This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A Caribbean Taste of Technology album cover, Ariwa Sounds, 1985, artist unaccredited.

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

From repressing radicalism to making reggae’s dancehall sound, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Repressing Radicalism

Chip Gibbons

Last week, a little over an hour after the Intercept published a story about a classified National Security Agency report concerning Russian election interference, Reality Winner, the alleged leaker, was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act. In recent years, the Espionage Act has been used as a statutory sword against whistleblowers. Donald Trump allegedly told former FBI director James Comey he wanted to prosecute journalists under the statute. But historically, the Espionage Act is perhaps most significant not for its role in persecuting whistleblowers, but for crushing dissent during World War I.

Nowhere was this crackdown felt more acutely than within the Socialist Party (SP). While never on par with some of its international counterparts, the SP was a genuine mass party that elected countless local officials, sent two members to Congress on its own ballot line, and fostered a vibrant socialist press that reached millions. Its longtime standard-bearer, Eugene Debs, was a nationally known figure. During World War I, even as the majority of its counterparts in the Second International elected to be complicit in the bloodshed, the SP steadfastly opposed the conflict for pitting worker against worker in a scramble for markets and colonies. [continue reading]

Dustbin man builds free library of thrown away books

Sean Coughlin
BBC News

A dustbin man in Bogota in Colombia, who never studied further than primary school, has gathered a library of more than 20,000 thrown away books. The collection began 20 years ago, when Jose Alberto Gutierrez fished out a discarded copy of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. He now offers his books to other people as a free community library. “I realised that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them,” he said.

Mr Gutierrez, who has gained the nickname The Lord of the Books, began collecting books that had been dumped in the waste bins in wealthier parts of the city. He would take them out of the rubbish and retrieve them for families in poorer areas. His collection of chucked away books is now used by families wanting to help their children with their homework, in a free library called the Strength of Words. [continue reading]

Despite Vote in Favor, Puerto Rico Faces a Daunting Road Toward Statehood

Frances Robles
New York Times

Puerto Rican politicians were pleading their cases to Congress on Monday, just one day after 97 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of statehood in a nonbinding referendum on the island’s future. But just as the vote’s meaning was muddled by a historically low turnout, Puerto Ricans were delivering conflicting messages before a very skeptical Congress. Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the House, Jenniffer González, is drafting a bill that will ask Congress to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state. A hearing will be scheduled before the House Committee on Natural Resources. “This is a historic moment for the island,” Ms. González said.

But because the turnout was so low — only 23 percent of eligible voters cast ballots — the vote, rather than being a dramatic turning point, underscored the divided political atmosphere in Puerto Rico and the long road ahead for any resolution of the island’s status. By law, the next steps toward statehood remain in Congress, where advocates for statehood face the daunting task of persuading a legislature dominated by Republicans to take on a state which would have the nation’s highest poverty and unemployment rates and an unpaid $74 billion debt. [continue reading]

Britain and the US once ran the world. Now they’re all at sea

Linda Colley

Events last Thursday on the two sides of the Atlantic were at once momentous and in some ways connected. In Washington the former FBI director James Comey used his open hearing before the Senate intelligence committee to call the president of the United States a liar – an astonishing act of lese-majesty. Meanwhile, at Westminster, Theresa May squandered her majority.

As a result, on both sides of the pond, there has been rejoicing on the left, and adjustments on the right. Donald Trump, who failed to win a majority of the popular vote in the presidential elections, now describes himself as a man under siege. As for May, she never possessed an electoral mandate for her initial climb to the top of the greasy pole. For all her hopes, she has not unambiguously secured one now. Both Republican power-brokers on the one hand and many of their Conservative counterparts on the other are busy investigating how and when they might drop these compromised leaders without also falling themselves. [continue reading]

A Caribbean Taste of Technology: Creolization and the Ways-of-Making of the Dancehall Sound System

Julian Henriques

This article takes its name and inspiration from the Mad Professor’s album A Caribbean Taste of Technology in response to the theme of this Technosphere issueIt’s a good place to start a discussion of creolization and technology here with the dub reggae tracks of this album created by British producer Mad Professor and released in 1985. So what I present here is a text and ideas version of the album as it were.

The album cover artwork sets the tone. The Mad Professor himself lays back in a hammock enjoying the drink in his hand (the glass containing the entire Caribbean archipelago), the sun-soaked beach, and the array of the latest technological accoutrements of the era together with a selection of tropical fruits. The technology is evidently not a threat, but a source of pleasure; he is relaxed about it. This is the key message: in the Caribbean context new technologies are an invitation to be creative, an impulse that leads to Afrofuturism. This creativity is nowhere better expressed than in Jamaican music and the global influence this has in terms of sound, rhythm, and phonographic performance techniques. Jamaican music technology – the stage show, the sound system dance, and the recording studio – provide examples of positive spin on the idea of creolization. The concept of creolization describes the mixing of cultural forms specifically in a New World setting conditioned by the disruption of slavery and forced, migration which has a long and contested history. [continue reading]

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