This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


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

From thinking historically to the end of the end of history, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Thinking Historically: A Guide for Strategy and Statecraft

Francis J. Gavin
War on the Rocks

This essay is about thinking historically. It is not a history of a particular event, person, place, or process. Nor is it strictly a presentation about methodology or how to do historical work effectively. There are many excellent books and articles that can help you become a good historian. What I hope to do is explore something I call “historical sensibility,” which I believe can be a powerful tool to understand and aid making policy, especially foreign, foreign economic, and national security policy.

This may strike many as odd or problematic. First, there are many who assume that the main role of the historian is to unearth, collect, and present facts. These facts are then strung together to create a linear narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. For many in the “harder” social sciences, however, this is often seen as little more than story telling. For true knowledge to appear, many facts have to be collected, shaved down to look alike, then aggregated and analyzed to discover generalizable laws of the universe. [continue reading]

Why Citing the Japanese Internment as a ‘Precedent’ for a Muslim Registry Is So Alarming

Lily Rothman

During an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday night, pro-Trump advocate Carl Higbie drew a shocked reaction from host Megyn Kelly during a discussion of the possibility that President-elect Donald Trump might support making Muslim immigrants to the U.S. “register.” In an apparent attempt to portray the idea as unsurprising, Higbie noted that there was precedent for the U.S. government registering residents according to factors like race, religion and region.

“We did it during during World War II with the Japanese, which, call it what you will—,” he began, before Kelly interrupted him. Though Higbie said he was not proposing internment camps, he continued to insist that that episode from American history was an important precedent for the ideas he and the President-elect support. “You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the President-elect is going to do,” Kelly responded. Kelly was only partially correct—which is why knowing the history of that internment matters so much. [continue reading]

Trump’s Election Is a Tragedy, But Some Things Won’t Change at All

Mattea Kramer

The fluorescent circus of Election 2016—that spectacle of yellow comb-overs, orange skin, predatory pussy-grabbing, last-minute FBI interventions, and blinking memes hewn by an underground army of self-important Internet trolls—has finally come to its unnatural end. I had looked forward to this moment, only to find us all instantly embroiled in a new crisis. And unfortunately, it’s easy to foretell what, or rather who, will move into the bright lights of our collective gaze now: We’re going to (continue to) focus on… well, ourselves.

We are obviously not, for instance, going to redeploy our energy examining the embarrassing war that we’re still waging in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year—something that went practically unmentioned during election season, even as fighting heated up there. (You can be sure that Afghans have a somewhat different perspective on the newsworthiness of that war.) We are also not going to spend our time searching for the names of people like Momina Bibi, whom we’ve… oops… inadvertently annihilated while carrying out our nation’s drone kill program.  For his part, Donald Trump has pledged to “take out” the families of terrorists, a plan that sounds practically ordinary when compared to our actual drone assassination program, conceived by President George W. Bush and maintained and expanded by President Obama. [continue reading]

Trump and Fascism. A View from the Past

Jane Caplan
History Workshop

Is Trump a fascist? Let’s start with another question: why do we want to know? Is it simply to stick him with the most damning political label available? Or is it because his ideas, his actions, his support really put him in the same genus as the fascist movements and regimes of interwar Europe?

For months, historians of the twentieth century have been looking nervously at Trump and asking what tools we have to understand the man, his popular appeal and his backers – and to measure the danger he represents. Against my own better judgment, I have been spotting Mussolini in this gesture or turn of phrase, Hitler in that one; I have been watching the manipulated interactions of speaker with audience, the hyperbolic political emotions, the narcissistic masculinity, the unbridled threats, the conversion of facile fantasies and malignant bigotries into eternal verities, the vast, empty promises, the breath-taking lies. A whole repertoire seems to have returned us to the fascisms of interwar Europe, acted out by a man whose vanity is equalled only by his ignorance. But has it? [continue reading]

The End of the End of History

Shadi Hamid
Foreign Policy

For the first time in our history, Americans have elected an “illiberal democrat” as president. That doesn’t mean the United States will become an illiberal democracy — where democratically elected leaders fundamentally erode the rights and freedoms we associate with the classical liberal tradition — anytime soon. But it does mean we could become one.

As a minority and a Muslim, the result of this election is distressing — and perhaps the most frightening event I’ve experienced in my own country. That said, there is something admirable in the idea that democratic outcomes will be respected even when people you hate (or people that hate you) come to power. I’ve studied “existential” elections in the Middle East, where there is simply too much at stake for the losers of elections to accept that the victors have, in fact, won. [continue reading]

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