This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The debut of Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 (left), and a map of the fictional land of Wakanda from Jungle Action #6 (right).

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

From the link between Communism and Pan-Africanism to dancing in wartime, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Pan-Africanism and Communism: An Interview with Hakim Adi


Selim Nadi: How would you define Pan-Africanism?
Hakim Adi: Pan-Africanism can be considered both an ideology and a movement that grew out of the common struggles of those of African descent both in Africa and in the African diaspora against enslavement, colonial rule and the accompanying anti-African racism and various forms of Eurocentrism. The phrases Pan-African and Pan-Africanism did not emerge until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but an embryonic form Pan-Africanism was in evidence in the eighteenth century with such abolitionist organisations as the British-based Sons of Africa, led by former enslaved Africans such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano, which recognised the needs to Africans to unite together for common aims.

Pan-Africanism has assumed different forms at different times, but its key feature is a recognition that Africans, those from the continent and in the diaspora, face common forms of oppression, are engaged in a common struggle for liberation and therefore share a common destiny. Pan-Africanism therefore recognises the need for the unity of Africans, in order to achieve liberation, but also the desirability of the unity of continental Africa. It generally embraces the view that Africans in the diaspora share a common origin with those in the continent and recognises that those in the diaspora are entitled to return to their homeland. [continue reading]

New Findings on Clerical Involvement in the 1953 Coup in Iran

National Security Archive

Washington, D.C., March 7, 2018 – A passage from a recently declassified document on the 1953 coup in Iran alleges that senior Iranian clerics received “large sums of money” from U.S. officials in the days leading up to the August 19, 1953, overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. The document is apparently British but was located by researchers in files at the U.S. National Archives. It is posted in full today for the first time by the nongovernmental National Security Archive, based at The George Washington University.

The September 2, 1953, British memorandum titled “Persia: Political Review of the Recent Crisis” first appeared in partially declassified form in 1989 in a volume of the State Department’s official Foreign Relations of the United States(FRUS) series. However, that volume excised two key passages for security reasons. Tulane scholar Mark Gasiorowski and BBC correspondent Kambiz Fattahi each independently discovered the unexpurgated version at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. (Both versions are available here for comparison.) [continue reading]

Searching for Wakanda: The African Roots of the Black Panther Story

Thomas F. McDow

The much-anticipated film, Marvel’s Black Panther, has sold more tickets to its opening weekend than any movie in history, and the New York Times has called it “a defining moment for Black America.” The Black Panther himself is T’challa, the king of Wakanda, a mythical African nation that also happens to be the world’s most advanced civilization. The buzz leading up to the movie’s release has been filled with questions and discussion about the titular hero’s homeland. But, often lost in all the excitement is the fact that the fictional story of Wakanda has real historical origins in nuclear-age Congo.

The secret to Wakanda’s superiority is vibranium, an indestructible alien element that is found only in Wakanda but is in great demand by both scientists and evil-doers. The source of vibranium is a meteor that landed in the country long ago, and T’challa’s father kept it secret from the world as he developed his nation. The Black Panther and Wakanda first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1, 1966) and his story was elaborated in the next issue (#53, August 1966). Marvel Comics’ dynamic duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character. His debut was more than three months before Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California in October of that year. [continue reading]

Is Rex Tillerson pivoting on human rights?

Sarah B. Snyder
Washington Post

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sent conflicting signals on his department’s approach to human rights. If he releases the upcoming edition of the State Department’s annual country reports — which both assess foreign countries’ human rights records and signal U.S. commitment to the issue internationally — personally, it will demonstrate that he is returning to an approach more consistent with the past 40 years of U.S. foreign policy.

Last year, Tillerson did not attend the State Department’s rollout of the country reports. Tillerson was only a month into his tenure, and his absence drew rebukes from, among others, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); Human Rights Watch; and Tom Malinowski, who headed the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during the Obama administration. Observers interpreted Tillerson’s actions to indicate a downgrading of attention to human rights at the State Department. As Human Rights First official Rob Berschinski put it, his absence signaled that high-level U.S. officials “don’t have time to publicly defend those values.” [continue reading]

“We Danced While They Bombed”: Popular Dancing in Britain during the Second World War

Allison Abra
Reflections on War & Society

In the fall of 1939, during the first months of the Second World War, famed American war correspondent Edward R. Murrow undertook what he called an “investigation into London nightlife.” Describing a recent tour through some of the restaurants, hotels, and night-clubs in the city’s West End he observed that “business is good; has in fact improved since war came.” In particular Murrow noted that there were now more dance bands being featured than before the war, and that many establishments “where one could eat without musical distraction in the old days have now engaged small orchestras.” As Murrow summed it up, “Customers want to dance.”

The war was in its infancy when Murrow wrote, but the phenomenon that he observed would endure until its conclusion, when Britons celebrated their victory by dancing in the streets on VE Day. Additionally, as I discuss in my recent book Dancing in the English Style: Consumption, Americanisation, and National Identity in Britain, 1918-50, throughout the war, dancing took on a host of important cultural meanings that helped the British people express who they were as a nation, and to define how and why they were fighting. [continue reading]