From Australia’s ‘1968’ to the globalization of American racial exclusion, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Evan Smith and Jon Piccini
Where does Australia fit in the story of the ‘long 1968’? The nation entered the decade ruled over by a conservative government whose cold war rhetoric fostered only limited and marginalised dissent. Yet, the impetus of such factors as the Vietnam War, increasing access to overseas travel and the news of similar rebellions around the world soon saw the emergence of protest groups from a diversity of backgrounds that began to radicalise Australian society. Yet, this is not the story popularly presented. Instead, activism supposedly arrived “by airmail subscription”, as Robin Gerster and Jan Bassett remind us in their controversial cultural history of the period.
Commentators remark condescendingly on the way activists borrowed their practice purely from America – importing it like a Bob Dylan record – even down to the use of American spelling. In 2009, social commentator Hugh Mackay struck a similarly dismissive tone in an international collection on the legacies of 1968. Mackay channelled Prime Minister Harold Holt’s reprimand of his constituents as “a nation of lotus-eaters—hedonistic, materialistic and lazy”. While perhaps “intrigued, saddened, even alarmed” by the global struggles of the era, Australians were “not really engaged”—at least until well into the 1970s. [continue reading]
One day in the 1990s, Dave Wermeling stumbled across an etching of a small, bearded man in a Colonial outfit in the Quaker meeting house where he is the caretaker. “Benjamin Lay,” read a note on the back of the frame. It described him as a zealous abolitionist who died in 1759. What it didn’t say was that Lay wrote one of the first treatises against slavery in Colonial America — at a time when many prosperous Pennsylvania Quakers were slave owners. Or that Lay was “disowned” by the Abington Meeting House here, where Wermeling works.
“I was just looking around the nooks and crannies, mostly for mouse droppings,” said Wermeling, 60, a friendly man with a generous laugh. “What I found was a historical mystery.” He wondered: Who was the rabble-rouser in the sketch? “This was pre-Internet,” he said. “It’s not like you could go look things up like we do now.” And so, his quest began. He asked the older Quakers what they knew about Lay. He researched. A decade passed. Then, in 2014, he met Marcus Rediker, a prominent historian from the University of Pittsburgh, who visited the Abington Meeting House for a book he was writing about Lay. [continue reading]
Omar G. Encarnacion
Since Donald Trump became president, much has been said about the “Latin Americanization” of U.S. politics. The Washington Post, remarking on Trump’s nationalist demagoguery, referred to him as “the U.S.’s first Latin American president,” while an essay I wrote in Foreign Affairs shortly after the 2016 election termed Trump “A Caudillo in Washington,” a reference to the prototype of the Latin American strongman.
Decidedly less has been said about the reverse phenomenon: the increasing salience of “Trumpism” in Latin American politics. This is taking place as the right in Latin America is staging a stunning comeback after a long sojourn in the political wilderness. In the last two years alone, right-wing candidates have ascended to the presidency in Brazil, Argentina, and, last month, Chile. For the first time in decades, South America’s three leading economies are in the hands of conservative governments. [continue reading]
Last July 1, as a crowd gathered to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday on Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, a group of Indigenous activists, the Bawating Water Protectors, erected a teepee. In defiance of the uncritical vision of Canada’s past held by many Canadians, this act functioned as an Indigenous ceremony and as a declaration of Indigenous presence on this land that long predates the country’s emergence as a Dominion in 1867.
Canada’s Houses of Parliament (its House of Commons and the Senate chambers) sit on the unceded traditional territory of Omàmiwininiwak (Algonquins), which also made this action a reoccupation of a traditional homeland. When the tepee went up the police had attempted to remove the protestors. But security authorities soon had a change of heart and allowed them to move to a more central location in the shadow of the Peace Tower next to the main stage. [continue reading]
In hindsight, historians of American immigration will be pressed to name the first two decades of the twenty-first century as one dominated by the systematic “racial exclusionism” of non-Europeans. It was in the United States that the modernization of racial difference perfected the models for global settler colonialism. America’s career and success in expropriating Native American land was globalized for latecomers like Germany in the scramble for colonies.
Often overlooked, W. E. B. Du Bois’s prophetic statement on the impending crisis of the twentieth century as a domestic issue was also a global interpretation; which he likely developed after his return from a student-residency in 1890s Berlin. Though German society wowed him with its unexpected tolerance of a Black American, it also sharpened Du Bois’s intellectual insights into the shifting sites of transatlantic racism. It was in this same period that ethnic and racial conceptions of the nation began to dominate German nationalist consciousness. American racism, he later warned in his Souls of Black Folk (1903), provided the blueprint for understanding how racism’s staying power would inform the twentieth century’s conflicts into becoming “the problem of the color-line,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” This American problem animated the racial imagination of German writers. [continue reading]