From the myth of Brexit as imperial nostalgia to digitizing the Ottoman Empire, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
In the days and weeks after the Brexit vote, headlines like “The Empire Strikes Back” became a theme of international commentary. For the New York Times, the vote to Leave marked “England’s Last Gasp of Empire,” the diseased reaction of a nation “sickened by nostalgia,” while the Washington Post diagnosed “nostalgia for empire” as a “cornerstone of nationalist politics.” Writers of the calibre of David Olusaga, Onni Gust, Dane Kennedy, Gary Younge and Marc-William Palen saw in Brexit a case-study in “postcolonial melancholia,” driven by “a nostalgic yearning for lost colonies—and the wealth and global influence that came with them.”
The Brexit debate spoke to deep-rooted ideas about history, identity and loss, none of which could be easily disentangled from Britain’s imperial past. Yet the emphasis on imperial nostalgia, as a core engine of the Leave vote, has been overstated. The Leave campaign brought together a remarkably broad coalition, stretching from George Galloway on the radical left to Nigel Farage on the radical right. Its 17.4m voters constituted the largest electoral alliance ever constructed in Britain, and it would not be difficult, amidst such a cacophony of discordant voices, to find some extolling the merits of empire. Yet we should be wary of erecting this into a general theory, for four key reasons. [continue reading]
Elsa Kudo was a junior in college when she learned that she was an “illegal” resident of the country she called home. Decades later, she still vividly recalled seeing her FBI file for the first time. “What is this? Why is my file stamped ‘illegal entry’? We didn’t come illegally. You folks knew we were coming in. You brought us here,” she recalled saying in an interview with the history organization, Densho. “I was so upset.”
In the 1940s, the U.S. government launched a program to relocate Kudo and some 2,200 other Latin Americans of Japanese descent from their home countries to detention facilities in the U.S. They were taken under the pretense of a World War II prisoner exchange, but only 865 detainees were ultimately sent to Japan via the program. Several hundred others found themselves in a fight for justice that continues today. [continue reading]
On a cold January evening in 1937, the 19-year-old adopted daughter of a former British diplomat in China left her friends, got on her bike and rode to her death. Her murder sent shockwaves through Beijing – then known as Peking – but arguments about the gruesome, unsolved crime echo to this day.
WARNING: Readers may find some of the descriptions of violence in this story distressing. There was every reason for the killing of Pamela Werner to simply fade into history until a book introduced the case to a modern audience in 2011. But Paul French’s best-seller Midnight in Peking also dug up old ghosts and animosities which ran much deeper than the writer could have envisaged. A retired British policeman, Graeme Sheppard, has now written a rival book challenging French’s version of events. The result: a literary stand-off revolving around family pride, bizarre events now lost in the past and a grisly murder still unsolved. [continue reading]
Ingrid Sharp and Corinne Painter
It’s been 100 years since the Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was brutally murdered in Germany. On January 15 1919, she was beaten and killed by the anti-revolutionary Freikorps. Her body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal in Berlin, only emerging six months later. Fluent in Polish, French and German, a revolutionary theorist, economist and leading opponent of militarism, Luxemburg was an outstanding figure in the German revolution that helped bring World War I to an end in November 1918 and established the first democracy on German soil.
She remains a powerful symbol of resistance today. Her claim that freedom must always include the freedom of those who think differently has been used as a slogan by protesters across the world. There have been many films, books and even a graphic novel celebrating Luxemburg’s life and commemorating her death. But as our research has highlighted, there were other women who played an active role in the German revolution in cities across the country. Their names are far less known and many were written out of history even as they were making it. [continue reading]
Some three decades before the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, an unknown photographer captured a black-and-white image of a packed street in the city then known as Constantinople. The 1890 shot paints a picture of a thriving metropolis: men in fezzes and bowler hats make their way through the crowd, horses wait patiently on the sidelines, a woman in a gauzy veil strides toward the camera and the empire’s flag hangs proudly from the buildings that line the street.
This photo is among 6,000 images from the Ottoman Empire that were recently digitized by the Getty Research Institute, as Deena ElGenaidi of Hyperallergic reports. Encompassing such diverse mediums as albumen prints, glass negatives and lantern slides, the vast collection was amassed in the 1980s by the French businessman Pierre de Gigord, who traveled to Turkey to scout out photographs from the fallen empire. The collection is housed at the Getty Research Institute, which noted in a blog post that the images “are difficult to find, as they are preserved in the vaults with limited circulation.” Now that the collection been digitized, however, it is easily accessible to anyone who wants to be transported back in time to the days of the Ottomans. [continue reading]