This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The Holy Roman Emperor King Frederick II of Sicily’s falconry book, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds) features 900 pictures of birds in its margins. Picture: De Arte Venandi cum Avibus / Alamy

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

From the hidden history of Shanghai’s Jewish quarter to how a cockatoo reached 13th-century Sicily, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Hidden History of Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter

Courtney Lichterman
Atlas Obscura

It’s common knowledge that as Hitler’s bid to rid the world of Jews escalated, so did the world’s refusal to let them in. What’s not well known is that when those borders, ports, doors, windows, and boundaries began shutting Jews out, in part by refusing to issue them visas, Shanghai, though already swollen with people and poverty, was the only place on Earth willing to accept them with or without papers. It was an exception that, for thousands, meant the difference between life and death.

To understand the significance of this gesture, it’s important to understand the widely held but mistaken belief that Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were never, at any point, permitted to leave. Henny Wenkart, a Holocaust survivor featured in the documentary, 50 Children: Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, explained this misconception: “What people don’t understand is that at the beginning, you could get out. Everybody could get out. Nobody would let us in!” [continue reading]

There’s now proof that Soeharto orchestrated the 1965 killings

Jess Melvin
Indonesia at Melbourne

As Indonesia commemorates 20 years since the fall of the New Order military dictatorship, the foundation myth of the regime (and, indeed, the post-New Order state as well) remains stubbornly in place. According to official state narratives, the military was forced to step in to save the nation from an abortive communist coup during the early hours of 1 October 1965. The military and sources from the Foreign Ministry say that the military acted to bring an end to a “spontaneous” uprising by “the people”— an “explosion” of “communal clashes resulting in bloodbaths” throughout the country —  as ordinary Indonesians rose up in anger against their communist neighbours.

 These events, described privately by the CIA as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”, are known collectively in Indonesia as “G30S/PKI” – a name that implies the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was responsible for the failed coup led by the 30 September Movement (G30S). In fact, it was the military that implemented the coup on 1 October 1965. Planning for this began under Soekarno’s Guided Democracy as the military became engaged in a struggle for the Indonesian state with the PKI. It is now possible to explain how Soeharto used existing chains of command to bring the military to power. My book, The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder,(link is external) shows how the military initiated and implemented the 1965-66 mass killings. This article focuses on the mechanics of the military’s coup. [continue reading]

Cold War islands and the rebordering of the nation/state: Kinma in the Taiwan Strait

Ling-i Chu and Jinn-Yuh Hsu

Across the globe, the Cold War abruptly delineated new borders and defined friends and enemies. Yet, there are few regions in which this was as pronounced as in the Taiwan Strait, where several groups of islands, commonly called Kinmen and Matsu (or Kinma, as abbreviated here), are located in close proximity to the southeastern coast of mainland China yet have been controlled by Taiwan since the final days of the Chinese civil war (see Figure 1).

From then onward, the lives and times of the inhabitants of Kinma were destined to be forever different. This post explores through the lens of bordering how the changing strategic role of Kinma throughout the Cold War and since has defined not only the lives of islanders but also the performance of Taiwan’s state sovereignty and national identities. This brings to light that Kinma was central to the nation/state’s self-representation in “border-ordering” and to the configuration of citizen-subjects in “border-othering” and that both processes have been catalysts for a reconfiguration of the Taiwanese nation/state from the 1980s onward. [continue reading]

The Black Studies Movement in Britain

Kehinde Andrews
Black Perspectives

In 1967, the Afro-Caribbean Self-Help Organisation (ACSHO), based in Birmingham, started one of the first Black supplementary schools in the UK, sparking off a movement that transformed how mainstream schools treated their Black children. Supplementary schools refer to voluntary education programs run by concerned parents, teachers, and community members because of the racism faced in the school system. Bernard Coard’s classic 1971 study, How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British Education Systemfound that in some London boroughs eighty percent of Black boys were being classed as “educationally subnormal.”

On evenings and most Saturdays the community came together and offered classes in subjects like English and math to support mainstream school work, and added Black history. Supplementary schools eventually became absorbed into school provision, funded by the state, often with trained teachers and increasingly on church premises. But “supplementary” is probably the worst word for what ACSHO started in 1967. They focused on a Black Studies curriculum and, as education activist Mel Chevannes explained, “it is not possible to supplement what does not exist” in the mainstream schools. [continue reading]

How Did a Cockatoo Reach 13th Century Sicily?

Heather Dalton

Among the hand-written documents, books, and ancient artefacts in the Vatican Library is a 13th century manuscript on falconry written in Latin by or for the Holy Roman Emperor – King Frederick II of Sicily. Frederick’s De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds) dates from between 1241 and 1248. In its margins are nine hundred drawings of falcons, falconers and other animals kept by the emperor at his palaces.

Four of these images depict a white cockatoo, described in the text as a crested, talking parrot – a gift from ‘the Sultan of Babylon’. The discovery of these images, which are published in the journal Parergonhighlight the fact that during the medieval period, merchants plying the waters just to the north of Australia were part of a flourishing trade network that reached west to the Middle East and beyond. [continue reading]

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