This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Tel Aviv Street, 1935, © National Library of Israel

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

From when India’s Olympians refused to salute Hitler to the shameful final grievance of the Declaration of Independence, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

When Dhyan Chand and India’s Olympians Refused to Salute Hitler

Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta
The Wire

The Berlin Olympics were declared open on August 1, 1936. M.N. Masood, a member of the team, left a minute-by-minute description of the opening ceremony that provides fascinating information. It was nothing less than a grand spectacle of Hitler’s ‘thousand-year Reich’. The Wehrmacht was fully mobilised in setting up the support infrastructure and the competitors were transported to the venue in army trucks. The Indians, with Dhyan Chand carrying the flag, were by far the most colourfully dressed of the contingents present. As Masood noted,

‘With our golden “kullahs” and light blue turbans, our contingent appeared as members of a marriage procession of some rich Hindu gentleman, rather than competitors in the Olympic Games.’

But this was no ordinary ‘marriage procession’ – the members of the Indian team were about to make a huge political statement by becoming one of the only two contingents who refused to salute Adolf Hitler. [continue reading]

Unexpected Guests? The Soviet Union and the History of Global Capitalism: An Interview with Oscar Sanchez-Sibony

Rustam Khan
Toynbee Prize Foundation

Capitalism versus Communism. To many, the latter half of the twentieth history was deeply shaped by the confrontation between these two ideological and socioeconomic systems. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, capitalism’s triumph was credited to its valorization of money and protection of markets, among other factors; and, as the story continues, Communists failed, in part, because they suppressed markets and globalization. Yet, how much of this historical picture holds true? To Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, a good deal of Cold War histories are founded on generally held misconceptions about the political economy of the Soviet Union. Not only do they ignore the intense engagements between the Soviets and the world, they often miss the mark by neglecting the larger financial and economic architecture that facilitated such exchanges and economic growth in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). There is a larger story to be told about the rise of global capitalism and the Soviet Union.

These are the themes of Red Globalization: The Political Economy of the Soviet Cold War from Stalin to Khrushchev (2014). Making use of archival documents from Russian archives, Sanchez-Sibony provides a rich account of how a young Bolshevik state navigated through the world’s economic crises, while seeking favorable trading partners in the West for investments. This interview also ventures into topics and figures such as Depression Stalinism, Anastas Mikoyan, and Soviet-Global South relations. This book provoked much debate, and will be a must-read for years to come for anyone interested in histories of the Soviet Union, global capitalism, and the global Cold War. [continue reading]

Is settler colonial history urban history?

Efrat Gilad
Global Urban History

Tel Aviv, “the First Hebrew City” founded in 1909, is also referred to as “the city that begat a state”. This celebratory proverb illustrates how the city’s capitalist ventures were the economic and cultural catalyst for the future state. While Jerusalem had its spiritual significance and Haifa served as a center of British economic interests, Tel Aviv operated as the Jewish capital throughout British rule (1917-1948). The city attracted Jewish settlers to Palestine and served as an urban refuge for those settlers who became disillusioned from the glorified image of rural life. A cultural hub, business epicenter and headquarters of several Zionist institutions, Tel Aviv, in other words, was a settler-city that begat a settler-state.

The history of Tel Aviv as settler-city (hyphenated thusly I suggest, to be read as one concept) begs to look elsewhere for additional examples where settler-cities were a crucial component in creating states. Yet, while some scholars have pointed to the mundane activities of urban settlers as imperative to, and representative of, the settler colonial system, historiography deems urbanism as inherently antithetical to the concept of settler colonialism even in the face of overwhelming demographic and economic evidence disproving such a dichotomy. [continue reading]

Mexico, Not France, Had ‘Most Profound And Pervasive’ Impact On 20th Century American Art, Whitney Curator Discovers

Natasha Gural

Four propeller-like shapes emanate from a worker controlling machinery sitting behind a gargantuan fist grasping an orb depicting the recombination of atoms and dividing cells in acts of chemical and biological generation. Diego Rivera described the four shapes as “elongated ellipses”, adorned with cosmological and biological forces such as exploding suns and cell-forms visible by telescope and microscope.

The worker is flanked on the left by affluent society women playing cards and smoking cigarettes. To the right, Lenin holds hands with a group of a multi-racial workers. Soldiers and war machinery hover above the wealthy women. Red flags wave above Lenin at a Russian May Day rally. Enormous classical statues punctuate each side, a seething Jupiter wielding a thunderbolt stuck off by lightening on the left, and a decapitated Caesar on the right. [continue reading]

The Shameful Final Grievance of the Declaration of Independence

Jeffrey Ostler

“We hold these truths to be self evident.” Say these words, and many Americans will be able to recite what follows: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The opening words of the Declaration of Independence—and easily its most remembered part—are widely celebrated as signifying the beginning of an exceptional American history, one characterized, despite setbacks, by a progressive expansion of rights.

The closing words of the Declaration are far less known. The last of a list of 27 grievances against King George III, they read as follows: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” These words call attention to hard truths about America’s founding that have often been brushed aside. [continue reading]