From refuting the idea that precolonial Africa lacked written traditions to how war forced the United States to rethink the politics of oil, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Daivi Rodima-Taylor, Mustapha H. Kurfi, Fallou Ngom
Africa is a Country
Ajami, the centuries-old practice of writing other languages using the modified Arabic script, is deeply embedded in local histories and socio-cultural practices in West Africa. Grassroots Ajami literacy has been historically high in the communities and across countries in the region. While often viewed through the lens of its religious historical origins, it is increasingly evident that the use of Ajami scripts in a variety of African languages extends far beyond religious and educational contexts. African Ajami can be observed in a growing multiplicity of secular environments, including interpersonal communication, commercial advertising, street posters, billboards and road signs, political campaign ads, and the insignia of local businesses and services.
Arising from Islamic clerical and educational campaigns of the 15-16th centuries, Ajami constituted an early source of literacy for a variety of local languages in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Yoruba, Mande, Wolof, Fula, and Afrikaans. Its history refutes the oft-prevailing claims that Africa lacks written traditions. The downplaying and devaluing of the significance of African Ajami has long characterized both Arabic and European scholars and administrators of the colonial era, and its legacy still often persists, perpetuating racial stereotypes, limiting political participation, and obscuring ethnographic accounts of local practices and institutions. [continue reading]
Robert A. Manning
ast week, U.S. President Donald Trump opened his speech to the United Nations General Assembly with a glance backward, citing the seven decades of history through which the organization has passed. He went on to call for a retreat from the multilateral institutions the United States created after World War II and a return to crude nationalism—embodying the philosopher George Santayana’s warning, often dismissed as an old saw, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
From his “America First” campaign slogan, borrowed from U.S. isolationists of the 1930s, to his aggressive pursuit of tariffs—which recall the Smoot-Hawley Act, the set of protectionist policies that economists say greatly exacerbated the Great Depression—Trump’s path to the future appears to consist mostly of moving backward. [continue reading]
Indigenous activists say less than two hours after Captain Cook and his crew on the HMS Endeavour landed, they had committed atrocities, including murder. Britain’s high commissioner met Maori leaders to recognise the killings. Captain Cook is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest explorers but his legacy has been questioned by many.
New Zealand’s Maori people came into contact with Captain Cook and his crew in 1769 after the HMS Endeavour landed in what is now Poverty Bay. In two separate ceremonies with Maori groups, High Commissioner Laura Clarke made expressions of regret to both the Ngati Oneone hapu and Rongowhakaata iwi for the killings of nine of their ancestors during the first encounters with Captain Cook’s crew. It took place in the city of Gisborne, where the British landed in 1769. [continue reading]
Stewart M. Patrick
In his third annual speech to the UN General Assembly, President Donald J. Trump reinforced the central theme of his first two appearances: The road to international peace and prosperity requires collaboration among fiercely independent, sovereign nations that are vigilant in pursuing their national interests and determined to combat the siren songs of “globalism” and “socialism.” The president trumpeted the spirit of “national renewal” he had launched at home, and he encouraged peoples of all nations to embrace their own forms patriotism, by cherishing their unique histories, cultures, and destinies. At the same time, he offered zero guidance about how multilateral cooperation could actually emerge from these competing nationalisms. Nor did he explain why any other UN member states would want to follow the U.S. lead on Iran, given his own administration’s repeated defection from major international initiatives over the past three years.
In contrast to his earlier, bombastic appearances before the United Nations, Trump’s tone was solemn, even-keeled, even reassuring. He invoked the storied history of past UN speeches by world leaders. Once again, he declared, the globe faced clear choices. Today’s essential divide pitted countries ruled by tyrants and self-serving elites, on the one side, and nations that remained faithful to liberty, independence, and self-government, on the other. The American experience had vindicated the latter path. Democratic, free societies can only survive if patriotism prevails, he insisted. The future does not belong to globalists but to patriots who love their country, are committed to national ideals, and reject the machinations of bureaucrats at home and abroad. In sum, “the free world must embrace its national foundations.” [continue reading]
Emilie van Outeren
Professor Dariusz Stola is waiting. He has been on standby since February. Waiting to be reappointed as the director of Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. “Every morning I wake up thinking this might be the day the minister signs the documents for me to go back to work,” he tells me, in a Warsaw café.
Stola’s original term, which ended last spring, had been so successful that the independent committee charged with finding the next director for Polin chose him to stay on for another five years. But the man responsible for what should have been approving a formality, Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski, says he isn’t going to give Stola his job back anytime soon. “I’m still thinking about it,” Glinski said during a recent interview at his palatial Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. [continue reading]
Washington Post “Made by History”
When drone and missile attacks bombarded two Saudi Arabian oil facilities recently, the response from the Trump administration was fast and furious. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that Tehran was behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” According to the administration, the attack was nothing less than an affront to the global economy and international law and order — and Iran would be held accountable. Such a bellicose, locked-and-loaded approach to protecting oil interests is a relic of the past, one unlikely to lead to peace and stability. While the United States in the 20th century made global oil central to its security and power, recent decades should shake loose the notion that citing oil insecurity as a rationale for war is a wise choice.
One reason this idea endures is that anxiety about the stability of “global oil” has pervaded U.S. political culture since the middle of the 20th century. One great lesson of World War II was that “in war or peace, the United States has only one oil barrel,” as Interior Secretary Harold Ickes told Congress in 1945. Oil had been central to fighting the war, and by 1945 it had also transformed global transportation. A new system of fields, pipelines, tankers, refineries, fueling stations and bases emerged under U.S. control, ready to fuel the nation’s postwar security and economic prosperity. The new U.S. refinery and pipeline network laid end to end would reach “from New York to Yokohama via the sea route through Suez and Singapore,” Ralph Davies, an oil executive turned government official, told a Senate committee in 1945. [continue reading]