From the brutality of colonialism to how studying the Vietnam War has changed, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
In 1950, Aimé Césaire, one of the clearest voices of the 20th century, looked back at the long history of colonialism that was coming to an end. He wanted to judge colonialism from the ashes of Nazism, an ideology that surprised the innocent in Europe but which had been fostered slowly in Europe’s colonial experience.
After all, the instruments of Nazism – racial superiority as well as brutal, genocidal violence – had been cultivated in the colonial worlds of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Césaire, the effervescent poet and communist, had no problem with the encounter between cultures. The entanglements of Europe’s culture with that of Africa and Asia had forged the best of human history across the Mediterranean Sea. But colonialism was not cultural contact. It was brutality. [continue reading]
Barry Godfrey and Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
The children of convicts born in the Australian colonies grew up taller than they would have done if their parents had not been sent into exile, our latest study shows.
Male Tasmanian-born prisoners, arrested in the second half of the nineteenth century, were over four centimetres taller, on average, than transported convicts. And they were nearly two centimetres taller than free migrants who were born in Britain and Ireland. This height advantage provides a vivid illustration of the difference in conditions experienced by old- and new-world working-class people in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. [continue reading]
A fundamental question about the Revolution’s civilian casualties was reopened at the West Cork History Festival last month: were Protestants harmed because they were Protestants or were they targeted as part of a non-sectarian campaign that also included “loyal” Catholics?
Evidence from the Civil War suggests that while the religious minority faced some prejudice in the early Free State, Catholics, including ex-servicemen and Royal Irish Constabulary personnel, also suffered for their perceived connection to Britain. As pro- and anti-treaty forces clashed over the terms of the 1922 independence settlement, local communities drove out representatives of the old regime – in attacks that sometimes also aimed to seize property, including land. [continue reading]
David G. Morgan-Owen
Images of future war were a prominent feature of British popular culture in the half century before the First World War. Writers like H.G. Wells thrilled their readers with tales of an extra-terrestrial attack in his 1897 The War of the Worlds, and numerous others wrote of French, German, or Russian invasions of Britain. The genre was so pervasive that it moved a young P.G. Woodhouse to satirise it in his 1909 story The Swoop! Or, How Clarence Saved England. “England was not merely beneath the heel of the invader. It was beneath the heels of nine invaders,” he wrote, laconically observing, “there was barely standing-room.”
Historians have long been aware of the prevalence of British fears of invasion during this period. They have been interpreted widely: as a manifestation of concerns at the health and “efficiency” of the British race and Empire, an echo of the “Weary Titans” faltering steps into the twentieth century, and a means of stirring the British people to meet the rising threat of Germany, amongst others. What is far less clear is the relationship between these fears and official policy. Were they, as Niall Ferguson has observed, “completely divorced from strategic reality”? [continue reading]
Mark Atwood Lawrence
These are boom times for historians of the Vietnam War. One reason is resurgent public interest in a topic that had lost some of its salience in American life during the 1990s. At that time, the end of the Cold War and surging confidence about U.S. power seemed to diminish the relevance of long ago controversies and the need to draw lessons from America’s lost war.
But then came the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: grueling conflicts that, in key respects, resembled the war in Southeast Asia three decades earlier. Critics complained that George W. Bush had mired the nation in “another Vietnam,” and military strategists focused anew on the earlier war for clues about fighting insurgents in distant, inhospitable places. For their part, historians seized the opportunity to reinterpret Vietnam for a younger generation and especially to compare and contrast the Vietnam conflict with America’s new embroilments. [continue reading]