Political Agency in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s Annual Administrative Reports.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (Feb. 1942 – Jan. 1943). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7

[continue reading]

The master’s house 100 years after Sykes-Picot

S. Sayyid
Daily Sabah

On May 16, 1916, two rather undistinguished civil servants – Mark Sykes representing the United Kingdom and François Georges-Picot on behalf of the French government – agreed on the division of the Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of influence. A line was drawn on the basis of this plan, stretching from the border with Persia in the east to the Mediterranean. Britain would control the areas to the south of the line while France would do so to the north. In each of these regions France and Britain alone would “have priority of right of enterprise and local loans” and “supply advisers or foreign functionaries.”

More importantly, in the assigned regions Britain and France “shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states,” which would be “recognised and protected” by both powers. The agreement would be approved later by then Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov, again, behind closed doors. In return for the acceptance of the British and French claims, Russia would get control of Constantinople and other territories carved out of Ottoman Empire. [continue reading]

China’s Cultural Revolution: 50th anniversary unmarked by state media

BBC News

The 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, which plunged China into a decade of chaos, has been met with silence in state media. On 16 May 1966 Communist leader Mao Zedong began a campaign to eliminate his rivals. At the same time he called on Chinese youth to “purge” society. Years of bloodshed and turmoil ensued, ending with Mao’s death in 1976. How to handle the era’s contentious legacy has remained a challenge to China’s Communist rulers to this day.

On Monday, the main state media outlets made virtually no mention of the anniversary, focusing on coverage of the South China Sea and other domestic issues. No official events were planned by the authorities to mark the 50-year milestone. [continue reading]

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