This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

(Photo: Matt Kennedy/Disney/Marvel Studios)

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

From imperial history wars to Wakanda and black feminist political imagination, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Histories and Memories of Empire and ‘Illiberal Peace’ in Eurasia

Catherine Owen, Shairbek Juraev, Nick Megoran, David Lewis and John Heathershaw
University of Exeter

The significant decline in the level of engagement between Western countries and the countries of Eurasia is well documented. In the last five years, we have seen the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the closure of its last regional military base in Kyrgyzstan; a sharp decrease in trade between the EU and Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan; and the closure or downgrading of the offices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan respectively. The global influence of Western forms of governance – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – are at an all-time low and, with the countries of Europe and North America increasingly looking inward and illiberal, this downward trend looks to continue.

What impact does all this have on how we understand the way conflicts are managed and resolved in Eurasia? What principles – if any – ‘replace’ liberal ideas of getting to the root causes of the conflict, ensuring that all parties have the chance to air their grievances, facilitating internationally brokered peace agreements in ‘neutral’ third countries, and reconstructing domestic institutions along democratic and free market lines? And how do regional authoritarian heavyweights and (former) imperial powers, namely Russia and China, seek to influence the outcomes of conflicts in neighbouring states? Indeed, how novel are these developments given the historical constitution of global politics by imperial and illiberal modes of power? Continue reading “Histories and Memories of Empire and ‘Illiberal Peace’ in Eurasia”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A statue of Saddam Hussein in front of the burning National Olympic Committee in Baghdad in 2003. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

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

With a special Iraq War edition, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Did Race and Racism Exist in the Middle Ages?

Geraldine Heng
University of Texas at Austin

Cross-posted from Not Even Past

For generations, race studies scholars—historians and literary critics alike—believed that race and its pernicious spawn racism were modern-day phenomena only. This is because race was originally defined in biological terms, and believed to be determined by skin color, physiognomy, and genetic inheritance. The more astute, however, came to realize race could also be a matter of cultural classification, as Ann Stoler’s study of the colonial Dutch East Indies makes plain:

Race could never be a matter of physiology alone. Cultural competency in Dutch customs, a sense of ‘belonging’ in a Dutch cultural milieu…disaffiliation with things Javanese…domestic arrangements, parenting styles, and moral environment…were crucial to defining…who was to be considered European.*

Yet even after we recognized that people could be racialized through cultural and social criteria—that race could be a social construction—the European Middle Ages was still seen as outside the history of race (I speak only of the European Middle Ages because I’m a euromedievalist—it’s up to others to discuss race in Islamic, Jewish, Asian, African, and American premodernities).

This meant that the atrocities of the medieval period—roughly 500-1500 CE—such as the periodic extermination of Jews in Europe, the demand that they mark their bodies and the bodies of their children with a large visible badge, the herding of Jews into specific towns in England, and the vilification of Jews for putatively possessing a fetid stench, a male menses, subhuman and bestial characteristics, and a congenital need to ingest the blood of Christian children whom they tortured and crucified to death — all these and more were considered to be just premodern “prejudice” and not acts of racism. Continue reading “Did Race and Racism Exist in the Middle Ages?”

Empire by Imitation?

“The next thing to do,” Puck, 1898.

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

US Economic Imperialism within a British World System

Historians have been busy chipping away at the myth of the exceptional American Empire, usually with an eye towards the British Empire. Most comparative studies of the two empires, however, focus on the pre-1945 British Empire and the post-1945 American Empire.[i] Why this tendency to avoid contemporaneous studies of the two empires? Perhaps because such a study would yield more differences than it would similarities, particularly when examining the imperial trade policies of the two empires from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.

For those imperial histories that have attempted such a side-by-side comparison, the so-called Open Door Empire of the United States is depicted as having copied the free-trade imperial policies of its estranged motherland by the turn of the century; these imitative policies reached new Anglo-Saxonist heights following US colonial acquisitions in the Caribbean and the Pacific from the Spanish Empire in 1898, followed closely by the fin-de-siècle establishment of the Anglo-American ‘Great Rapprochement’.[ii]

Gallagher and Robinson’s 1953 ‘imperialism of free trade’ thesis—which explored the informal British Empire that arose following Britain’s unilateral adoption (and at times coercive international implementation) of free-trade policies from the late 1840s to the early 1930s—has played a particularly crucial theoretical role in shaping the historiography of the American Empire. In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), William Appleman Williams provided the first iteration of the imitative open-door imperial thesis, wherein he explicitly used the ‘imperialism of free trade’ theory in order to uncover an American informal empire. ‘The Open Door Policy’, Williams asserted, ‘was America’s version of the liberal policy of informal empire or free-trade imperialism’.[iii] The influence of Williams’s provocative thesis led to the creation of the most influential school of US imperial history—the ‘Wisconsin School’—which would continue in its quest to unearth American open-door or free-trade imperialism for decades to come.[iv] As a result, the contrasting ways in which the American Empire grew in the shadow of the British Empire have largely remained hidden. Continue reading “Empire by Imitation?”

Old Man in A Hurry

Richard Toye
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History

Felix Klos, Churchill’s Last Stand: The Struggle to Unite Europe (I.B.Tauris, 2017)

Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention (Oxford University Press, 2017)

In the run-up to 2016 Brexit referendum, advocates of staying in the EU made significant efforts to invoke the memory of Winston Churchill. Remainers pointed to the fact that, in Zurich in 1946, he had urged the creation of ‘a kind of United States of Europe’. They seemed to regard him as something of a trump card – if Britain’s iconic wartime leader had been one of the fathers of the EU, who would dare to be against? However, as a persuasive tool, it never quite seemed to work. On the one hand, Leavers could legitimately point out that Churchill had said that Great Britain should be one of the ‘the friends and sponsors of the new Europe’, not one of its actual members. On the other hand, the message was just not quite simple enough; against the ingrained, popular bulldog image, it was tough to sell Churchill as a complex figure who was prepared to make concessions on British sovereignty in the interests of future peace.

It also didn’t help that Churchill’s pro-European campaign took place during a period of his life – the 1945-51 Opposition years – that few members of the public know much about. Popular memory of Churchill focuses to some extent on the 1930s but above all on the war years, and the summer of 1940 in particular. In fact, then, the referendum campaign’s most rhetorically effective invocation of Churchill was made by David Cameron during his appearance on Question Time. He did not attempt to argue that Churchill would have favoured membership of the EU as such, but rather – in response to an audience member who described him (Cameron) as a Twenty First Century Neville Chamberlain – he deployed a more emotionally powerful response:

At my office I sit two yards away from cabinet room where Winston Churchill decided in May to fight on against Hitler. The best and greatest decision perhaps anyone has made in our country. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be fighting with the French, the Poles and the others. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t quit on democracy, he didn’t quit on freedom.

We want to fight for those things today. You can’t win if you’re not in the room.

Moreover, when one actually looks at the details of Churchill’s position on Europe, it’s not clear that he fits neatly into either the Leave or the Remain narrative. The two books under review, both excellent in their different ways, illustrate the point. Continue reading “Old Man in A Hurry”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

east india
The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. Illustration: Benjamin West (1738–1820)/British Library

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

From when the Ottoman Empire scrambled for Africa to how to stop current and future wars, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”