This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Flamingo magazine covered West Indian popular culture and international politics.

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

From sex, ska, and Malcolm X to Algeria and the American Black Panther Party, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


Sex, ska and Malcolm X: MI6’s covert 1960s mission to woo West Indians

Jamie Doward
Guardian

Even by the demanding standards of the 1960s, Flamingo was considered a groundbreaking magazine. Mixing glamour, sex advice, culture and international politics, it was one of the first magazines to target Britain’s African-Caribbean community. It ran from September 1961 until May 1965 and at its peak sold up to 20,000 copies in the UK and 15,000 in the US. It was also distributed in the Caribbean and West Africa, and published dedicated editions in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. It carried interviews with Malcolm X and advertisements for Island Records, which brought Jamaican ska music to Britain.

But now it has emerged that Flamingo blazed a trail for another extraordinary reason: its founder, Peter Hornsby, was an agent for the intelligence service, MI6, which used the magazine to push an anti-communist agenda among black and West Indian communities. [continue reading]

How the British did everything to keep Indians away from the civil services—yet failed

Deepak Gupta
Quartz

Civilian administration had always remained in Indian hands, even under the Mughals, as part of a deliberate policy of assimilation. But the British saw themselves as a superior race and, seeking to impose colonial rule for commercial gain, considered it necessary to man their administration at all senior and strategic levels with their own personnel.

The question of the “Indianisation” of the civil service in India thus directly arose for the first time after the assumption and gradual consolidation of administrative power by the East India Company, and subsequently by the British government. The rule of the Company was sought to be legitimised by the concept of the British “civilising mission” in India. So, a policy of exclusion was put in place. Race became an important category and identity in the future. It was inevitable that this would be challenged, As the Crown consolidated its power over the subcontinent in the latter half of the 19th century, opposition against its hold over the administration intensified and the question of Indianisation of the higher civil services became the most important “national” issue of the ensuing nationalist struggle against the British Empire in India for the next 50 years. [continue reading]

Missing Voices in the Age of the Beloveds: Ottoman Same Sex Intimacy

Nailya Shamgunova
History Workshop

Tayyib and Tahir, two young Ottomans, were travelling to Egypt to become dervishes. When their ship was captured by Christians they were enslaved by Christian noblemen. Instead of pain, captivity brought them love and happiness, as both men fell in love with their captors, and those feelings were mutual. A barbaric Christian official thought that their love for each other was mere sodomy, however, and all four were imprisoned. The Ottomans were pardoned and fled the lands of the infidel, but their beloveds lingered in prison. Unbeknown to the Ottomans, the Christians managed to escape and later reunited with Tayyid and Tahir. The Christians saw the superiority of a religion that accepted their desires, and they converted to Islam; all four men lived happily thereafter in Istanbul.

This remarkable story is the plot of a 1627 poem by Nev’izade ‘Atayi Heft Kan. Relationships between older men and younger, most often unbearded, boys were widespread in early modern Ottoman society. Admiration of younger male beauty was seen as acceptable by many Islamic jurists, with the exception of the most strict interpreters of the Quran. However, the purpose of these relationships and the physical extent to which they could be developed was a matter of debate. [continue reading]

Japan and the United States: Reflections on War, Empire, Race, and Culture

John Dower and Patrick Lawrence
Asia-Pacific Journal

Patrick Lawrence: John, I see a remarkable trajectory in your work. It’s not quite right to say you began strictly as a Japanist, in that village studies and such topics were not what you were after. You were a student of the Pacific War, primarily, and then the postwar surrender settlement. But from there your work, especially the recent books, has opened up to subjects far broader than Japan. Cultures of War seems a culmination of that. Japan was a kind of springboard, I would say. Do you agree, and if so, was this your design from the beginning?

John Dower: I don’t think there was ever a grand design. I don’t think early in our careers I could have projected where we would end up and where things would take us. My initial attraction to Japan began when I went over when I was 20, as a college student for a summer. This was 1958, and my initial attraction was aesthetic. I was very drawn to the visual cultures of Japan—the landscaping, the painting, and other things. I didn’t really understand what I had seen, so I came home and did a very general program in East Asian studies at Harvard. My background was literature. Japanese literature’s what really attracted me. [continue reading]

Algeria and the American Black Panther Party

Lina Benabdallah
Africa is a Country

As airline travel became more common in the 1950s and 1960s, hijacking planes also became a common practice. By the early 1970s, nearly 160 high jacking incidents occurred. The book “The Skies Belong to Us” by the American writer, Brendan Koerner, charts some of this history of the golden age of airplane highjacking and connects it to the activities of the Black Panther Party and the party’s international office in Algiers.

Koerner’s account of skyjackings in the US in the 1960s and 1970s is nothing short of surreal. In that unimaginable world, passengers did not undergo TSA screenings, there were no scanners, did not even have to show boarding passes or IDs, and sometimes even paid for their tickets after reaching their destination. Skyjacking was not even illegal in the 50s and high-jacking airplanes had very little to do with political cause. One of Koerner’s most entertaining examples, a man who diverted a plane to Cuba because he was missing his mom’s style frijoles. [continue reading]

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