This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Black propaganda? An engraving depicting conquistadors torturing natives of Florida in their determination to find gold. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty Images

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

From theorizing global urban history to debating the legacy of 1968 in France, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Henri Lefebvre, Mao Zedong, and the Global Urban Concept

Stuart Schrader
Global Urban History

Global urban history takes three primary forms. One is to direct the analytic gaze beyond Euro-America, to cities that were once “off the map” of urban studies. Another is to study the interconnections among far-flung cities. Extensive commercial, cultural, and intellectual networks that underpin “globalization” have long been grounded in cities. With the increasing popularity of global and world history, it makes sense to emphasize the centrality of cities and the unique role they play in globalization. A third form is to analyze the history of an uneven global urban fabric. Works like Carl Nightingale’s Segregation or Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums analyze how the form of the urban changes as it also “globalizes.” In this post, I delve into this third mode of global urban history.

The theoretical innovation that allows us to conceive of an uneven global urban fabric itself has an intellectual history. One important genealogy draws us back to the French social theorist Henri Lefebvre, particularly his work on space and the urban in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He is a key figure who inspired the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences. Yet what inspired Lefebvre to develop a global urban concept, and to whom was it addressed? [continue reading]

Spain fights to dispel legend of Inquisition and imperial atrocities

Sam Jones

Beyond the cliched vistas of bullfights and beaches, and beneath the stereotypes of sunshine and sangría, fiestas and siestas there lurks a dark view of Spain that some of its people find bitterly and enduringly unfair. For more than 500 years, they say, the country’s past has been disfigured and distorted by the propaganda spread by its former opponents and rivals. The so-called leyenda negra – black legend – was spun by chroniclers in England and the Netherlands who supposedly sought to depict their Roman Catholic enemies as unusually cruel and bloodthirsty and to exaggerate the brutality of the Spanish empire and the Inquisition.

Five centuries on, a newly established group, the Hispanic Civilisation Foundation, is hoping to lay the legend to rest by using feature films, TV programmes, books and mobile exhibitions to lighten Spain’s historical image. The foundation, made up of businessmen, diplomats, journalists, lawyers, academics and writers, aims to restore a lost sense of pride in the spread of Spanish culture. [continue reading]

The Last Slave


Their Eyes Were Watching God is required reading in high schools and colleges and cited as a formative influence by Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. It’s been canonized by Harold Bloom — even credited for inspiring the tableau in Lemonade where Beyoncé and a clutch of other women regally occupy a wooden porch — but Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel was eviscerated by critics when it was published in 1937. The hater-in-chief was no less than Richard Wright, who recoiled as much at the book’s depiction of lush female sexuality and (supposedly) apolitical themes as its use of black dialect, “the minstrel technique that makes the ‘white folks’ laugh.”

Six years earlier, Hurston had tried to publish another book in dialect, this one a work of nonfiction called Barracoon. Before she turned to writing novels, she’d trained as a cultural anthropologist at Barnard under the famed father of the field, Franz Boas. He sent his student back south to interview people of African descent. (Hurston was raised in Eatonville, Florida, which wasn’t the “black backside” of a white town, she once observed, but a place wholly inhabited and run by black people — her father was a three-term mayor.) She proved adept at the task, but, as she noted in her collection of folklore, Mules and Men, the job wasn’t always straightforward: “The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, usually underprivileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laughter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive … The Negro offers a feather-bed resistance, that is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out.” [continue reading]

The unheralded story of Australia’s indigenous cricketers

Frances Mao
BBC News

When cricketer Nick Boland walks out at Arundel Castle next month, he will be wearing the Aboriginal flag on his sleeve and the name of another player on his back. That player, Grongarrong, was a batsman in Australia’s first international sporting side – an indigenous cricket team that toured England in 1868. The 13 Aboriginal players who went on the tour deserve to be better acknowledged today as pioneers, according to Australian cricketers and officials. “It’s a story that hasn’t been told enough,” Mr Boland tells the BBC.

He is part of an indigenous men’s team that, along with a women’s side, will travel to the UK in June to play in a commemorative tour 150 years on. “Our roles as players in the legacy of this tour is to become the next generation of storytellers,” he says. The 1868 team was made up of Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara and Wotjobaluk men from what is now the state of Victoria. Having played a few games in Australia, they were brought to London by a former first-class cricketer, Charles Lawrence, an expat who had been living in Sydney. Modern views of the 19th Century tour are complex. Although remembered as a landmark event, the tour has also been criticised as racist and exploitative. [continue reading]

Fifty Years Later, France Is Still Debating the Legacy of Its 1968 Protests

Kate Keller

he summer of 1968 is etched into American memory as one of nationwide turmoil, with political assassinations, anti-war protests, racial unrest and highly publicized clashes with police. But this isn’t just an American story. The conflict between a diverse, anti-war left, and a tightening of law-and-order efforts on the right spread far beyond U.S. borders, notably coming to a head in France in May 1968. That’s when a violent confrontation between police and student protestors in Paris gave way to a nationwide general strike involving 11 million workers. As the 50th anniversary of the demonstrations arrives, the French people and their government are grappling with how best to commemorate the movement. Below is a brief guide, detailing what happened in Europe five decades ago:

Students at two campuses of the University of Paris, Nanterre and Sorbonne, were campaigning for changes in student life and more say in the governance of their academic institutions, but in a broader sense, they were protesting capitalism, American imperialism, and Gaullism – the conservative policies and centralized executive power with which President Charles de Gaulle ruled. Daily horrific images of the Vietnam War deeply disturbed the students and other members of French society, and the antiwar movement became a common cause among the diverse factions of the gauchistes – the “New Left.” [continue reading]

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