This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950) is collection of science fiction short stories about the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing an environmentally devastated Earth and coming into conflict with aboriginal Martians (left). The film poster for Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist science fiction film, Space Is The Place (1974), (right).

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

From colonizing Mars to the imperial origins of gun rights, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Colonizing Mars: Practicing Other Worlds on Earth

Lisa Ruth Rand

The yearning to homestead other worlds isn’t anything new. The same desires that motivated European imperial pursuits and Anglo-American westward expansion in centuries past underpin many 20th-century arguments for extraterrestrial empire on the “final frontier.” Innumerable novels and movies feed a mainstream audience hungry for imaginary scenarios in which humans travel to other planets, and wonder what we might do once we get there.

In books and films, tales of tragic conquest are as common as fantasies of brighter futures in which humanity corrects the wrongs committed on Earth. Writers including Ray Bradbury and Sun Ra have even imagined radical futures of racial justice through the establishment of extraterrestrial black communities. Space is the place where the righteous of humanity may build new utopias and leave behind a ruined Earth. [continue reading]

In the Service of Empire: An Indian Muslim’s Journey to Mecca in 1920

Louis Allday

For a period of over 150 years, from 1820 until its withdrawal in 1971, Britain was the dominant political and military power in the Persian Gulf. Throughout this period of domination, Britain’s indirect rule was managed by a small number of British colonial officials employed in a network of political agencies around the region which reported to its headquarters, the Political Residency in Bushire (Bahrain from 1947 onwards). These men—remarkably few in number given the size of the area for which they were responsible—were supported by a larger body of British-Indian staff who were employed in a number of roles including secretaries, translators, doctors, and soldiers.

One such official was Siddiq Hasan, the “Indian Assistant” at Britain’s Political Agency in Bahrain. The island was a vital component of Britain’s so-called informal empire in the region. Consequently, Hasan’s position was a significant one. A number of files containing letters and reports written by Hasan appear in the India Office Records at the British Library in London. One such file from 1920 provides a fascinating insight into the tumultuous era in which he lived, as well as a glimpse of the personality of the man himself. More broadly, the file reveals the emergence of a number of trends that were to have an enormous impact on the future of the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Notably, the Al Saud family’s manipulation of Wahhabism to serve their political objectives and the tension that this eventually generated between them and members of their military force, the Ikhwan. [continue reading]

“The Crown” goes to Ghana?: Media representation, global politics, and African histories

Jennifer Anne Hart
Ghana on the Go

While the history of Ghana may not hold a significant place in contemporary popular consciousness, it is entirely appropriate that it would feature prominently in a narrative about the Queen as the sun was setting on the British empire and the United Kingdom sought to renegotiate its position in a new, multi-polar world dominated not by the old imperial powers of the 19thcentury but rather by the new superpowers of the Cold War.  As Jean Allman has argued, in the 1950s and 1960s, Ghana (and other countries around the continent) sat at the center of global politics.

It was a time “when radical visions of a new world order were being generated from the streets of Accra to the mountains of Kenya, from the townships of apartheid South Africa to the Qasbah in Algiers.”  At the time of the Queen’s visit in 1961, Nkrumah was not only the leader of the newly independent nation-state of Ghana (the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence from European colonial rule).  He also positioned himself and Ghana as a leader among the continent’s new nationalists – the “Black Star of Africa”.  As he declared at Ghana’s independence celebrations on March 6, 1957, “That new Africa is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs. We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, that we are prepared to lay our foundation – our own African personality.”  Independence itself was only the first step, he argued:  “OUR INDEPENDENCE IS MEANINGLESS UNLESS IT IS LINKED UP WITH THE TOTAL LIBERATION OF AFRICA.”  Liberation required political independence, certainly.  But, for Nkrumah, it also required radical new visions of the continent’s economic and political future, rooted in African values. [continue reading]

Movable Empire

Julie Greene

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the United States acquired an economic, political, and colonial empire. That empire transformed the US. Yet while scholars have examined many aspects of American expansionism, they’ve neglected a key issue: imperial labor migrations.

From across North America, the Caribbean, southern Europe, and Asia, men and women labored in the service of global American power. They built roads and canals; cooked, washed, and cleaned homes; they served in the military, assisting in colonization and pacification of foreign populations. They nursed the wounded, and they harvested bananas and sugar cane to build profits for corporate capitalism. Their labor built the empire from the bottom up. [continue reading]

The Brutal Origins of Gun Rights

Patrick Blanchfield
New Republic

We will never know for certain who was the first person shot dead in the Americas. Visitors to Historic Jamestowne in Virginia can see the skeleton of a young man, no older than 19; the pellets of lead that killed him are embedded in a shattered knee. Known only as JR102C, the man’s identity has been the subject of much debate. The strongest theory holds that he was a dashing young military officer named George Harrison, and that he was killed in a duel.

But this European settler was hardly the first human being in the “New World” killed by a gun. Forensic scientists excavating sites in Peru have found at least one gunshot fatality nearly a century older, an Inca man shot through the back of his skull by a conquistador. He appears to have been a noncombatant, possibly executed after a 1536 uprising, his body dumped in a mass grave alongside those of women and children. Many of their remains show signs of mutilation and abuse. No one can even pretend to guess at his name or theirs. [continue reading]

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