From “global” Boston to who’s to blame for partition, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Global Urban History
The first age of globalization between around 1870 and World War I created a strategic new role for cities, making them into pivotal sites for the worldwide movement of capital, goods, and labor. And yet, urbanization was never merely derivative of this larger process. Cities were more than nodes in wide-ranging networks or points where faraway connections became localized. They emerged, rather, as places where global integration was itself produced and forged, always via social and political conflict.
The city of Boston assumed the attributes of a “global city” in this period as its preeminent business leaders pulled away from the manufacturing economy of its adjoining region and turned toward far-flung business ventures. [continue reading]
In Book 4 of the Odyssey, Odysseus’s son Telemachus sails to King Menelaus’s glittering palace for news of his father’s fate after the Trojan War. Both men recall the lost Odysseus and weep. The King’s wife, Helen, wisely slips something into the wine bowl, a drug that momentarily allows them to forget their sorrow. She halts the action through her knowledge of magic long enough to share her own recollection of Odysseus’s heroics in Troy, after which the men retire to the ‘sweet relief of sleep’. In a narrative that begins with a war incited capriciously by the gods and ends, finally, with a fateful homecoming, it is a brief moment of reprieve from continuous loss and toil. Certainly her manoeuver throws a skilful veil over her role as the war’s cause. Yet her ploy teaches us something about collective memory, too. To remember loss incompletely, to strip it of grief, is to delay the act of mourning, to put off the pain of return—it is as good as forgetting. But sometimes, perhaps, we need to forget.
I think it is fair to say that my generation of the Indian diaspora knows little about Partition seventy years ago. Only recently, researching for a novel about transgenerational trauma, migration and the effects of the Green Revolution, did I learn about about my own family’s experiences. [continue reading]
Recently, the Spectator published an article entitled “Verwoerd looking” on both its British and Australian platforms. The article quickly gained a great deal of attention online, as it is an unabashed reframing and defence of the apartheid system. In case there was any doubt that this is apologism, the title of the original blog post was not “Verwoerd looking”, which is non-sensical and cries out for a sub-editor, but “Verwoerd looking better”. The sub-title in the Spectator is still “It seems some of the instigators of apartheid may have had a point.”
In July 1943, one month after a race riot shook Detroit, Vice President Henry Wallace spoke to a crowd of union workers and civic groups:
“We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home. Those who fan the fires of racial clashes for the purpose of making political capital here at home are taking the first step toward Nazism.”
The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper at the time, praised Wallace for endorsing what they called the “Double V” campaign. The Double Victory campaign, launched by the Courier in 1942, became a rallying cry for black journalists, activists and citizens to secure both victory over fascism abroad during World War II and victory over racism at home. [continue reading]
Alex von Tunzelmann
New York Times
Seventy years ago this week, India and Pakistan became independent from the British Empire. The celebrations were cut short as the partition on religious lines ripped the subcontinent apart. Partition changed millions of lives, and the shape of the world, forever. No one knows exactly how many were beaten, mutilated, tortured or raped in communal violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. The death toll has been estimated at 200,000 to two million. Between 10 million and 20 million people were displaced.
Who was to blame? Many in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh (which was East Pakistan until 1971) and Britain have asked that question. There are plenty of candidates. Among the principal players, almost everyone in this story made a decision or misjudgment that contributed to the eventual disaster. [continue reading]