This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Guatemala’s Ixil people at burial of victims of Guatemala’s 1982 civil war massacre, in the Quiche village of Nebaj on July 30, 2014. JOHAN ORDOÑEZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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

From Guatemala’s war on history to an alternative to US world dominance, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Guatemala Declares War on History

Colum Lynch
Foreign Policy

With the quiet acquiescence of the Trump administration, the Guatemalan government is threatening to bar access to a collection of national archives that have been at the core of various attempts to prosecute Guatemalan politicians and officers responsible for some of Latin America’s most heinous atrocities.

The move to suppress the archives is part of a larger campaign by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who faces allegations of receiving illicit campaign funds, to undercut the rule of law through the purge of judges, police officials, and archivists who have been at the forefront of Guatemala’s effort to investigate corruption, narcotrafficking, and war crimes, according to foreign diplomats and independent experts. [continue reading]

Remembering the 4,427 Spaniards who died at the Mauthausen concentration camp

Nicolas Pan-Montojo
El Pais

For years, the names of the 4,427 Spaniards who died in the Nazi concentration camp, Mauthausen-Gusen, were tucked away inside several old books in the headquarters of the Central Civil Registry on Madrid’s Montera street. But on Friday, the Spanish government released the data on all the Spanish Mauthausen victims in the Official State Bulletin (BOE), meaning names, places of birth and dates of death can be linked to the thousands of personal stories of the Republicans who fought in two wars and ended up in a concentration camp.

Aside from public recognition, the release of the data will allow family members to crosscheck the available information on the victims for themselves. The list published by the BOE has been coordinated by a group of historians, led by professor Gutmaro Gómez Bravo from the Complutense University in Madrid who warns, “There are surnames or places of birth which could be wrong as many prisoners of war were scared of reprisals against their loved ones or their political colleagues.” [continue reading]

Is fair trade finished?

Samantha Subramanian

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor. [continue reading]

An alternative to US world dominance

Andrew Bacevich
Boston Globe

The United States today finds itself strategically adrift. The Trump administration’s penchant for bluster and grandstanding, the absence of coherent and consistent policy direction, and the perpetual churning of senior officials all testify to a condition of dangerous disarray. Add to that the reluctance or inability of the Congress to offer anything approximating meaningful oversight and you have a circumstance not seen since Vietnam nearly destroyed the postwar tradition of American statecraft.

Yet to hold Trump responsible for this crisis is to misconstrue the problem. In a fundamental sense, his presidency represents an apotheosis. An approach to policy conceived by Trump’s several predecessors in the aftermath of the Cold War has failed. That failure is irrevocable, even if that fact has yet to sink in with more than a few political insiders. In the ungainly person of Donald Trump, the chickens have come home to roost. Future scholars will enshrine the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the presidential election of November 2016 as the era of imagined US global primacy. History itself had seemingly conferred on America the status of “sole superpower,” called upon to transform the world in its own image. [continue reading]

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