This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Martin Jan Månsson has created an incredibly detailed map of trade route networks in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 11th and 12th centuries.

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

From exposing the Ukrainian famine to the bird poop of American imperialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

“Mr. Jones” tells the story of the man who exposed the Ukrainian famine


Walking through rural Ukraine in 1932, having eluded his Communist Party chaperone, Gareth Jones witnessed disturbing deprivation. People were starving, fighting each other tooth and nail for a single loaf of bread. Bodies lay in the street until they were piled up and carted away on wagons. While its own citizens suffered, the Soviet Union was continuing to export grain, projecting an image of prosperity to the West. Recent estimates have suggested that around 4m people perished in 1932 and 1933, around 13% of the Ukrainian population, in what is known today as the Holodomor (“killing by hunger”). At the time, though, few believed Jones’s reports; many politicians, diplomats and journalists tried to discredit him.

In “Mr. Jones”, a feature film which premiered at the Berlinale, the journalist’s search for the truth makes for stylish and compelling historical drama. It opens with Jones (played with sincerity and conviction by James Norton) presciently explaining the danger of Germany’s National Socialist party to Lloyd George, his boss at the Foreign Office, and his colleagues. They scoff at this bold young man. Before he can argue that the economic forecasts released by the Soviet Union are also a cause for concern, he is made redundant as a result of budget cuts. [continue reading]

How W.E.B. Du Bois Meticulously Visualized 20th-Century Black America

Jasmine Weber

W.E.B. Du Bois is best known for his sharp, sociological imagination and groundbreaking book of racial philosophy, The Souls of Black FolkBut the writer, historian, and Pan-African civil rights activist also had a remarkable visual mind. Among his many talents, Du Bois was a designer and curator of Black culture, the most explicit example being his data portraits, which vibrantly visualized the complexities of racial segregation, which Du Bois iconically dubbed “the color line.”

The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, has reverberated through academic and public discourse for over a century for its astute and abiding racial analysis. But prior to the publication of this landmark text, Du Bois visualized his notion of double consciousness in modernist data portraits at the Paris Exposition in 1900. The infographics were a part of the Exhibit of American Negroes, which Du Bois called “an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.” [continue reading]

A Detailed Map of Medieval Trade Routes in Europe, Asia, and Africa

Jason Kottke

Grad student Martin Jan Månsson has created this incredibly detailed map of trade route networks in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Even before modern times the Afro-Eurasian world was already well connected. This map depicts the main trading arteries of the high middle ages, just after the decline of the Vikings and before the rise of the Mongols, the Hansa and well before the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

The map also depicts the general topography, rivers, mountain passes and named routes. All of which contributed to why cities came to be, and still are, up until modern times.

The high middle ages were a time when the stars aligned in terms of commerce for many areas of the world. In central Europe many German and French cities initiated annual trade fairs, some of which are still active today — most notably in Frankfurt. The Europeans have redeveloped a demand for eastern goods as a result of the crusades in Iberia and the Levant. The Italian city states and some north eastern Iberian cities had shipped the crusaders back and forth in the Mediterranean sea, building up huge fleets and setting up networks of trade all around the Mediterranean shores. The Italians frequented ports such as Alexandria, which had separate trading ports for muslim and christian ships. [continue reading]

Histories of the Big and Small: An Interview with Mark Mazower

Natalie Behrends
Toynbee Prize Foundation

As the discipline of history continues to expand beyond the powerful few, historians face the challenges that come with trying to uncover and illuminate the experiences of the powerless. The great upheavals of the twentieth century affected millions of people around the globe, but history’s traditional tools seem insufficient in the face of so many tangled stories. Addressing this problem requires a re-examination of the role of place, people, and power in the telling of history.

In What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home (New York: Other Press, 2017), Mark Mazower, Professor of History at Columbia University, delves into the history of his own family, exploring his father’s and grandfather’s paths through the turbulent twentieth century. In the course of this exploration, Mazower touches on questions of identity and place, expanding on similar themes developed in his work on the history of Greece, Europe, and the world in the twentieth century. Here, Mark Mazower discusses the experience of telling a personal narrative in a historical context, the struggles and opportunities presented by writing history with a focus on nations and people outside of the immediate center of power, and the importance of revisiting early twentieth-century political discussions in our current moment. [continue reading]

The History Of American Imperialism, From Bloody Conquest To Bird Poop

Dave Davies
Fresh Air

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. American presidents like to describe the United States as a force for freedom and independence in the world. Our guest, historian Daniel Immerwahr, says there are also plenty of times in our history when we’ve subjugated and ruled foreign lands – sometimes with bloody conquests. Today, roughly 4 million people live in the American territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas.

Immerwahr’s new book is a colorful look at the history of and forces behind U.S. territorial expansion, including – and I’m not kidding – the need for massive quantities of bird poop in the 19th century. Daniel Immerwahr is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and the author of a previous book “Thinking Small: The United States And The Lure Of Community Development.” His new book is “How To Hide An Empire: A History Of The Greater United States.” [continue reading/listen]

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