This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

From the Rev. R.H. Stone’s memoir ‘‘In Afric’s Forest and Jungle: Or Six Years Among the Yorubans,’’ 1899.CreditCreditFrom the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library

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

From the camera as a weapon of imperialism to whitewashing the Boer War, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Teju Cole
New York Times

I first saw the photograph some years ago, online. Later, I tracked it down to its original source: “In Afric’s Forest and Jungle: Or Six Years Among the Yorubans,” a memoir published in 1899 by the Rev). R.H. Stone. It shows a crowd in what is now Nigeria, but what was then Yorubaland under British colonial influence. The caption below the photograph reads: “A king of Ejayboo. Governor of Lagos on right. For years the rulers of this fierce tribe made the profession of Christianity a capital crime.” This description is familiar in tone from anthropological literature of the period, though the photograph is hard to date precisely. “Ejayboo” is what we would nowadays spell as “Ijebu,” a subgroup of Yoruba. That catches my attention: I am Yoruba and also Ijebu. This picture is a time capsule from a world to which I am connected but had not seen before, a world by colonial encounter.

By the middle of the 19th century, through treaties and threats of force, the British had wrested control of the coastal city Lagos from its king. They then turned their efforts to improving access to the goods and services in the Yoruba hinterland. The Yoruba were already by that time a populous and diverse ethnic group, full of rivalrous kingdoms large and small, some friendly to the British, others less so. [continue reading]

Britain’s Blindness

Kojo Koram

The ongoing irresolution over Brexit has made what was once an impossibility, the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a formal arrangement, an increasing likelihood. With the clock running down while all parties remain trapped in a stalemate over a withdrawal deal, Brexiteers are trying to convince the public that a no-deal Brexit is not a crisis but actually an opportunity for national liberation.

It wasn’t so long ago that the notion of “national liberation” inspired fear and suspicion in Britain. In the second half of the twentieth century, national liberation was the common descriptor for the struggles of colonial peoples trying to gain their independence from European powers, including the British Empire. As Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau Rebels fought to free Kenya from British rule or Qahtan Muhammad al-Shaabi’s National Liberation Front drove the British from the beaches of Yemen, the British ruling class cursed “national liberation” as a disease, a contagion causing trouble everywhere from Cairo to County Derry. Yet today, self-appointed British freedom fighters borrow the language of “national liberation,” using the notion to help drive the success of the 2016 vote to leave the European Union against all odds. Nigel Farage has promised that the day Britain leaves the EU will be “a day of national liberation.” Jacob Rees-Mogg echoes Farage, describing Brexit as a “liberation for the British people.” International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who has long-styled himself as a “liberation conservative,” took the idea of Brexit as national liberation into the heart of government, alongside former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who also has not hesitated to exploit the language of national liberation. As a result, Britain’s independent decision to exit a wealthy trading bloc that it voluntarily choose to enter into in 1973 is being reframed as an existential struggle between oppressor and oppressed. [continue reading]

Essential Readings: Gender and Empire

Wilson Chacko Jacob

The exciting thing about setting off in the mid-late 1990s to research “gender and empire” with a particular focus on masculinity was the fact the field was just taking off and everyone seemed open to learning from regions and time periods other than their own. Inter- and multi-disciplinarity and a variety of approaches, theories, and methods were par for the course. I suspect now, over two decades later, the more mature field comes with natural constraints for the student pressed for time. All of this of course makes identifying eight to ten essential texts for the prospective Middle East scholar a daunting task. What I list below should therefore be considered a starting point to get a sense of how fundamentally gender (and sexuality) relates to empire.

When I began, there were perhaps two works that could be considered essential to masculinity studies in the Middle East. The first was Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb’s edited volume Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in The Modern Middle East (Saqi, 2000). The gendered and historical dimensions of masculinity (its relational and variable development over time) were taken for granted in most of the chapters, with the exception of the contribution by Afsaneh Najmabadi. Empire was not central in any of the chapters. Fortunately, Mrinalini Sinha’s groundbreaking monograph in South Asian history, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and The ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 1995) had appeared a few years earlier. It posited a particular space, the “imperial social formation,” in which gendered identities were formed through dialectical encounters, in this case resulting in the production of two figures that would inform policy debates and delimit political and cultural horizons. Sinha’s book tipped me off to the fact that historians in the United Kingdom, perhaps unsurprisingly, were leading the way in making connections between modern gender formations and imperial expansion and rule. [continue reading]

Why the Threat of U.S. Intervention in Venezuela Revives Historical Tensions in the Region

Ciara Nugent

Standing on the balcony of his presidential palace on Wednesday, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro warned his supporters about the U.S. response to their country’s political crisis. “We don’t want to go back to the gringo interventions of the 20th century,” he said. “The U.S. is trying to mount a coup and install a puppet government [to protect] its interests in Venezuela.”

As Maduro’s authoritarian regime has plunged Venezuela into humanitarian crisis, the socialist leader has often blamed the country’s troubles on economic sabotage by the U.S., evoking a long and bloody history of American imperialism in Latin America. But this week, as the U.S. publicly recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela — and refused to rule out military intervention in the country — Maduro picked up the refrain with renewed fervor. [continue reading]

Boer War women, children put in concentration camps ‘for own good’: British MP sparks outrage

Nico Gous
London Times

“The Boer War had people put in concentration camps for their protection.” That is what British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday as he compared the mortality rate in concentration camps during the second Anglo-Boer War, from 1899 to 1902, saying it was the same as in Glasgow, Scotland, at the time. “They are not a good thing, but where else were people going to live?” Rees-Mogg asked.

Fellow guest, economist Grace Blakely, interrupted Rees-Mogg and asked him if he was justifying the use of concentration camps. “No, I didn’t … The Boer War had people put in concentration camps for their protection,” Rees-Mogg responded. Blakely interjected again before Rees-Mogg continued: “I’m afraid you’re confusing concentration camps with [Adolf] Hitler’s extermination camps … These were people who were interned for their safety, now that is not a good thing.” [continue reading]

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