From an intimate view of the British Empire to when the Nazis were welcome in the Canary Islands, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
After Carl Carby arrived in England from Jamaica, in 1943, he wore starched shirts, polished dress shoes, and neatly knotted ties. He was from the colonies, but his mannerisms evinced a restrained, British sensibility. Like most early immigrants from the Caribbean, he was expected to provide a service: his entrance to England was predicated on his employment as a bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force, which recruited around six thousand people from England’s “black colonies” to fight in the Second World War. At a dance in Worcester, he met Iris Leaworthy, a young, white Welsh woman who worked as a civil servant in the Air Ministry, and the two bonded over the surprising similarities of their upbringings. Both had grown up in poverty.
As schoolchildren, each donned a starched uniform and, on Empire Day, a holiday designed to instill in children a feeling of belonging to a great nation, waved the Union Jack. When England went to war, both of them enthusiastically offered their service. The pair soon married, and had a daughter named Hazel. To her, Carl spoke little of Jamaica. “It was as if he had been born an airman in the Royal Air Force,” Hazel Carby writes in “Imperial Intimacies,” her new book of political history, which came out last month. [continue reading]
THE VERSATILITY OF THE APPLE II made it one of the most widespread personal computers of the 1970s and 80s. In schools, labs, and even command centers, these classic American computers kept a foothold even after the advent of more advanced machines. But of all the places you’d expect to find the computer that popularized The Oregon Trail, the mournful museum of a Communist leader is one of the most unlikely.
Lenin Museum in Gorki Leninskiye, located 20 miles south of Moscow, doesn’t look hi-tech even by 1980s standards. But among black marble interiors, gilded display cases, and Soviet historical documents, there is an elaborate audiovisual show about the last years of Vladimir Lenin’s life. Opened in 1987, it’s still powered by vintage Apple technology. [continue reading]
It is a song close to French hearts, the building power of its defiant march swelling chests and bringing a tear to the eye. But the “Song of the Partisans” — the hymn of the French Resistance which moves most French people more than their bellicose national anthem “La Marseillaise” — was in fact written over a pot of tea in London by a group of Russians. For years the authorities were content to quietly perpetuate the myth that the song had sprung from the brave hearts of fighters who had taken to the “maquis” and the mountains to resist the German occupiers during World War II.
Indeed the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle ordered that the names of its true authors be hushed up, a new exhibition on the song in Paris shows. “If people realised that it had been written in London over tea and sandwiches it wouldn’t quite have had the same ring nor credibility,” said curator Lionel Dardenne. In fact, the music was written by a young White Russian aristocrat named Anna Betoulinsky who worked in the Free French canteen in the British capital. [continue reading]
In 1926, the US historian Carter G Woodson, the son of former slaves, launched Negro History Week to commemorate important people and events from the African diaspora. “If a race has no history,” he said, “it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Renamed and expanded in the 1970s, what we now know as Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK since 1987.
This year, as every year, the focus will be on pivotal and well-documented figures such as Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But there are others whose often radical work is frequently forgotten. In an effort to honour at least some of them, we asked black historians and cultural figures to nominate their own heroes and watershed events. [continue reading]
“This avenue used to be Stalinallee!” he tells me as we head down Karl-Marx-Allee. “They renamed it after Stalin died. “And over there was Lenin Square. There was a big Lenin statue. But they took it down.” He looks out of the window and smiles. Mr Krenz, a sprightly 82-year-old, is in finer fettle than the country he once ran. The German Democratic Republic – East Germany – no longer exists. Thirty years after the tumultuous events of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mr Krenz has agreed to meet me.
Due to my poor German and Mr Krenz’s lack of English, we’re communicating in Russian. It’s a language he knows well. He had to: the GDR was a satellite state of Moscow. “I love Russia and I loved the Soviet Union,” he tells me. “I still have many connections there. The GDR was a child of the Soviet Union. The USSR stood by the GDR’s cradle. And, sadly, it also stood by its deathbed.” For communist Russia, East Germany was its key outpost in Europe. The Soviet Union had 800 military garrisons in the GDR and half a million soldiers. “Occupying power or not, we saw the Soviet troops as our friends,” says Mr Krenz. But what was the benefit of being part of the Soviet empire? [continue reading]
Vincente G. Olaya
Between the First and Second World Wars, the Canary Islands became an obligatory port of call for German ships engaged in naval maneuvers. In fact, 70% of German ships dropped anchor in the islands’ ports while the other 30% sailed through their waters at some point. A study by the historian José Miguel Rodríguez Illescas, titled The German Navy in the Canary Islands Between the Wars exposes little-known information about these military maneuvers and includes a previously unpublished collection of photos, from banners welcoming Hitler on the streets of Santa Cruz to warm welcomes by crowds of locals, to a gift of Tío Pepe sherry and cookies to departing German sailors, to an excursion to Mount Teide that came complete with a live band and dancing.
Having consulted documents from the German Embassy, the Canaries Intermediary Military Archive (AIMC) and the Canaries Historical and Cultural Military Center, Rodríguez Illescas points out that the German navy as a whole was never charged with genocide during the Second World War, though isolated figures within it were. [continue reading]