This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A mural in Bogside in Derry/Londonderry near the site of the events of Bloody Sunday. murielle29/flickr, CC BY-SA

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

From England’s unreadiness for self-government to the continuing divisiveness of Bloody Sunday, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Are the English ready for self-government?

Fintan O’Toole
Irish Times

The alleged aptitude of the English for self-government,” wrote Bernard Shaw in his preface to Androcles and the Lion, “is contradicted by every chapter of their history.” Shaw was, of course, parodying British imperialist rhetoric and its insistence that lesser peoples – including his own nation, the Irish – were not ready to govern themselves. He was being naughtily provocative, which only the most irresponsible of commentators would dare to be in these grave times. But there is nonetheless some tinge of truth in his words. Aptitude for self-government is not what comes to mind when one looks in from the outside at the goings-on in Westminster last week, when, as Tom Peck so brilliantly put it in the London Independent, “the House of Commons was a Benny Hill chase on acid, running through a Salvador Dali painting in a spaceship on its way to infinity”.

Let’s just say that if Theresa May were the head of a newly liberated African colony in the 1950s, British conservatives would have been pointing, half-ruefully, half-gleefully, in her direction and saying “See? Told you so – they just weren’t ready to rule themselves. Needed at least another generation of tutelage by the Mother Country.” There is a surreal kind of logic to this. If, as the Brexiteers do, you imagine yourself to be an oppressed colony breaking away from the German Reich aka the European Union, perhaps you do end up with a pantomime version of the travails of newly independent colonies, including the civil wars that often follow national liberation. [continue reading]

Portuguese parliament approves diploma allowing digital photography in libraries and public archives

Diário de Notícias

In a final overall vote, Parliament approved the final text presented by the Committee on Culture, Communication, Youth and Sport, with only PSD abstention. In May of last year, the PS bill had been approved in general with PSD and CDS-PP abstention and the favorable votes of the remaining groups. The Socialists justified the legislative initiative with the increasing “dematerialization of knowledge”, which allows access to it “in a more democratic, simple, fast and globalized way, namely through the use of information and communication technologies.”

Emphasizing that in all areas, public libraries and archives “will continue to be institutions of reference for scientific and academic research,” the PS bill will allow citizens to access these spaces with their digital devices – such as cameras, mobile phones or laptops – for personal use, provided that “the preservation of documents and the non-disturbance of third parties are safeguarded”. “In addition, it is also intended to legislate in order to allow the collection of digital photographs for academic research and for private use of documentation in the custody of public libraries and archives,” is mentioned in the diploma. [continue reading]

Why White Women Tried to Ban Native American Dances

Erin Blakemore
JStor Daily

In the early 1920s, a secret file scandalized white women reformers in the United States. It was known as the Secret Dance File, its contents too shocking (and titillating) to print or even send in the mail. As historian Margaret D. Jacobs writes, the salacious file became the centerpiece of a heated debate about whether or not Pueblo people should perform their traditional dances—a fight that illuminated the goals and tactics of the white women reformers who thought they should control Native Americans’ lives.

The file contained frank descriptions of Pueblo dances that depicted and parodied sexual acts. For years it was passed from hand to hand. The file became a source of fascination, gossip, and even legend among employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). But it was more than a shocking read; the file informed actual BIA policy. In 1921, Charles Burke, the commissioner of Indian affairs, signed Circular 1655. The document was designed to be read by Burke’s colleagues. It made a case for banning ceremonial dances on the grounds that they were immoral and performed only for pleasure. [continue reading]

The descendants of slaves want Harvard to stop using iconic photos of their relatives

Ray Sanchez and Tony Marco

An enslaved African man named Renty and his daughter Delia were stripped and forced to pose for images commissioned by a Swiss-born Harvard professor who espoused a theory that Africans and African-Americans were inferior to whites. Nearly 170 years later, Renty and Delia “remain enslaved” by the Ivy League university, which is being accused of the “wrongful seizure, possession and expropriation” of the photographs, according to a Massachusetts lawsuit filed by Tamara Lanier, a direct descendant demanding that Harvard turn over the images, recognize her lineage and pay unspecified damages.

“One of the most basic foundations of slavery was to destroy the black concept of family,” said Ben Crump, one of Lanier’s attorneys. “This is not just a lawsuit for Renty and his descendants. In many ways, it’s a lawsuit for all the descendants of slaves in America.” The lawsuit reads like the outline for a historical novel, a stark portrait of “opportunism, greed, and profound moral abdication by one of the country’s most revered educational institutions,” the complaint said. [continue reading]

Bloody Sunday: as former British soldier faces murder charges, Northern Ireland still divided by legacy of violence

Connal Parr

former British soldier is to face trial for the murder of two unarmed civilians, and the attempted murder of two others in Derry/Londonderry on “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972. While the soldier, known as “soldier F”, will be prosecuted, the Public Prosecution Service deemed there was “insufficient evidence” to charge another 16 former soldiers for the deaths of 13 people, and two men from the official Irish Republican Army (IRA).  The landmark decision emphasises once more the primacy of the past in Northern Ireland and the difficulties in coming to terms with the legacy of conflict.

It’s been a hectic period for investigations and prosecutions related to what’s known as Northern Ireland’s “Troubles”. In early March, the Republic of Ireland decided to allow the extradition to Northern Ireland of John Downey, accused of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers. In February, an inquest was also opened into the Birmingham pub bombings of November 1974, and the Supreme Court declared that a previous investigation into the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane failed to meet the necessary standards under human rights law. [continue reading]