This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Black American GIs stationed in Britain during the war, these in Bristol, were given a warm welcome by their hosts but treated harshly by their white US Army comrades. brizzlebornandbred, CC BY-NC-SA

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

From Trump’s desire to invade Venezuela to Britain’s forgotten Jim Crow riots, a special US foreign relations edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

J. S. Mill, the Prime Directive, and the Theory of Moral Intervention

John Stuart Mill [left] and Jean-Luc Picard [right, drawing by gerardtorbitt]

This is the penultimate post of our five-week roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, herehere, and here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

“No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.”

— Prime Directive (United Federation of Planets General Order 1)

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy…and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” – Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

The Victorian political philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1973) and Star Trek’s far-future United Federation of Planets (the Federation) differ substantially on the colonial question. In particular, Mill the Victorian liberal imperialist thought that it was the duty of the British to help “civilize” less developed states through colonialism. Within his stages of civilization, Mill regarded underdeveloped states like India to be backwards and in need of benign British despotism, which was “a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”[1]

Although Star Trek‘s Federation may share some similar Victorian-era ideas about imperial power structures and civilizational stages, by contrast it has strict rules about not attempting to “civilize” or colonize “backward” societies. It is enshrined in their Prime Directive, which was first introduced in the Original Series (1966-69) as a none-too-subtle anti-imperial rebuke of the US war in Vietnam.[2]

However, despite their glaring differences on colonialism as civilizing mission, J. S. Mill and the Federation do see eye-to-eye when deciding whether it is morally justifiable to intervene in foreign conflicts. Continue reading “J. S. Mill, the Prime Directive, and the Theory of Moral Intervention”

Colonialism is Fun? Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Gamification of Imperialism

This is the newest post in our fourth week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Nick Pullen
McGill University

If you were to tell the children and adults who first bought copies of legendary PC game designer Sid Meier’s Civilization in 1991 that they would still be playing some version of this classic game of imperial expansion almost thirty years later, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet the record-breaking franchise, now in its sixth iteration, has continued to ensnare generations of PC gamers with its epic sweep, imaginative scope, and highly addictive turn-based gameplay that allows you to take an ancient empire to conquer the world—and then colonize the stars.

Yet Civilization’s staying-power also sits uncomfortably with an incipient opposition from those opposed to its imperial overtones, and provides a fascinating window into the persistent, underlying colonial assumptions of modern-day society. Continue reading “Colonialism is Fun? Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Gamification of Imperialism”