This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Newspaper notice, June 19th, 1942. (Province Newspaper/Vancouver Public Library)

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

From making liberal internationalism great again to why nation-states are good, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Donald Trump has made liberal internationalism great again

Daniel W. Drezner
Washington Post

Donald Trump expressed a lot of themes in his inaugural address, but the overriding one was that foreign policy would be conducted through the prism of America first.

From this moment on, it’s going to be America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

For a president who mangles his words a lot, that seems pretty clear. Trump’s foreign policy rested on the principle that the global status quo was screwing over America, whether through bad trade deals, influxes of immigrants, or allies free-riding off America’s security umbrella. With an America first strategy, Trump pledged to abrogate trade deals, sever alliances, and shut off flows of migrants to ensure native Americans benefited.

Most of the foreign policy community deplored this policy cocktail. Many pundits, however, argued that Trump’s populism would appeal to Americans disillusioned with the stale offerings of the liberal international order. Some of us pointed out that maybe, just maybe, Trump’s populism was not all that popular. But we were coastal elites, so what did we know? Quite a lot, as it turns out. [continue reading]

How my family’s history in London hid a revolutionary Russian secret

Donna Ferguson

When the acclaimed historian Mark Mazower decided to write a book about his family history, he had no idea about the secrets he would uncover. “I just had this question: what is it to be a historian of your own family? How does history produce you, your personality, your outlook on life, your relationships and the things you value?”

To answer these questions, Mazower, a professor of history at Columbia University in New York city, decided to delve deep into his dead father’s past. “When historians use biography, they generally either write about very noteworthy people – which was not the case with my father – or they use the lives they are writing about to illustrate some bigger story.” He wanted to do the opposite, and investigate how historical events shape the lives of apparently insignificant individuals. “Most of the time, as a historian, you can’t do that because you don’t know the people well enough. The only people you’re likely to know well enough, where you can even begin to do that, are members of your family. So my question was: how did history produce my dad?” [continue reading]

Empty streets and abandoned cars show the tragedy of Canada’s Japanese internment

Brendan Seibel

The first Japanese settler emigrated to British Columbia in 1877. It didn’t take long before he and those who followed were confronted by systemic racism. Canadians of Asian descent weren’t given the right to vote and were excluded from major industries; caps controlled the flow of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian emigrés; and at times the right to entry was denied wholesale. White mobs attacked Vancouver’s Chinese and Japanese neighborhoods in 1907 during anti-immigration demonstrations. Through it all people kept coming, built new lives and started families.

Roughly 22,000 Japanese Canadians lived in B.C. when Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong were attacked in 1941. Local politicians seized on wartime paranoia to fulfill their desire for a whites-only province, pressuring the federal government to enact an exclusion zone within 100-miles of the Pacific coast. On February 24th, 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King signed an order initiating the internment of citizens of Japanese descent. [continue reading]

How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Revolutionized Public Health

Laura Spinney

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1918, the world experienced the greatest tidal wave of death since the Black Death, possibly in the whole of human history. We call that tidal wave the Spanish flu, and many things changed in the wake of it. One of the most profound revolutions took place in the domain of public health.

The world was a very different place in the first decades of the 20th century. Notably, there was no real joined-up thinking when it came to healthcare. Throughout the industrialized world, most doctors either worked for themselves or were funded by charities or religious institutions, and many people had no access to them at all. [continue reading]

Why nation-states are good

Dani Rodrik

The populist revolt of our day reflects the deep rift that has opened between the worldview of the global intellectual and professional elites, and that of ordinary citizens. These two groups now live in parallel social worlds and orient themselves using different cognitive maps. Yet the intellectual consensus that brought us to this chasm remains intact. Proposed remedies among mainstream thought leaders rarely go beyond an invocation of the problem of inequality, and a bit more focus on compensating the losers.

But the problem lies deeper, in elites’ attachment to a globalist mindset that underplays and weakens the nation-state. Without a shift, we might find not only our open global economy, but also our liberal, democratic order swept away by the backlash wrought by the blind spots and excesses of this mindset. [continue reading]

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