This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


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

From what is good about globalization to the unnatural history of progress, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

“Globalization,” What is it Good For?

Glenda Sluga

When the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, it was not only historians who scurried in search of the lessons of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Nearly a decade later, as analysts of Britain’s departure from the EU diagnose the symptoms of an economic malaise called “globalization,” it is again worth considering what we can learn from the past. It might seem unimaginable—given the turn in present-day political rhetoric—but through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the world’s growing economic interdependence repeatedly inspired optimism about a more peaceful future and opportunities for world-scale social and economic justice.

In these darker days, historians are picking up the forgotten strands of failed global ambitions and practices that led to present disillusionment; their work is making it easier to remember the diverse ways in which the stakes of globalization have been imagined, to reflect on how we got here, and where we are. [continue reading]

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ Is the Most Dallas Movie Ever Made

Matthew Gault
War is Boring

When my childhood friend Jason came home from Iraq his parents took him to the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas — a sprawling Dallas suburb. As a Marine, Jason had been part of a quick-reaction force Response based at Al Asad air base in Iraq’s chaotic Anbar province. After leaving the service, he stuck around as a civilian contractor for a few more years to save up a nest egg. He’d been in the desert a long time. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is about the feelings soldiers like Jason had when they came home.

It’s difficult to describe the enormity Prestonwood Baptist Church. The enormous complex of buildings sits on 140 acres of land, and its worship center seats 7,000 people. The outskirts house a school for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, two bookstores and a faux-Starbucks cafe. Shuttles run parishioners from the parking lot to the “church.” Around here we call it the Baptidome. After the service, Jason’s parents took him to a steakhouse. The piles of food served up to families dressed in their Sunday best, all unwinding after church services, made my friend uncomfortable. He remembered the sand, the heat and the weathered faces of the Iraqis, who had so little and took their religion so seriously. It was the last time he went to church. [continue reading]

The Lost History of Early Muslim Americans

Livia Gerson
JStor Daily

Islam can seem like a newcomer to the religious landscape of the country. Today uttering “Muslim American” conjures images of recent immigrants from the Middle East. But, as Michael A. Gomez explained in a 1994 paper, Muslims have been a part of the country since the colonial era, when the first Muslim Americans were brought from Western Africa as slaves.

Gomez writes that, since the sixteenth century, several of the areas targeted by slave traffickers had a significant Muslim population. He offers evidence from African history to suggest that a significant minority of those captured by the transatlantic slave trade were Muslim. The victimization of Muslims by slavers contributed to the start of Islamic revolution in Futa Toro, on the Senegal River, in the 1760s. [continue reading]

What Did the Ottomans Read? Books and Readers in the Ottoman Literary World, 1300-1600

Murat Umut Inan
UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies

Which literary texts were popular among Ottoman readers and why? What can we say about the reception of Arabic and Persian literary classics in Ottoman communities of readership? Taking up these questions, this talk maps out the readerly reception of literary texts in the early modern Ottoman Empire and explores readership, practices of reading and interpretation, and textual circulation in the Ottoman context by drawing on a corpus of commentaries and manuscript marginalia.     

Murat Umut Inan is the Ahmanson-Getty Post-Doctoral fellow at the UCLA Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies, and Assistant Professor of Ottoman and Turkish studies at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, Turkey. He received his Ph.D. in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Washington, Seattle in 2012. His research interests focus on Ottoman and Persian literatures, and on the literary, cultural and textual relations and transmissions in the medieval and early modern Islamic world. Currently, he is completing a book manuscript entitled Ottomans Reading Persian Classics: Literary Reception and Interpretation in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, where he explores the reception of Persian language and literary classics in Ottoman literature, scholarship, and society between 1300‒1600. [listen here]

Progress Isn’t Natural: Humans Invented It – And Not That Long Ago

Joel Mokyr

How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin? Many bookshelves are full of learned tomes by historians, economists, political philosophers and other erudite scholars with endless explanations. One way of looking at the question is by examining something basic, and arguably essential: the emergence of a belief in the usefulness of progress.

Such a belief may seem self-evident today, but most people in the more-remote past believed that history moved in some kind of cycle or followed a path that was determined by higher powers. The idea that humans should and could work consciously to make the world a better place for themselves and for generations to come is by and large one that emerged in the two centuries between Christopher Columbus and Isaac Newton. Of course, just believing that progress could be brought about is not enough—one must bring it about. The modern world began when people resolved to do so. [continue reading]