This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Photo illustration by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Map: Rand McNally.
Photo illustration by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Map: Rand McNally.

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

From the End of the Anglo-American Order to Europe’s dark colonial history, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The End of the Anglo-American Order

Ian Buruma
New York Times Magazine

One of the strangest episodes in Donald Trump’s very weird campaign was the appearance of an Englishman looking rather pleased with himself at a rally on Aug. 24 in Jackson, Miss. The Englishman was Nigel Farage, introduced by Trump as “the Man Behind Brexit.” Most people in the crowd probably didn’t have a clue who Farage — the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party — actually was. Yet there he stood, grinning and hollering about “our independence day” and the “real people,” the “decent people,” the “ordinary people” who took on the banks, the liberal media and the political establishment. Trump pulled his face into a crocodile smile, clapped his hands and promised, “Brexit plus plus plus!”

Brexit itself — the decision to withdraw Britain from the European Union, notwithstanding the almost universal opposition from British banking, business, political and intellectual elites — was not the main point here. In his rasping delivery, Trump roared about Farage’s great victory, “despite horrible name-calling, despite all obstacles.” Quite what name-calling he had in mind was fuzzy, but the message was clear. His own victory would be like that of the Brexiteers, only more so. He even called himself Mr. Brexit. [continue reading]

Land Reform Propaganda in Soviet Occupied Germany

Sean Brennan
Munitions of the Mind

Josef Stalin was ultimately more adept as an Imperial Architect than Adolf Hitler, if for no other reason than he had more of a methodological plan for doing so.  The creation of a Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe was no accident, the Soviet dictator had always planned to do so once Nazi Germany had been crushed.  For decades historians and political scientists in the West debated whether Stalin wanted to spread Communist rule as far as he could, or merely wanted to establish a buffer zone to protect the USSR from another attack like the one that occurred in 1941.  In reality the Soviet government wanted to accomplish both of these objectives, each one reinforced the other.

Both the Soviet authorities in the centre in Moscow and those on periphery in the newly liberated countries in the eastern half of Europe, as well as the leaders of various Communist parties returning to their homes from exile, realised the Soviet model could not simply be imposed overnight on populations, who, for the most part, despised both Communism and Russians with equal measure, and in countries where much of the economic and social infrastructure was destroyed.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, where the Soviets had greater opportunity to remake its social, economic, and political order than in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or any other future Soviet satellite, but also wanted to influence developments in the Western zones of Germany, and knew immediately creating an East German state on the Soviet model would end any chance at this. [continue reading]

Fidel Castro and the revolution that (almost) wasn’t

Simon Hall

Sixty years ago, Fidel Castro launched an audacious bid to liberate Cuba from the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista – the American-backed strongman whose repressive regime was characterised by corruption and economic and social inequality. At the time, though, this effort appeared destined to be little more than a footnote in the history of the 20th century.

In the early hours of Sunday November 25, the Granma, a creaking, twin-engine leisure yacht left Tuxpan, in Mexico, headed for Cuba. At 58 feet long, and with just four small cabins, the Granma was designed to accommodate about two dozen people. Packed aboard that night, however, were 82 men, all members of the 26th of July Movement, a vanguard organisation committed to ending the rule of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. [continue reading]

On the Khartoum Omnibus: Stories of Sudan’s Cosmopolitanism

Raphael Cormack
Global Urban History

In July 2005 a helicopter carrying John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and new vice-president of Sudan, crashed in Uganda. Garang and the 13 other passengers were all killed. The most important leader of the South Sudanese liberation struggle was dead and, as the news spread, the reaction profound. In Khartoum, some of the city’s South Sudanese inhabitants began to violently protest and the Government responded by imposing a curfew.

This crash came at an important turning point in Sudanese history. Earlier in the year, John Garang had signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudanese Government of Omar al-Bashir, designed to bring an end to decades of civil war between the North and the South of Sudan. The hopes for the future took a hit after that day in July. [continue reading]

Ibn Khaldun’s Posthumous Travels to Turkey and the West

Colm Gillis

Ibn Khaldun was one of the most important intellectuals in Islamic history and undoubtedly the leading light of his era. Despite this fame, he seemed to many 19th and early 20th century to have been neglected by the Muslim world at large. In 1941, one of the most notable scholars of Ibn Khaldun, Enan, in writing that the West had “the highest opinion of Ibn Khaldun,” continued by saying that Western thinkers knew of Ibn Khaldun before Muslim scholars.

Muslim ignorance of Ibn Khaldun was a widely held opinion at the time when Enan wrote these words, and was even believed to be true for a few decades afterwards, but this view was undermined by subsequent research. Today, it has been discredited. Contrary to the preceding wisdom, a great deal was written about Ibn Khaldun by Muslim scholars in the centuries following his death, and his political impact was far from negligible. Nevertheless, Enan’s evaluation of Western scholarly opinion remains broadly true and Ibn Khaldun is considered an intellectual par excellence in the non-Muslim world. [continue reading]

Europe’s dark colonial history: Berlin museums to return more than 1,000 human skulls to Africa

Ishaan Tharoor
National Post

This week, the German public broadcaster ARD obtained information regarding the existence of thousands of human skulls and other remains of African people in the possession of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which presides over state museums in Berlin.

According to Deutsche Welle, ARD identified about 1,000 skulls that originated from what is now Rwanda and about 60 from Tanzania. Researchers and state officials will now work toward the repatriation of the remains; they were claimed at a time when both countries were part of the larger German East Africa colony, which existed from 1885 until the end of World War I. [continue reading]

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