From the rise and fall of globalization to digitizing the French Revolution, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
The annual January gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos is usually a placid affair: a place for well-heeled participants to exchange notes on global business opportunities, or powder conditions on the local ski slopes, while cradling champagne and canapes. This January, the ultra-rich and the sparkling wine returned, but by all reports the mood was one of anxiety, defensiveness and self-reproach.
The future of economic globalisation, for which the Davos men and women see themselves as caretakers, had been shaken by a series of political earthquakes. “Globalisation” can mean many things, but what lay in particular doubt was the long-advanced project of increasing free trade in goods across borders. The previous summer, Britain had voted to leave the largest trading bloc in the world. In November, the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, who vowed to withdraw from major trade deals, appeared to jeopardise the trading relationships of the world’s richest country. Forthcoming elections in France and Germany suddenly seemed to bear the possibility of anti-globalisation parties garnering better results than ever before. The barbarians weren’t at the gates to the ski-lifts yet – but they weren’t very far. [continue reading]
The massacre at Srebrenica twenty-two years ago was first and foremost a crime against Bosnia’s Muslim community. It was also a crime against refugees. As Europe this week commemorates the deliberate murder of more than 8,700 men and boys between the 11th and 13th July 1995, there are important lessons that European leaders would do well to reflect upon regarding responsibilities towards populations intentionally displaced by violence. We know, in part because of what happened in Srebrenica –but also Sarajevo, Zvornik, and many other towns in Bosnia– that populations trapped or besieged by armed forces are at great risk. These risks have been seen more recently across Syria in Aleppo, Homs, Houla.
In 2005, in the wake of collective failure to prevent the deliberate targeting of civilians in both Bosnia and in Rwanda –and in the midst of the Save Darfur anti Genocide movement– the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) populations from atrocity crimes; genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A not insignificant achievement of R2P has been to successfully pose a moral challenge to state sovereignty in situations where sovereign powers are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens at risk from mass atrocities. Converting this rhetorical commitment and moral momentum into tangible and effective action has, at best, been patchy. The question of if and how this responsibility extends towards refugees fleeing these crimes is, as it always has been, severely contested. [continue reading]
In the summer of 1922, Ruth Epperson Kennell, a children’s librarian, left New York City for the far reaches of Siberia. She travelled with her husband Frank and 132 other ‘pioneers’. In Siberia, they joined the Kuzbas colony, a utopian commune in the coal-mining town of Kemerovo, founded by ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, a leading Wobbly (Industrial Worker of the World) who had jumped bail in the US and escaped to Russia. Haywood and hundreds of other foreigners were eagerly establishing industrial and agricultural communes to aid the ‘new Russia’. Kennell claimed that the Kuzbas pioneers – re-enacting American settlement of the West and industrial development on a new frontier – were building, not a new Atlantis, but a ‘new Pennsylvania’.
In signing a two-year contract with the Society for Technical Aid to Soviet Russia, and leaving the comforts of middle-class life in the US, Kennell made a decision that was surprisingly popular. An article in the radical Liberator by the proletarian bard Mike Gold, headlined ‘Wanted: Pioneers for Siberia,’ provided the spark that set the Kennells’ life in a new direction. It also gestured toward the attractions of a broader exodus that was not just about escaping the US: these pioneers wanted a part in the building of something new. This was especially the case for US women at a moment in which they’d gained the vote but otherwise nothing had really changed for them. Appealing to ‘the Young Intellectuals who have not fled to the boulevard cafés of Paris, there to sip cocktails in a sort of noble protest against American Puritanism’, Gold’s article convinced the Kennells to pack up their worldly goods and leave their 18-month-old son in California with his paternal grandmother. [continue reading]
We will build a wall made up of policies and immigration controls, of numbers in the “tens of thousands.” Once erected, it will fortify a landscape of faintly dappled Britishness, in which children will play, and nurses will once again wear caps that make them look like angels.
Theresa May probably really does believe that it is possible to build a “cohesive society” by reducing annual net migration to “the tens of thousands.” It is in her manifesto, where she also promises to ‘bear down’ on non-EU migrants. Many people—including all university vice chancellors, the CBI and the Institute of Directors and, allegedly, some of her cabinet—think not. Even the laziest of PPE undergraduates will tell you that the economic consequences of an arbitrary, uncosted, setting of migration figures are probably not going to be good. Some are asking when taking back control came to mean signing up to the numerological fantasies of a suicide cult. [continue reading]
Age of Revolutions
There are many great resources available to historians of the French Revolution outside of France. The Newberry Library in Chicago is one of them. Fortunately for scholars of the revolution, the Newberry has just completed a massive undertaking. They have digitized more than 30,000 pamphlets and placed them online for free. To help draw attention to this amazing resource, we interviewed Jennifer Thom, the Director of Digital Initiatives and Services at the Newberry Library. She offers amazing insight into not only the digitization process, but also the strengths and pitfalls of such a project. [continue reading]