From when Nazis held mass rallies in Madison Square Garden to colonial-era bear migrations, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
In These Times
Few issues are receiving a more insipid—and thus more harmful—treatment in our public discourse than world trade. Along with immigration, “free trade” is now the foremost symbol of a supposed either/or choice between globalism and nationalism. “Globalists” generally hail the liberal marketplace as the engine of economic prosperity and assail its critics as uneducated and irrational isolationists, while “nationalists” instinctively identify trade with economic decline (or at least the loss of good working-class jobs), rising inequality and a general loss of control over the future. As CNN host Fareed Zakaria put it after Britain voted to leave the EU, “the new politics of our age will be not be left versus right, but open versus closed.”
This framework risks closing off our best possibilities for building a progressive economic future. We need a new paradigm. Some historical perspective is first in order. That is the only way to account for the fact that those forces—call them white working class— today most deeply resentful of the open market were among its loudest champions during the first three decades after World War II. [continue reading]
Global Urban History
Although the Paris Commune is considered a major event in the history of the modern world – just think about how the Russian and Chinese revolutions made use of its memory – it does not, at first glance, seem like a “natural” subject of global or of global urban history. The aim of my current research project is precisely to reexamine this event from a global perspective. Looking at the relevant historiographies available may help to offer a better understanding as for why this perspective has been avoided so far and why it is important to include it.
Paradoxically, the Commune has first been the subject of a form of international history: In studies of the workers’ movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with a Marxist motivation (in the broad sense), the Commune is seen as the last urban revolution of the nineteenth and the first socialist revolution of the twentieth century. This interpretation, which was supported by numerous studies, began to fade roughly twenty years ago, for a number of well-known reasons. The questioning of its teleological narrative, a generational shift in the academic world, and the consequences of the global upheavals after 1989, all conspired to render this international-history approach to the Commune less common, no doubt wrongly so. [continue reading]
With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, discussions about anti-Vietnam War activism has come to the fore. The heavyweight champion’s claim that he had no “quarrel with them Viet-Cong” encapsulated the sentiments of many African-Americans, particularly Black Power activists whose politics included an anti-imperialist agenda, or a critique of America’s occupation, domination, and exploitation of Third World countries.
Such activists created black-centered anti-war organizations designed to educate African Americans on the perils of supporting a war that oppressed indigenous peoples in Vietnam. One of the most far reaching and effective black anti-war groups was the National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union (NBAWADU), spearheaded by Gwendolyn (Gwen) Patton. [continue reading]
The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade. There is something highly paradoxical in the modern man’s relation to war. Ask all our millions, north and south, whether they would vote now (were such a thing possible) to have our war for the Union expunged from history, and the record of a peaceful transition to the present time substituted for that of its marches and battles, and probably hardly a handful of eccentrics would say yes. Those ancestors, those efforts, those memories and legends are the most ideal part of what we now own together, a sacred spiritual possession worth more than all the blood poured out.
Yet ask those same people whether they would be willing in cold blood to start another civil war now to gain another similar possession, and not one man or woman would vote for the proposition. In modern eyes, precious though wars may be, they must not be waged solely for the sake of the ideal harvest. Only when forced upon one, only when an enemy’s injustice leaves us no alternative, is a war now thought permissible. [continue reading]
Loren Michael Mortimer
Early Canadian History
In September of 1759, great armies were on the move through the upper St. Lawrence Valley. Not the military forces under the command of Montcalm and Wolfe en-route to their climactic showdown on the Plains of Abraham, but an army of black bears migrating en-masse southward from Canada into Britain’s Atlantic colonies. During that autumn, newspapers from New England and New York recorded a southern migration of bears, accompanied by an equally mysterious appearance of thousands of black squirrels. Bears were reported in the city of Boston for the first time in a century—a large bear “the size of small cow” was shot on a Boston wharf as it swam across the harbor from Dorchester Neck.
Bears were “spreading mischief” on colonial farms from the New England frontier to the lower Hudson Valley, devouring fields of “Indian corn” and destroying stocks of hogs, sheep, and calves. British army officers bemoaned frequent bear sightings near General Jeffery Amherst’s field headquarters on Lake Champlain. Newspapers printed lurid tales of a bear attacking and eating two children as they picked beans in a field in Brentwood, New Hampshire. One bear reportedly attacked a female colonist walking near her house, but only made off with the “hind part” of her gown. As much as these armies of marauding bears and squirrels vexed Anglo-American colonists, they provided a critical windfall for indigenous hunters residing beyond New England in the Canadian borderlands and the vast St. Lawrence watershed to the north. [continue reading]