This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Imperial theorist J. A. Hobson. Photograph: Elliott & Fry/Getty Images

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

From the recent Corbyn-Hobson controversy to global history’s future, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Imperialism: a look at the book behind the Corbyn furore

Miles Taylor

In his 1902 book Imperialism, the radical journalist John Atkinson Hobson called out the “house of Rothschild” as an example of the “single and peculiar race” of men whose monetary manipulations lay behind the curse of the rampant colonialism of the era. Nowhere in the book did Hobson refer specifically to Jews, but his kneejerk antisemitism was a common feature of political rhetoric in the period. Just the previous year, the rightwing, anti-immigration campaigner Arnold White wrote of a Jewish conspiracy at the heart of the British political establishment in his bestselling Efficiency and Empire. Similarly, Keir Hardie, one of Labour’s first MPs, spoke out in 1900 against Jewish financiers.

But Hobson’s range was narrower. Without naming him, Hobson’s actual target was Nathan Rothschild, head of the banking family and a prominent public figure in Edwardian Britain. A former MP, ally of Benjamin Disraeli, and the first practising Jew to join the House of Lords, Hobson’s readers would have known immediately at whom Hobson’s invective was directed. Undoubtedly, Lord Rothschild was up to his ears in British imperialism; one of his best friends was Cecil Rhodes, and he helped bankroll the British South Africa Company, which smashed and grabbed its way across the continent in the 1890s. [continue reading]

Archives Lost: The French Revolution and the Destruction of Medieval French Manuscripts

Thomas Lecaque
Age of Revolutions

There is a moment, while contemplating gaps in the archival record as a medievalist, when we are then tempted to focus on the “bibliocide” of the past, to mourn the death of records that would have offered insight into our narrow, chosen fields. For French medievalists like myself, the French Revolution represents at once a fundamental shift towards modernity and an irrevocable loss of medieval materiality. Mobs burst into the monastery, cathedral, parish church, castle, or palace, dragged the manuscripts out of the armoires where they had been stored for centuries, piled them in a mound in a public place, and lit the patrimony of the nation on fire. From the ashes, modernity arose, but at a cost.

The French Revolution is famous for its rapid and violent destruction of feudalism and “secularization.” The nationalization of churches, monasteries, properties owned by clergy, and wealth, as well as the suppression of the aristocracy and clerical system that dominated the country as of 1790 was fairly complete. This “nationalization” was not a staid, controlled affair; priests were removed from their property, monasteries were turned into stables for animals that shat in the space medieval altars once occupied, filth coated frescoes made centuries before, and crowds in the grips of a secular iconoclasm tore down and burned religious items. Sooner than later, the Notre Dame de Paris, like many other churches, would be turned into temples of Reason under the Terror. [continue reading]

A Scholar of Extremism on How Religious Conflict Shapes Sri Lanka

Isaac Chotiner
New Yorker

On Easter Sunday, terrorists slaughtered nearly three hundred people in Sri Lanka, in coördinated attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels. The government has said that the attacks were the work of suicide bombers from a single extremist group, and that thirteen people are being held in police custody. On April 11th, the country’s deputy inspector general had issued a letter to government officials saying that National Thowheed Jama’ath, a radical Islamist group based in South India, was planning a terrorist attack, but the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has said that he did not receive the warning. Since the attack, the government has shut down Facebook and other social-media platforms, which recently were used to incite anti-Muslim violence in the country.

Sri Lanka has experienced intermittent violence since the end of a brutal civil war, which lasted from 1983 to 2009. In it, the government, dominated by Sinhalese Buddhists, who make up a large majority in Sri Lanka, defeated the insurgent Tamil Tigers, a militant group that emerged from the Tamil minority, which is overwhelmingly Hindu and makes up about fifteen per cent of the country. Muslim and Christian minorities, both of which make up about eight-to-ten per cent of the population, have also historically faced discrimination. To discuss Sunday’s atrocities and the political situation in Sri Lanka, I spoke by phone with Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who studies extremism in Sri Lanka and the region. [continue reading]

Chinese Recruits in the White Movement

Yuexin Rachel Lin
Shots Across the Amur

In previous posts, we saw how the first wave of the Civil War in East Siberia and the Russian Far East ended in temporary defeat for the Whites. As the Allies continued to wrangle over the issue of military intervention to oust the Bolsheviks and secure Russia’s participation in World War One, they put pressure on the Beijing government to allow escaping Whites to regroup in Chinese territory. An embryonic anti-Bolshevik government was also being formed in Harbin; its military commanders, such as Ataman Semenov, soon received Allied weapons and Japanese advisors.

The Whites did not confine themselves to supplementing their arsenals. While in Chinese territory, they took the opportunity to recruit Chinese soldiers as well, much to the consternation of local officials. [continue reading]

What is Global History?–Continued

Sebastian Conrad

It is a pleasure, and an honor, to read the four thoughtful responses to my recent book What is Global History? on the JHI Blog. All of the four contributors – Daoud Jackson, Maryam Patton, Derek Kane O‘Leary, and Sarah Dunstan – have offered sympathetic and at the same time critical readings of the book, and of the global history enterprise more generally. As becomes clear through reading the balanced and inspiring contributions, Global History, both as a field and as an approach, is not a fixed entity. It requires constant reflection and recalibration, and most importantly, it requires each generation to determine anew how to conceive of global history, how to use it, and to what end.

Every one of the four interventions raised a host of important questions that would merit discussion. In this short response, I will briefly pick up four major issues that were raised over the course of the blog conversation, some of them appearing in more than one contribution. They concern the plurality of global history, the concepts that we use, the inequalities and hierarchies involved, and the question of why we need global history in the first place. [continue reading]