This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A watercolour of a British-flagged ship that arrived off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, Japan in 1830, chronicled by low-ranking Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in documents from the Tokushima prefectural archive. Photograph: Courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive

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

From the invention of the Muslim World to the true meaning of globalism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

How the Muslim World Was Invented

Anver M Emon and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins
Foreign Affairs

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” This was the statement that Trump read aloud at a rally in December 2015, during his campaign for the U.S. presidency. In one sentence, Trump cast Muslims as threats emanating from abroad. He delivered on that characterization as president, signing executive orders that sought to ban the citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Trump’s push for the so-called Muslim ban provoked intense controversy. Yet its subtext—that there exists some uniform, foreign community of the planet’s Muslims—is a longstanding construct, as the historian Cemil Aydin shows in his timely book, The Idea of the Muslim World. The notion of a “Muslim world” is not a result of Islamic “theological requirements or a uniquely high level of Muslim piety,” Aydin writes. It is a product of the West’s historical “imperial racialization of Muslimness,” on the one hand, and of “Muslim resistance to this racialized identity,” on the other. This process of exchange, concentrated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, made meaningful the idea of a Muslim world for those beyond and within it. The term refers not to a place but to a series of narratives developed by Muslims and non-Muslims to navigate racialized notions of faith, foreignness, and modernity. [continue reading]

Biafra and Other Ghosts

Akin Adesokan
Africa is a Country

In the 1980s, I lived in Ajegunle, a working-class area of Lagos famous for its status as a “slum.” It is more appropriate to describe Ajegunle as a complex community of people from all parts of West Africa, but principally from the south of Nigeria. Sometime in 1986, Newswatch, a leading newsmagazine, ran a cover story on the issue of abandoned property.

It coincided with the battle that Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu, former leader of the Biafran secession, waged to regain ownership of Villaska Lodge (in Ikoyi), belonging to his father. I sat in front of a drugstore at a popular hangout near Cemetery Market where teenagers often gambled on boiled guinea fowl eggs, reading the magazine. The pharmacist, a balding man with grave manners, asked to see what I was reading. After skimming the feature, he wondered if I knew why the building had a deck. [continue reading]


Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed

Joshua Robertson

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago. Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation. The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.

Its maverick skipper was William Swallow, a onetime British cargo ship apprentice and naval conscript in the Napoleonic wars, who in a piracy trial in London the following year told of a samurai cannonball in Japan knocking a telescope from his hand. Swallow’s fellow mutineers, two of whom were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain, backed his account of having been to Japan. Western researchers, citing the lack of any Japanese record of the Cyprus, had since ruled the convicts’ story a fabrication. [continue reading]

Theory from the Ruins

Stuart Walton

‘One wants to break free of the past,’ Theodor Adorno, one of the Frankfurt School’s leading luminaries, wrote in an essay in 1959. ‘Rightly, because nothing at all can live in its shadow, and because there will be no end to the terror as long as guilt and violence are repaid with guilt and violence; wrongly, because the past that one would like to evade is still very much alive.’ In an age when the meanings of the past and the functions they are called upon to serve are so hotly contested, Adorno’s insight reminds us, in a typically double-edged way, that humanity is both composed of and trapped inside its history. This view of history underpinned the work of the boldest and bravest philosophers of the past century: the first generation of the Frankfurt School. Their arguments lacked for nothing in theoretical aspiration, and have scarcely begun to be assimilated, even today.

A key point of disputation for this generation of thinkers arose from the notion that society, in its progress from barbarism to civilisation according to the narrative of the European Enlightenment, had been increasingly founded on the principle of reason. Where mythology once held sway, the rationalistic sciences now reigned supreme. Among the Frankfurt School’s most provocative contentions was that Western civilisation had unwittingly executed a reversal of this narrative. The heroic phase of the 18th-century Enlightenment purported to have freed humankind of antique superstition and the demons of the irrational, but the horrors of the 20th century gave the lie to that triumphalism. Far from humane liberation, 20th-century Europeans had plunged into decades of savage barbarism. Why? The Frankfurt School theorists argued that universal rationality had been raised to the status of an idol. At the heart of this was what they called ‘instrumental reason’, the mechanism by which everything in human affairs was ground up. [continue reading]

Globalism Doesn’t Mean What Donald Trump Thinks It Means

Or Rosenbolm
History News Network

“We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism,” Donald Trump asserted during a speech in Washington, in April 2016. After his election as President of the United States, Trump repeated his attacks on globalism with a renewed energy to the extent that his followers now use “globalist” as a slur.

On the American right-wing website Breitbart, the pseudonymous writer Virgil characterized the “old globalist vision” as a “gospel,” a “new kind of religious faith” based on the idea that in a “smaller” and interconnected world, all borders, states and religions should be abolished. Yet, as Virgil argues, the globalist creation of elitists’ “murky transnational enterprises” which, combined with the “neo-Cobdenite” ideology of international free trade resulted in a “democracy deficit.” [continue reading]

3 thoughts on “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

  1. Isn’t the Frankfurt School and Adorno antecedents of Nihilistic Post-Modernism a 20th Century stalking horse for Marxism in the United States. This is a hopelessly destructive narrative that should be left in the dustbin of History.

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