This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Mihkel Ram Tamm (centre), Estonian philosopher and expert on Sanskrit, yoga and meditation, became a guru for many hippies in Soviet Estonia and elsewhere in the USSR. This photo appears in the documentary film Soviet Hippies, directed by Terje Toomistu. Photo: Courtesy of Vladimir Wiedemann.

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

From Soviet hippies to living through the terror of partition, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The hippies of Soviet Lviv

Andrey Kurkov

If, in the United States, the hippie movement was born as a protest against capitalist values, and later also as a protest against the Vietnam War and war in general, in the Soviet Union ‘capitalist values’ were categorically impossible. Those who spoke out in opposition to, for example, the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, were a handful of Soviet dissidents, not local disciples of the American hippies. In fact, the hippie movement in the USSR was quite small in comparison to the analogous movement in the United States, where hippie festivals brought together as many as half a million participants.

American hippies, protesting against the capitalist system, created a new market, even if they themselves did not recognize this at first: products for hippies. Clothes, music, accessories. The flexible capitalist system quickly and adeptly reacted to the appearance of a new group of consumers. As a result, or perhaps this was the case from the beginning, the main marker of hippies became their outward appearance, fashion and the music they listened to, not their ideology or social and political activity. If the market reacted to the existence of hippies, American society remained more or less indifferent to this phenomenon. [continue reading]

Britain pressed US to join Iran coup against Mosaddegh

David J. Lynch
Financial Times

The British government in 1952 repeatedly asked the US to join in a coup aimed at toppling Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s prime minister, according to newly declassified State Department documents. The files offer “the first officially-released confirmation of Britain’s expressed aim in late 1952 to persuade Washington to help oust Mosaddegh,” according to two scholars affiliated with the National Security Archive, the private non-partisan research organisation that obtained the documents.

The “Top Secret” State Department memoranda — including one entitled “British proposal to organise a coup d’état in Iran” — also offer fresh insights into London’s assessment of Iranian politics and the threat to British interests that eventually led to the August 1953 coup. [continue reading]

Escaping the harem: postcolonial explorations of Algerian women in art

Baraa Arar
Media Diversified

Immediately after the French occupation of Algeria, a variety of Algerian-inspired cultural products were imported to France. French oriental painters including Eugene Delacroix and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Algerian women from their own perspective—the white male colonizer. The painter-subject relationship is one of a visual power imbalance, where the identity of the subject is predicated on the fantasies of such men.  Delacroix portrays the Algerian women as exclusively available to the white men who paint them and later, to those who consume them in art galleries. Malek Alloula, in The Colonial Harem, says the sole obsession of the soldier and the colonizer is to establish an orgy with native women on the territory they have conquered. In other words, the Algerian woman is not seen as an individual with agency and within her cultural context, but instead, is a commodity acquired with the colonization of land.

Algerian women’s bodies became a topographical map symbolic of the battleground available to occupation by the French colonial forces. In Delacroix’s work, the two figures in the middle do not acknowledge the audience, one has her back to us, and the other who lies on the very left holds soft eye contact as she opens her body to us. She is reminiscent of Titian’s iconic Venus of Urbino (below). Delacroix positions her body as readily available to the viewer. Her eyes say “come hither.” The women’s dress is ornamental and their actions frivolous. The warmth of the painting gives it a dream-like, fantastical aesthetic. [continue reading]

China’s final dynasty offers a lesson for Brexit Britain on the perils of the outside world

Tom Harper

With Britain’s position in Brexit negotiations weakened by the failure of the ruling Conservative party to win a majority in the country’s recent general election in June, we should ask ourselves how the country found itself in this situation.

A major plank of the support for the leave campaign was a nostalgic longing to return to an idealised Britain of the past – and the UK is not alone in such reminiscences. The Chinese politician Sun Yat Sen, who inspired and led the revolution that overthrew China’s final Qing dynasty in 1911, spoke of a “longing for the China that once was”. [continue reading]

‘The wounds have never healed’: living through the terror of partition

Moni Mohsin

In the early 90s, I went from Lahore to Delhi to attend a wedding in the family of some Hindu friends. At one of its many events, I bumped into a friend from Lahore who was also visiting the city. We were chatting in Punjabi when we noticed a well-dressed, middle-aged man lurking nearby, apparently eavesdropping on our conversation. Noticing our discomfiture, he apologised.

“When you mentioned Lahore, I couldn’t tear myself away,” he said. “You see, we are Hindus, but my family was Lahori. We had a house in Model Town and I attended Aitchison college. We left at partition. I have never gone back. When my wife passed away, 17 years ago, I thought that even though I had no children or siblings I would get by. But now I feel the creeping loneliness of old age and what I think of most is the happiness of my childhood. I have a yearning to return to Lahore. I want to see it once before I die.” [continue reading]

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