This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

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

From rethinking Cold War Burma to Brexit and the World Wars, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Rethinking Cold War Burma

Cindy Ewing
Sources and Methods

Burma sat at a major crossroads in the global Cold War. Today, its archives invite attention. Few studies of the Cold War dwell on the Union of Burma. Even those attentive to the global dimensions of the Cold War tend to view Burma peripherally, as a lens to study late-colonial Britain or worse still, as a passive bystander to China’s reach into Southeast Asia.

However, a wealth of documents in the National Archives of Myanmar tells a different story of Burma’s foreign policy in the early Cold War period. As a stalwart defender of neutralism, Burma sat at a crossroads, between the north-south axis of the Cold War and the south-south axis of the Third World. This rich and turbulent period in Burma’s history is an overlooked but valuable means of understanding the Third World. [continue reading]

What does British imperial economic history tell us about the future of UK-EU trading relations?

David Clayton
History & Policy

Post-Brexit UK-European Union (EU) trading relations will take one of three forms:

(1) The UK will remain part of the EU customs union

(2) UK-EU trade will be governed by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules

(3) The UK and EU will enter a free trade pact.

Option (1) is economically optimal but has been declared politically unfeasible because it requires the UK to commit to the free movement of labour between the EU and the UK. Such conditionality is essential because economies grow unevenly and, in the absence of independent currencies across Europe and/or a central European state to pool the risk of unemployment, free movement of labour is the mechanism for redistributing the gains from EU growth. Economics (not history) is the best guide here. [continue reading]

Will Trumpism increase the Danger of War in the International System?

Benjamin Miller

This short piece focuses on mapping and evaluating some of the expectations of International Relations (IR) theory with regard to the potential effects of Trumpism and the illiberal turn in world politics on war and peace. Obviously, there is a high degree of uncertainty here, but that does not mean that such an intellectual exercise cannot be helpful in highlighting some of the potential consequences of the major changes taking place on the important subject of war and peace. The mere fact of rising uncertainty in international politics is, by itself, going to have some significant effects, which we should try to explore.

The election of Donald Trump and other nationalist challenges to the post-Cold War liberal order raise concerns about the increasing danger of armed conflicts. Many observers believe that various components of the U.S.-led liberal international order have promoted international peace and cooperation despite the emergence of some dangerous conflicts in recent years. [continue reading]

Rights versus Duties: Reclaiming the History and Language of Human Obligations

Samuel Moyn

In 1947 Julian Huxley, English evolutionary theorist and director-general of UNESCO, wrote Mohandas Gandhi to ask him to contribute an essay to a collection of philosophical reflections on human rights. Gandhi declined.

“I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother,” he replied, “that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world.” Huxley should not have been surprised by the rejection. As far back as Hind Swaraj, his masterpiece in political theory, Gandhi had bemoaned “the farce of everybody wanting and insisting on … rights, nobody thinking of … duty.” [continue reading]

Brexit and our World Wars

David Reynolds
Cambridge Core

No one knows what Brexit means, but it’s now happening. Theresa May has pulled the trigger and the Great Escape is on. In two years we will be in heaven or hell – depending on who you believe – or perhaps in a no man’s land of red tape, temper tantrums and perpetual negotiation. But one thing is certain: Great Britain is unlikely to escape from its World Wars. They are a distinctive part of our identity, to a degree that often surprises and puzzles our neighbours on the Continent.

In my recent long article for the Historical Journal entitled ‘Britain, the Two World Wars, and the Problem of Narrative’ I explore why we Brits have had such difficulty coming to terms with our twentieth-century past. The rolling centenary of 1914-18 has shown anew that we still find it difficult to construct a satisfying narrative of the Great War, with a stark moral meaning.  That has never been a problem for 1939-45 which, as I explain, achieved almost immediately its iconic status as Britain ‘finest hour’ – helped by Churchill as the Great Narrator. [continue reading]

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