This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Frank Brangwyn: The last of the HMS Britannia, c 1917, from 'East meets west: Frank Brangwyn and Yoshijiro Urushibara's collaborations – in pictures'
Frank Brangwyn: The last of the HMS Britannia, c 1917, from ‘East meets west: Frank Brangwyn and Yoshijiro Urushibara’s collaborations – in pictures

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

From global Ottomans to transatlantic colonial coutoure, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Global Ottoman: The Cairo-Istanbul Axis

Adam Mestyan
Duke University

On a Sunday at the end of January 1863 groups of sheikhs, notables, merchants, consuls, and soldiers gathered in the Citadel of Cairo. They came to witness a crucial event: the reading aloud of the imperial firman that affirmed the governorship of Ismail Pasha over the rich province of Egypt. The firman was brought by the Ottoman sultan’s imperial envoy. After the announcement, which occurred, of course, in Ottoman Turkish, Ismail held a reception. Local Turkic notables and army leaders came to congratulate and express their loyalty. A few months later, in April 1863, they received Sultan Abdülaziz in person in Alexandria—something that had not occurred since the Ottomans occupied Egypt in the sixteenth century. From Alexandria the sultan took the train to Cairo. This was the first trip of a caliph on the tracks.

But what did Ottoman mean exactly in Egypt? My forthcoming book, Arab Patriotism: The Ideology and Culture of Power in Late Ottoman Egypt, examines the significance and meaning of the Ottoman imperial context for the history of Egyptian nationalism. The book demonstrates the continuous negotiation between Turkic elites in Egypt and local intellectuals and notables bound by collective, albeit contested, notions of patriotism. There was an invisible compromise through the new representations and techniques of power, including the theater. This local instrumentalization and mixing of urban Muslim and European forms is the backstory to new political communities in the Middle East. Importantly, the Ottoman connection was an urban one: imperial elites are urban elites and rural elites had to become urban ones in order to maximize their interests by the fin-de-siècle. [continue reading]

The film Denial ‘shows there is such a thing as truth’

Richard Evans

Towards the end of Denial, released in cinemas this month, the lead character, played by Rachel Weisz, argues passionately that historical truth exists. “Slavery happened. The Black Death happened,” she says. “Elvis is not alive.” It is a point that historian Richard Evans, president of Wolfson College in Cambridge, provost of Gresham College in London and a key player in the events that inspired Denial, has been making for most of his professional life. It is also something that, he argues, has become even more important in the era of “alternative facts” and Donald Trump.

But it is not always straightforward. Before writing the screenplay for Denial, David Hare spent two hours quizzing Evans, an expert on Nazi Germany, about his part in the 2000 libel trial on which the film is based. Evans was an expert witness in the case, taken by the maverick historian David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt, an American academic, who had called Irving a Holocaust denier and accused him of falsifying history. According to Evans: “As he got up to go, David Hare said, ‘I have interviewed a number of people about the trial and everyone seems to have a different point of view.’” [continue reading]

A Colonial-Era Wound Opens in Namibia

Norimitsu Onishi
New York Times

The statue, depicting a German marine holding a rifle in his hands and standing guard over a dying comrade, has stood undisturbed for decades in the most prominent spot in Swakopmund, a city on Namibia’s coast. It has survived the end of colonial rule in this corner of southern Africa, the subsequent occupation by apartheid South Africa, independence in 1990 and the present government by the black majority.

But a few months ago protesters spilled red paint over the monument, which stands in front of a colonial building that is now known as the State House and serves as the summer residence of Namibia’s president. The statue, known as the Marine Denkmal, was erected in 1908 to commemorate soldiers who helped crush a rebellion against German colonial rule by the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, a war that led to what Germany’s current government is close to recognizing as a genocide. [continue reading]

Roundtable: Cash’s Bundle: Fugitive Slave Advertisements, Clothing, and Self-Care

Charmaine A. Nelson

It is a remarkable fact that everywhere that Africans were enslaved in the transatlantic world, they resisted in a myriad of ways. While scholars have frequently examined the more spectacular and violent forms of resistance (like slave revolts and rebellions), a far quieter type of resistance was ubiquitous across the Americas, running away. Where printing presses took hold, broadsheets and newspapers soon followed, crammed with all manner of colonial news. Colonial print culture and slavery were arguably fundamentally linked. More specifically, as Marcus Wood has argued, “The significance of advertising for the print culture of America in the first half of the nineteenth century is difficult to overestimate.”

One staple of colonial newspapers was the runaway or fugitive slave advertisement. Often published by the slave owner and sometimes by a sheriff or jailer, such notices sought to criminalize the enslaved for what Wood has called an act of “self-theft.” Such advertisements are what Shane White and Graham White have referred to as, “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved Africans Americans available.” I would argue that their contention also applies in general to all of the regions of the Americas that practiced transatlantic slavery, particularly places where abolition predated the development of photography. [continue reading]

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