This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Beirut air connections, 1950s. French Foreign Ministry Archives, La Courneuve

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

From James Baldwin’s Istanbul to the co-dependency of empires, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

James Baldwin’s Istanbul

Suzy Hansen
Public Books

“Baby, I’m broke, I’m sick. I need your help,” James Baldwin said to a friend when he landed in Europe, looking for a place to rest. This time, his European city of choice wasn’t Paris. It was Istanbul.

Many people might be surprised to learn that James Baldwin lived on and off in Turkey throughout the 1960s, the most dynamic and violent years of the civil rights movement in America. Baldwin was one of the great literary and moral witnesses to the struggle of black Americans. Turkey, nearly destroyed by World War I, was by midcentury a poor, fledgling republic with a confused secular yet Islamic identity. It was a place that seemed to have little to do with Baldwin’s main preoccupations, or with America at all. [continue reading]

Exchange Ships: A Paradigm in Global Diplomacy

Madeleine Herren-Oesch
Humanitarianism & Human Rights

[…] The Swiss practice of “good offices” appear as consequence of an early industrialized and export-oriented society. The early presence of Swiss in Asia left their imprints in form of a specific understanding of global presence, demands of markets, and expertise, documenting global opportunities of small and neutral states in the wake of great powers. In this research project, this approach is discussed with the metaphor of Switzerland as a “global nation”.

We argue that the new reading of the Swiss «good offices» unfolds hidden parts of the global history of World War II. One of the most spectacular but little-known activities during the war in the Pacific gets into view: the exchange of «enemy nationals» through neutral ships. These exchange activities offer a crucial and new understanding of the question to what extent the multiple layers of globality shaped the theatre of war with long lasting consequences for the postwar period. [continue reading]

Switch-cities, decolonization, and globalization: Singapore, Beirut, Dakar

Cyrus Schayegh
Afro-Asian Visions

In the 1940s-70s, a handful of cities functioned as ‘switches’ — switch-cities, we may say — between multiple recently decolonized countries in one region, and global trade, finance, communication, transport, and knowledge circuits. For instance, for the Arab East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq) and the Arabian Peninsula, Beirut played this role from the late 1940s; from the 1950s, Dakar did so for West Africa and Singapore for much of Southeast Asia. This was because already by the later nineteenth century, these cities had been (then imperial) hubs, and because they remained in demand even when ‘their’ region’s countries became independent.

Fledgling countries needed these cities’ global connections; for example, several Arab countries relied on knowledge managed ­­at the American University of Beirut. Vice versa, actors from outside the region needed these cities for easy access to recently decolonized countries; thus, the global rubber trade depended on Singaporeans’ relationships in Indonesia and Malaya. [continue reading]

Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 used by UK to boost weapon sales

Jamie Doward

The British government saw Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as an “unparalleled opportunity” to sell arms to Gulf states, according to recently declassified secret documents. The memos, released by the National Archives, reveal how in the build-up to the 1990 Gulf war ministers and civil servants scrambled to ensure Britain’s arms manufacturers could take advantage of the anticipated rise in orders for military hardware.

The documents include confidential briefings from Alan Clark, then defence procurement minister, to the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, as he toured Gulf states on the eve of the war. The government’s efforts reaped dividends. The war provided a significant fillip for arms sales to the region and helped nurture a strong relationship that continues to this day. [continue reading]

Co-Dependent Empires

Anna  Brinkman
Imperial Entanglements

Having spent the past year thinking, researching, and writing about the entanglements and encounters between Spanish and British citizens across the two empires, I was left trying to explain why the interactions of these two empires hold so many of us in thrall. The solution I eventually formed was that through their encounters and entanglements, Britain and Spain formed a fairly unique relationship among early modern/modern empires. The question remained, however, what made the relationship unique and of continued interest?

Was it the wars and small conflicts between these two empires fought from the 16th through the beginnings of the 19th century? Certainly the story of the Spanish Armada and Anson’s capture of the Acapulco treasure ship (to name but two) has captivated and warped British historical memory. Novels, and subsequently television, have capitalized on the Napoleonic era entanglements between Britain and Spain in the form of the beloved Horatio Hornblower and his time of captivity amongst the Spanish. Other imperial rivalries, defined by conflict, however, received similar attentions and that of Britain and Spain is often overshadowed by that of Britain and France. [continue reading]

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