This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Cover detail from Paul Irish’s Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney.

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

From resisting the pride of the British Empire to the day Nixon began his comeback, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The British empire’s hidden history is one of resistance, not pride

Priyamvada Gopal

Some news never gets old. Twitter recently gave fresh life to a 2014 YouGov poll when imperialism’s leading televangelist, Niall Ferguson, reposted its findings that 59% of respondents believed the British empire was something to be “proud” of, while 19% felt “ashamed”. Ferguson determined that he personally had “won” some ongoing contest in which railways and the English language trumped slavery, massacres and land grabs.

In Brexit Britain, sustaining itself on dreams of a global renaissance in the embrace of its former colonies, a significant number of people likely believe the empire was a winning proposition. Between the saccharine justifications and convenient omissions of popular histories – largely written by privately educated white men – and the institutional failure to provide a reasonable schooling in the bare facts of imperial history, many Britons know little about the empire. “Pride” and ‘“shame” are both emotive and irrelevant. [continue reading]

Morocco and Algeria keep building more barriers

Marsa Ben Mhidi

HAD Algeria and Morocco honoured their agreement back in 1989 to form an economic union, along with Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, they would be among the Middle East’s largest economies. Their poor border regions would be booming crossroads. Over the decade to 2015, reckons the World Bank, their two economies would each have almost have doubled in size.

Instead, Algeria grew only by 33% and Morocco by 37%, as both governments instead reinforced their barricades. Their north-west corner of Africa remains “the most separated region on the continent”, says Adel Hamaizia, an Algerian economist. While sub-Saharan countries agree common currencies and trade zones, Algeria digs deeper ditches. Morocco revamps its berms and renews its razor wire. Concrete walls rise on both sides. Frustrated families shout greetings across the divide. Tantalisingly, both have built hundreds of kilometres of east-west highways which stop short of their common border. Islamic empires once spanned the Maghreb, the land of the setting sun, as Arabs term north-western Africa. [continue reading]

No Dunkirk Spirit Can Save Britain From Brexit Defeat

Jenni Russell
New York Times

How I wish that Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Dunkirk,” had not been released at this moment in history. The reviewers have been near unanimous in their praise: searing, complex, uncompromising about the savagery of war and death. Yet the essential message of the film, with its narrative of heroic retreat in order to fight another day, cannot help but feed the national pride in Britain’s capacity to triumph eventually, no matter what the odds.

Nothing could be less helpful to our collective psyche as the country blunders toward Brexit. We hear much about American exceptionalism, but Britain feels it, too. We are the nation of empire, whose ancestors once controlled a quarter of the globe; we are the mother of parliaments; we stood alone against Hitler; we have not been conquered for a thousand years. We feel remarkable. [continue reading]

No hiding place

Stephen Fitzpatrick

Family histories have become the hottest thing in recent years — eclipsed in popularity in the online space only by gardening and pornography, or so it’s said — but they carry a special weight for indigenous Australia. There they’re not just a hobby. They’re about documenting survival.

A new historiography of black and white Australia is remaking the way we think about our past. The repeated slaughters on which the nation was built are slowly being unpicked, the accounts of their almost casual brutality multiplying. But along with that work also come some occasionally counter-intuitive ­conclusions. The received wisdom, for instance, that 1788 was a calamity from which pre-existing societies could never recover is crumbling at the edges, with growing material evidence of a cultural sophistication and resilience that took a body blow but refused to give up. [continue reading]

The Day Nixon Began His Comeback

Robert Rakove
New York Times

Richard Nixon’s triumphant march to the presidency began on July 29, 1967, along the shores of a small, wooded lake an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. The former California legislator and vice president of the United States had been invited to give the Lakeside Address to the Bohemian Club, a selective, somewhat secretive all-male society, which meets annually amid the redwood trees of Northern California. For Nixon, the invitation represented both a great honor and a priceless moment for personal reinvention. His political career had been seemingly derailed by two shattering electoral losses: in the 1960 presidential campaign, and the 1962 California gubernatorial election.

Former President Herbert Hoover had, for many years, given the Lakeside Address. Stepping into Hoover’s shoes was, Nixon later reflected, both an “emotional assignment for me” and an “unparalleled opportunity to reach some of the most important and influential men” in America. [continue reading]

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