This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

U.S. Marines marching in Haiti, 1934 (Photo: Bettmann/Corbin)
U.S. Marines marching in Haiti, 1934 (Photo: Bettmann/Corbin)

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

From the forgotten Jewish pirates of Jamaica to acknowledging genocide in Namibia, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Forgotten Jewish Pirates of Jamaica

Ross Kenneth Urken
Smithsonian Magazine

I was in Kingston’s spooky Hunts Bay Cemetery, located in a shantytown near the Red Stripe brewery, tramping through high grass with a dozen fellow travelers. We passed a herd of cattle that was being pecked by white egrets before finding what we were looking for: seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia.

Centuries ago, the coffins buried here were ferried across Cagway Bay from Port Royal, once known as “the wickedest city in the world” and an inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and amusement park ride. This was once the domain of the little-known Jewish pirates who once sailed the waters of Jamaica. Their history captures a somewhat different side of the island than its recently adopted tourism slogan: “Jamaica—Get All Right.” [continue reading]

The Aftertaste of Empire: Food and Decolonization

Amanda Banacki Perry
AHA Today

“I’m not getting curry powder at all. Being a Brit, we eat a lot of curry, and I don’t taste it in this.” As I was watching Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, this comment by Lorraine Pascale, one of the judges on the show, jumped out at me. Her comment, which drew on a legacy of presumed British culinary expertise concerning curry, carried a clear message: Brits know their curry.

And yet, the process by which curry became one of the most popular dishes in modern Britain is a complicated one of imperial appropriation, invention, and transformation. In the same way that writing history is an act of interpretation, so too is the art of cooking an act of historical interpretation. Whether it’s preparing a family meal or competing on a national baking show, issues of assimilation and national identity are all up for contestation and negotiation in the culinary arena. [continue reading]

England’s Last Gasp of Empire

Ben Judah
New York Times

From Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II, England was an empire. No more. Brexit has turned the twilight years of the reign of Elizabeth II into the final chapter in the history of Great Britain. What its partisans, celebrating with flag-waving in the street, tearfully called “Independence Day” will unravel the role that England has played since the 16th century as a great power, along with the City of London’s reign as a financial capital of the world.

After Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, her merchant-venturers began an imperial quest. By Elizabeth II’s birth, Britain’s empire spanned nearly a quarter of the globe. Brexit’s fantasy of revived greatness — “taking back control” — will achieve the opposite. [continue reading]

Black Intellectuals, Imperialism And Policing

Brandon Byrd

It was as if James Weldon Johnson had never left Florida. Born and raised in Jacksonville, Johnson had migrated to New York once it became clear that the Sunshine State was no place for a black man as ambitious as himself. But now, in the summer of 1920, he once again found himself in the midst of thousands of white southerners. All of them were armed, all of them were empowered as agents of law and order.

Johnson was in Haiti, not the U.S. South. Still, the connections between the two became clear to him soon after he arrived in Port-au-Prince on an investigative mission for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In his subsequent exposé on the exploitation of Haiti under U.S. occupation, Johnson noted that the most powerful men in Haiti were now white southerners. The head of the customs service, the financial advisor, and the superintendent of public instruction had all come from Louisiana. Another leading customs agent was from Mississippi. Perhaps most importantly, it seemed that a disproportionate number of the U.S. Marines stationed in Haiti were from the South. It alarmed Johnson that men used to the racial caste system of Jim Crow now had the authority to police Haitians whose ancestors had once overthrown slavery and colonial rule. It angered him to think that the position of power that those white southerners found themselves in was not coincidental. [continue reading]

Germany must apologize for Namibia genocide

Claus Stäcker

Genocide is genocide is genocide. When it came to the 1915 Ottoman massacre of Armenians, German parliamentarians had a much easier time with the term. There was a large majority and general unanimity in the condemnation of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps it was because they were only dealing with Turkey and its national founding myth. Turkish President Erdogan hit back: Germany is the last country that should pass judgment about whether the Ottomans committed genocide. It should first account for the more than 100,000 dead Herero in southwest Africa, he snorted.

Erdogan was right. The fact that there has never been an unequivocal explanation is “a little embarrassing,” said Norbert Lammert, the Christian Democrat president of the Bundestag. Momentum toward acknowledging that the mass killings were genocide began building a while ago, when the decadeslong legal argument that the term only applied after the 1951 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide went into effect was struck from official government rhetoric. [continue reading]

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