From Brexit’s Edwardian imperial inheritance to when all roads led to Palmyra, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
N. C. Fleming
History & Policy
Theresa May’s debut conference speech as Conservative leader signalled a departure from David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. Acknowledging the positive role of the state in promoting economic and social fairness, May appears to question the free market dogma that has clung to her party since it was led by Margaret Thatcher.
If the Prime Minister’s speech marked a calculated bid for the centre ground of British politics, the same cannot be said of her disposition to pursue a ‘hard Brexit’, preoccupation with immigration and advocacy of grammar schools. There was a strong dose of populism too in her expressions of disdain for cosmopolitan elites and ‘corporate’ greed. Some have suggested that May’s message is confused or even contradictory, a product of the post-EU referendum fallout. Yet it echoes some of the rhetoric and outlook of Conservative tariff reformers a century ago. [continue reading]
Sixty-three years ago, the CIA and British intelligence fomented a coup d’état that toppled the prime minister of Iran, restored a cooperative shah and strengthened a regional buffer against possible Soviet aggression. It also unwittingly set Iran on a course toward dictatorship and helped inject the 1979 Iranian revolution with an anti-American cast that continues to animate hardline elements within the current regime.
More than six decades later, the coup against Mohammad Mosaddeq and its aftermath are still haunting U.S.-Iran relations. Yet amazingly, Americans do not have access to the full historical record of U.S. involvement in the event, even though much of that record (at least the parts the CIA has not destroyed, by its own admission) is unclassified. [continue reading]
Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, has bemoaned Britain’s narrow view of its own history, calling it “dangerous and regrettable” for focusing almost exclusively on the “sunny side”. Speaking before the Berlin opening of his highly popular exhibition Germany – Memories of a Nation, MacGregor expressed his admiration for Germany’s rigorous appraisal of its history which he said could not be more different to that of Britain.
“In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people,” he said. “Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones,” he said. MacGregor warned: “This sort of handling of history is dangerous as well as regrettable”. [continue reading]
Michael S. Neiberg’s The Path to War: How the First World War Changed America seeks not only to tell the story of how Americans reacted to World War I but also to emphasize the significance of that “largely forgotten” war (p.7) in the shaping of modern America. Neiberg is the distinguished and prolific author of more conventional accounts of the outbreak of the Great War, its military history, and the ending of World War II, among other books.
He concentrates on the various American publics’ opinions as he moves through the key events that determined their three-year shift from rooting for the British and French in 1914 to supporting President Woodrow Wilson’s call for war in the spring of 1917. Presidential decision-making —the subject of most books on American entry into the war — here takes a back seat to the positions promoted by citizens of all political views, ethnicities, and stations in life, as seen in magazines, cartoons, speeches, newspapers, and letters. [continue reading]
The ruins of ancient Palmyra stand in the Syrian desert as a rubble of collapsed stonework. They are now in a worse state than time alone can account for, due to the recent destruction wrought by ISIS. Once a great city and trade centre, lines of broken classical columns can still be seen, marking the broad avenues that led through the ancient city to large market squares, fronted by temples and monumental administrative buildings decorated with marble sculptures.
Civic authorities and caravan merchants erected statues and dedications to individuals who had performed some noteworthy service, some of which still survive on ancient stone edifices. The inscriptions are written in a local form of Aramaic, called Palmyrene, but many are duplicated in Greek so that the frequent Hellenic travellers to Palmyra could understand the text. Over 30 of these inscriptions commemorate people who assisted merchants on their caravan ventures into Babylonia and these texts reveal important details about the organisation and destinations of Palmyrene trade ventures. [continue reading]