From remembering the first lyricist to win the Nobel to W.E.B. Dubois and world revolution, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
There’s been a great deal of excitement over Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s rare for artists who have achieved widespread, mainstream popularity to win. And although Nobels often go to Americans, the last literature prize to go to one was Toni Morrison in 1993. Furthermore, according to The New York Times, “It is the first time the honor has gone to a musician.” But as Bob Dylan might croon, “the Times they are mistaken.”
A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the prize in 1913. The first musician (and first non-European) to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Tagore possessed an artistry – and lasting influence – that mirrored Dylan’s. [continue reading]
Boyd Van Dijk
Fifteen years ago, the longest war in American history began. Following the 9/11 attacks the United States Congress passed an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). Shortly after, the Bush Administration decided to question the relevance of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a position recently re-endorsed by the Republican presidential candidate. Since then, consecutive US governments have used that AUMF to justify their effective continuation of the so-called “War on Terror.” Armed operations, from drone strikes to special operations, have taken place in areas across the globe, most recently in Syria and Iraq as to fight ISIS, a terrorist organization originating in a period long after 9/11. Some have, therefore, spoken of a ”forever war.”
In two provocative and historically-rich contributions for Dissent and Just Security, Harvard Law professor Samuel Moyn asked whether our preoccupation with making war more humane (“hygienic”) has perhaps led to this outcome of endless fighting. By contrast, constitutional lawyer David Cole has (rightfully) pointed out that most civil liberties activists have actually done both: they have criticized Washington’s track record of endless war and its violations of the laws of war. There is “little evidence,” he notes, which could show that their concerns about making wars less inhumane have led to a softening of their criticisms towards the US government’s continuing effort to wage war. Clearly, this debate has a certain resonance with the ongoing controversies surrounding the tension between retribution and peace – think of the ICC’s intervention in Sudan, or that of Human Rights Watch in Colombia most recently. [continue reading]
Buried deep in Amitav Ghosh’s totemic book on Indian Ocean pasts and presents, In An Antique Land (1993), is an episode that should interest Sanjeev Sanyal, whose new book similarly scours through eclectic histories in search of fragmentary remnants of the past that have persisted into our contemporary world. Ghosh narrates how, in the 1980s, a community of upwardly mobile fisherfolk near the Mangalore shoreline embraced majoritarian Brahminical Hinduism and built a pukka temple to obscure their traditional role as guardians of revered spirit shrines.
The remnant in question in Ghosh’s text takes the form of a legendary Arab mariner long invoked by Indian Ocean sailors of all religions, whose image improbably migrated from an old shrine into the new temple in a transformed, but recognisable, form. Ghosh applauds the historical irony of a Muslim saint’s idol residing in an orthodox Hindu temple as emblematic of an ancient Indian Ocean churn of cosmopolitan interactions and admixtures. Sanyal’s text would have it another way: it too follows histories of churn, but the remnants he strains to find are mobilised to show how Indian — specifically coded as Hindu — pasts have survived regional Islamisation and European colonial modernity to be primed to reassert themselves in the Indian Ocean present. [continue reading]
Early in 2014 a group of school students from a small town in rural New Zealand took a trip to some nearby historical sites. Guided by local Māori elders, the students from Otorohanga College encountered a history that was all but unknown to them. As Leah Bell later recalled, “It’s shocking to hear that there were massacres half an hour from where you live, not that long along.”
Ōrākau and Rangiaowhia, where the school party visited, saw two of the bloodiest confrontations of the Waikato war – a conflict between British imperial troops and the local Tainui tribes that had been fought exactly 150 years earlier (1863-64). It was the largest and most significant in a wider series of clashes that took place in New Zealand between 1845 and 1872 as Māori communities resisted colonial conquest and expansion. [continue reading]
Philip Luke Sinitiere
his month I interviewed Bill V. Mullen, Professor of American Studies at Purdue University, about his recent book, Un-American: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Century of World Revolution (Temple, 2015). His previous books include Afro-Orientalism(Minnesota, 2004), Popular Fronts: Chicago and African American Cultural Politics 1935-1946(Illinois, 1999), (with Cathryn Watson) W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line (Mississippi, 2005), and W. E. B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line (Pluto, 2016). Mullen recently published a short biography of Du Bois with Pluto Press for its Revolutionary Lives series. He’s currently working with Diane Fujino on an edited volume of the writings of the late jazz bandleader and political activist Fred Ho. He also has a longer term research project researching police violence, including sexual violence committed by police. That project seeks to connect the Black Lives Matter movement to other histories of policing in the U.S., including against Native American and Latino/a communities.
Phillip Luke Sinitiere (PLS): The title of your book announces the historic late-career anticommunist critique and marginalization of W. E. B. Du Bois, part of which you reference as the “commemorative containment” of his twilight years. Please address this, along with your book’s broader argument about Du Bois and revolutionary thought. [continue reading]