From why educators struggle with the legacy of empire to the casual colonialism of Laura Croft and Indiana Jones, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Times Higher Education
Until recently, when the UK thought about its place in the world, it viewed itself politically and culturally as somewhere between the US and Europe. That orientation has been thrown into confusion by the ugly path of US politics since 9/11 and the myriad democratic, economic and social problems that, from Catalonia to Crimea, have engulfed Europe. One consequence is that students, like everyone else, want to know more about the UK’s historical relationships with the wider world. Interest in imperial legacies and organisations such as the Commonwealth, which is holding its heads of government meeting in London this week, are central to this. Yet while the appetite is there, sating it can prove challenging.
Peter Yeandle, a lecturer in history at Loughborough University, acknowledges that there has been a “media kerfuffle” in recent years over moves to “decolonise” the curriculum, remove the statues of Cecil Rhodes from the universities of Cape Town and Oxford and rename a concert hall in Bristol originally named after the slave trader Edward Colston. However, in his view, “there is very little that addresses the history of decolonisation head-on, at school level”. [continue reading]
An estimate compiled by the nation’s intelligence services reaches the president’s desk, disclosing that a formidable and reckless adversary in Northeast Asia will soon test a nuclear device. Notorious for its anti-Americanism, entry into the nuclear club by this state, whose government Washington has long refused to recognize, imperils America’s position in the Asia-Pacific.
National security officials weigh their options: to pass resolutions in the United Nations, to buoy nervous allies, to send carrier groups, to flex nuclear muscles, to draft arms treaties, to launch a preventive strike. The president instructs his national security advisor and a close family member to approach the ambassador of his country’s archival about whether they would look the other way if U.S. bombers were to reduce this rogue state’s ballistic-missile and nuclear installations to rubble and ash. Sound familiar? [continue reading]
An impressive assortment of Black radicals gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence. It was not Philadelphia 1776, of course, but Detroit in 1968, a city still smoldering from its 1967 Rebellion, one of the most significant urban rebellions the country has ever known. The colonial authority from which Black radicals sought independence was none other than the United States. And like the British, the United States would not relinquish its colonial authority.
Thus began the rise of the Republic of New Africa (RNA) (the group later changed the spelling of “Africa” to “Afrika,” in keeping with Swahili phonetic traditions). From the beginning the RNA embodied both a concept and an organization. Never a large organization, RNA members and the idea of New Afrika have shaped a myriad of foundational campaigns for reparations and the freedom of US political prisoners over the last half-century. In each of its campaigns, the New Afrikan framework has insisted on the centrality of land and power to any idea of Black politics. [continue reading]
These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the Windrush generation – the migrants who arrived in Britain, at the invitation of the UK government, in the early postwar years. I flew home to London last Friday for my grandmother Mazie Wilkinson’s funeral, amid headlines about people who had been raised in Britain, and lived and worked here all their adult lives, being denied rights to healthcare and even threatened with deportation. Mazie was the towering matriarch of our family and the only woman I knew who could terrify me and make me howl with laughter all in a single phone call. I thought her funeral was going to be a sad occasion but to my surprise it was the most wonderful day, with as much laughter as tears as members of my family from America to the Caribbean gathered to pay respects.
As I gave the eulogy I was struck by the range of people in the church, young and old, white and black: we were all one, all there to say goodbye and wish Mazie well on the journey. As the priest urged us to sing her favourite hymns I was particularly struck by the sound coming from the older West Indians in the church. They knew every word of every hymn and they sang heartily, grey now many of them, with walking sticks and in wheelchairs, but you would never have guessed that age had any effect of them as they belted out How Great Thou Art and Mazie’s other favourites. [continue reading]
Daniel A. Gross
The legendary director Steven Spielberg recently suggested that Indiana Jones, the rogue archaeologist who battles Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, could perhaps return as a woman. “We’d have to change the name from Jones to Joan,” Spielberg reportedly told the British tabloid The Sun. “And there would be nothing wrong with that.” The fifth film in the series is currently slated for release in 2020, at which point longtime star Harrison Ford will be in his late 70s.
There is, of course, already a famous female character inspired by Indiana Jones. Just last month, Warner Bros. dug up the corpse of the Tomb Raiderfranchise with a film reboot starring Alicia Vikander, who plays the villain-vanquishing archaeologist Lara Croft. This time around, the film’s creators try to lend new meaning to their own awkward title. In the video game and 2001 film starring Angelina Jolie, Croft was herself raiding tombs — but this time, Croft and her father are trying to stop looters from robbing the cursed resting place of a Japanese queen. (A new game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is planned for September.) Unfortunately, these new visions for Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, though perhaps more subtle than their predecessors, fail to rectify or even hide the casual colonialism of archaeological adventure stories. [continue reading]