This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

How phosphates from Morocco nourish the planet

Entrance of a gallery of the mine Khouribga. Photograph from an advertising Chérifien Phosphates Office 1952. EN ANOM. Aix-en-Provence: BIB AOM 4911 // Youssoufia Phosphates. – The achievements of the Office for his daily personal, Rabat: Morocco-Matin 1952.

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

From placing the American Revolution in global perspective to decolonizing Puerto Rico, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Placing the American Revolution in Global Perspective

Steven Pincus
Age of Revolutions

Sometime in 1766 or 1767, Ezra Stiles, the popular minister of Newport, Rhode Island, and the future president of Yale College, catalogued the “struggles for liberty and revolution AD 1765 and 1766” around the world.  For Stiles, as for many contemporaries, the agitations against the Stamp Act in North America, the West Indies, and Britain were part of a global phenomenon. 

Stiles noted that in “Europe” weavers took to the streets in Britain, Madrileños rioted against the policies of Leopoldo de Gregorio Marquis of Esquilache, and Corsicans took up arms to establish, albeit briefly, a form of republican government.  In “America,” new imperial policies met fierce resistance in French Saint Domingue, New Spain, New Granada, and Peru.  Stiles knew that the riots and celebrations that he witnessed first hand in Newport and Connecticut were a local instantiation of a trans-imperial phenomenon. [continue reading]

How phosphates from Morocco nourish the planet

Vincent Hiribarren
Liberation Africa 4

Why did you decide to study the history of phosphates in North Africa?

Phosphates from North Africa are important mainly because they contain phosphorus. With nitrogen and potassium, phosphorus is one of the essential elements for plant growth and soil fertility. Without compound fertilizer phosphorus extract part of these phosphates, we could not improve our food production in the twentieth century or our global food system in general. As Dana Cordell and others have pointed out, if local and imported guano manure provided an alternative once, humans are completely dependent phosphorus extract phosphate rock to feed the population of the planet. Furthermore, the rock phosphate reserves are not unlimited or renewable. Like oil, rock phosphate is a limited resource and reserves are likely to last only another 50-100 years. The vast majority of the remaining reserves of rock phosphate is found in North Africa, mainly Morocco, which alone control nearly 6 billion of the 15 billion tons remaining.

So the history of the rock powder is intimately related to the food consumed daily around the world – it’s not for nothing that the company phosphates of the Moroccan State (OCP), highlights on its website the growing world population and a count of available arable land. With few exceptions, historians and social scientists have neglected the phosphate mines in North Africa, especially in contrast to most known case of the Pacific islands like Nauru and Banaba. More generally, increasing attention has been paid to hydrocarbons such as oil and coal and raw materials, without studying the extraction process underlying the food production system in the world. [continue reading]

A Rush of Americans, Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil

Kim Severson
New York Times

Being an agricultural official in Cuba these days is like living in a resort town all your friends want to visit. You rarely get a moment to yourself. For months, Havana’s government offices and its prettiest urban farms have been filled with American bureaucrats, seed sellers, food company executives and farmers who spend their evenings eating meals made with ingredients often imported or smuggled into restaurants that most Cubans can’t afford.

They seek the prizes that are likely to come if the United States ends its trade restrictions against Cuba: a new supply of sugar, coffee and tropical produce, and a new market for American exports that could reap more than $1.2 billion a year in sales, according to the United States Chamber of Commerce. But for some, the quest is less about the money than about what they say is the soul of Cuban agriculture and how people eat. [continue reading]

England’s post-imperial stress disorder

Andrew Brown
Boston Globe

The campaign to get Britain out of the European Union is hard enough to understand if you are British. For foreigners, it must be quite incomprehensible. Although Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are all solidly in favor of remaining, English attitudes toward Europe have become as delusional, and as powerful, as American attitudes toward gun control. We are suffering from national psychosis: post-imperial stress disorder.

Three dates are useful in understanding the deeper roots of what is happening to this country — 1945, 1956, and 1966. 1945, when the Second World War ended, still feels like yesterday in the English imagination. We were bankrupt, with our cities bombed to rubble and hundreds of thousands of young men killed or wounded. Food, clothing, and petrol were all rationed and would be for another five years. But when you ask if British society was better then, a huge majority of the English people think it was. The overall figure is 51 percent worse today to 27 percent better, and when you break it down it is only those under 24 or nonwhite who think things have really gotten better since the war. Otherwise men and women from every region of the country believe that British society has got worse in the 70 years of European peace and unimaginable prosperity since the war. [continue reading]

U.N. Decolonization Committee lambasts U.S. on Puerto Rico

Emile Scheperers
People’s World

The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization met on Monday, June 20 and discussed the situation of the U.S.-controlled island nation of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not officially on the Committee’s list of “non self-governing territories” whose colonial status requires a U.N. monitored plan for decolonization, but the dramatic new developments with the Puerto Rican economy, and a deeply flawed plan in the U.S. Congress to “rescue” the island, may change this situation.

The Committee heard testimony from numerous people, Puerto Rican and others, on the situation of the island. The speakers represented the three major positions on the question of Puerto Rico’s status. Although the largest number were supporters of complete independence and national sovereignty for Puerto Rico, there were also speakers who favor the continuation of the current “Commonwealth” (Estado Libre Asociado) relationship, or even statehood – that Puerto Rico become the 51st state of the United States. They had in common that none of them had any use for the current way that the U.S. runs Puerto Rico, or for the PROMESA act which is going through Congress that is supposed to solve the current sharp economic crisis. One after the other, they denounced the U.S. relationship to Puerto Rico as blatant colonialism. [continue reading]