This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

French armed forces suppress an uprising in colonial-era Algeria. Photograph: Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image
French armed forces suppress an uprising in colonial-era Algeria. Photograph: Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

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

From the unlikely origins of Russia’s Manifest Destiny to the street food that powered the British Empire, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


The Unlikely Origins of Russia’s Manifest Destiny

Charles Clover
Foreign Policy

It would be extremely unpleasant for Sir Halford Mackinder, a bespectacled and slightly aloof Edwardian academic, to witness the use to which his life’s work has been put in post-communist Russia.

Best-known for a lecture entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History,” which he delivered to the Royal Geographical Society in 1904, Mackinder argued that Russia, not Germany, was Britain’s main strategic opponent. This he illustrated with a colorful theory that came to be known as “geopolitics.” The timing of his prediction, prior to two world wars against Germany, subsequently did not do his theory any favors. However, Mackinder was finally vindicated in the last year of his life by the start of the Cold War, the epitome of his teachings. He saw the world arrayed in pretty much the shape he had foreseen in 1904: Britain and America, whose navies ruled the world’s oceans, against the Soviet Union, the world’s predominant land power, whose vast steppe and harsh winters had defeated Napoleon and Hitler — all but impregnable behind a land fortress, the “Heartland” of Eurasia. [continue reading]

Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism

Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Counterpunch

The purpose of this essay is to show that as capitalism has evolved from the early stages of small-scale manufacturing to the current stage of the dominance of finance capital, its arena of expropriation has, accordingly, expanded from the early colonial/imperial conquests abroad to today’s universal dispossession worldwide, both at home and abroad.

Specifically, it aims to expose the class nature of imperialism independent of nationality and/or geography, and to indicate how this profit-driven characteristic of capitalism is at the root of today’s global austerity economics; an ominous development that dispossesses not only defenseless peoples abroad, but also the overwhelming majority of the people at home—a socio-economic plague that can be called the “new imperialism,” or “imperialism by dispossession.” The new imperialism differs from the old, classical imperialism in at least four major ways. [continue reading]

The attacks in France show that its colonial past endures

Natalie Nougayrède
Guardian

The attack in Nice, in which 84 people were mown down by a French resident of Tunisian origin, has been a watershed in French politics. After the trauma of the killings, incidents of open, blatant, anti-Muslim hatred have sparked a new, worrying phase. “Why France?” has been the question on many lips, as the nation recovers from its third mass-slaughter terror attack in 18 months.

Some point to the French republic’s specific brand of secularism – its model of laïcité (the prohibition of religious influence on anything that relates to the republic) inherited from the 1905 law separating church and state – which is often caricatured and misunderstood. Others point to France’s recent military interventionism in the Muslim world, from west Africa to Iraq. Yet more highlight the discrimination its Muslim minorities suffer. None of this can be ignored. [continue reading]

Paul Romer: Back to a U.S.-Dominated World Bank?

Helmut Reisen
The Globalist

[…] The developmental role of “Charter Cities” is derived from the experiences of the former British crown colony Hong Kong and the Chinese special economic zone of Shenzhen. The basic problem with the underlying idea is not only the historical origin of Romer’s concept has a neo-colonial smell. It is also the fact that the poor-country government essentially has to give up control to foreign investors.

Honduras tried the concept in 2011 by modifying the constitution to allow judiciary, police, economics and finance to be removed from central government in new “special development zones.” Critics have pointed to Honduras’ past as a “banana republic” under U.S. corporate dominance. Rather than becoming prosperous development poles, special zones or model cities can easily turn into heavens for tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and sweatshops, as the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung warned already in 2012. [continue reading]

The street food that powered the British Empire

Justin Rowlatt
BBC News

[…] Like Kolkata, the egg roll is a formidable dish. I once had two for lunch and didn’t need to eat again for 18 hours. But Calcutta’s dockers were working a lot harder than me. Around 250 years ago, the Hooghly was choked with tall ships. “We still talk about the British conquering India, but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality,” writes historian William Dalrymple. “It was not the British government that seized India at the end of the 18th Century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by an unstable sociopath – Clive.”

Clive is Robert Clive, then governor of Bengal and head of the East India Company’s operations in India. The year 1765 was decisive. That’s when Clive, whose portrait still hangs in the British High Commissioner’s residence in Delhi, wrested the right to raise taxes in Bengal from the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam. [continue reading]

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