From facing empire in an age of revolution to connecting urban development with colonialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Kate Fullagar and Michael A. McDonnell
Age of Revolutions
The “Age of Revolution” is most often characterised by the intense political struggles that took place in Europe, Asia and the Americas. But another revolutionary dimension of this era was the profound acceleration in encounters and contacts between new peoples around the globe. As historian C.A. Bayly long ago noted, European imperial expansion was one of the main drivers of this phenomenon, but so too were indigenous peoples, especially in thickening and complicating relations between different societies.
While many scholars have looked at the expansion of imperialism and noted its links with globalisation, they have usually done so from European perspectives. Even as an increasing number of historians recognise the crucial roles indigenous people played in this process, few have tried to think comparatively about indigenous experiences within and across expanding imperial borders over the course of the revolutionary age. Granted, one reason for the scholarly neglect has been a reluctance to perpetuate the European framing that such work must entail: to place indigenous peoples from vastly different spaces into historical relation is to give some special privilege to the European empires that encountered them separately. Yet this reluctance has also come at a cost: it has missed an opportunity to understand how indigenous people in this period shared some common means of accommodating, repelling, complicating, ignoring and shaping the European encounter in general. [continue reading]
Toynbee Prize Foundation
Why did you want to write a history of globalism?
I was attracted by the idea of the history of international thought and trying to understand what kinds of basic analytical categories people were using when thinking about the global in the past. I wanted to challenge the facile and simplistic ideas that people sometimes have in thinking about the international as something that is eternal or anachronistic or never changes. What I wanted to show is that people thought about it in the past in very different ways and their conceptions—of what it meant to have states relating to each other or what kinds of units we have in the world—have changed. [continue reading]
LA Review of Books
IN MARCH 1982, after months of heated negotiations among veterans groups, officials, and donors, a construction crew broke ground on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The sloping black granite walls may never have been built if not for the deft politicking of Jack Wheeler, the chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund responsible for planning and financing the memorial. Wheeler, a well-connected white West Point graduate, found that he could unite critics from the left and the right by separating the service and sacrifice of vets from the divisive politics of the war. He turned the Vietnam Veterans Memorial into a monument to the trauma suffered by American men who, dead or alive, never received the homecoming they deserved.
“The Vietnam veteran was the nigger of the 1970s,” Wheeler wrote, in 1984, describing the motivation behind the memorial. “You create a nigger by depriving a person of part of his or her personhood. Ignoring that person or inflicting traumatic hurts is the traditional way to treat a nigger.” Suggesting that the neglected veteran must be a white man, Wheeler added that, before the mistreatment of the Vietnam vet in the 1970s, “woman was the nigger of the 1960s” and “the black was the nigger of the 1950s.” The civil rights and feminist movements had overcorrected, he contended, transforming the most deserving among us — white war heroes — into a subordinate social class. White men suffered “traumatic hurts” as well, and that hurt was embodied by the veteran’s war wounds. [continue reading]
Today’s post is an online conversation between myself and Fiona Rintoul, the author of the historical fiction novel The Leipzig Affair. It is the story of Robert, a Scottish student who travels to the GDR in 1985, where he meets Magda, a young East German looking to escape. As a fan of the book, I had the chance to speak with Fiona – an accomplished journalist and translator, in addition to her literary talents – about fiction, history, and the Stasi.
Ned Richardson-Little: When writing a work of history, you are ultimately bound by the texts and artifacts of the era that make up your source base. While you have a greater freedom to go beyond this as a fiction writer, how do you see the constraints of history as you write about this era?
Fiona Rintoul: When you are writing a novel that is grounded in a particular time and place, I think you have a responsibility to make sure it is authentic, especially if you are writing about events that were traumatic for many people. The characters and events in The Leipzig Affair are fictional, but real people in the former GDR suffered the kinds of problems and injustices that my characters endure. Therefore, I did feel it was important to get the details right. [continue reading]
“It’s kind of manifest destiny…now the marketplace and the city has begun to catch up.” This is how architect David Manfredi recently described a billion-dollar residential, commercial, and retail complex to be built in 2015 in Baltimore. Speaking to a reporter, Manfredi was emphasizing how the new project he was working on would further extend the upscale development of Baltimore’s old waterfront into formerly industrial territory. His word choice was telling.
“Manifest destiny” was a phrase coined in 1845 to call for the westward expansion of white settlement and slavery across North America as well as to sanction Native American genocide and a war with Mexico. Probably unwittingly, the architect spelled out the real yet subtle connection between contemporary urban development across North America and the history of settler colonialism. These ostensibly distinct “destinies,” in Baltimore and the West had common roots in colonial and imperial investment dating back over a century. [continue reading]