From Trump’s latest act of international vandalism to lessons from the Haitian Revolution, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
In a parody of self-destructive nationalism, Donald Trump yesterday decided that an unprecedented global health emergency was the perfect time to withdraw American funding from the organization whose job it is to fight global health emergencies. His decision to suspend contributions to the World Health Organization is an extraordinary act of moral abdication and international vandalism at a time when the world desperately needs to find means of working together to combat an unprecedented global threat.
Global problems require global solutions. Covid-19 does not respect borders – even closed ones – and its continued transmission anywhere poses a threat to health everywhere. We are still in phase one of the crisis, in which countries are mostly focused on containing the initial wave of domestic outbreaks. If these efforts are not to be in vain, then intensive international cooperation will be needed to get expertise and resources to where they are needed most – especially as the disease takes root in impoverished countries in the Global South. [continue reading]
Shortly after her marriage to Thomas Hardy on February 10, 1914, Florence Dugdale wrote to Harold Barlow, a pupil from her teaching days – “the most literary of all my pupils, & a very nice pupil too” – with this news, in the first of three letters that have recently come to light. (Harold, the son of an electric wire-maker and a housemaid, now a young man of twenty-three, had just written to Florence of his new life in Africa.)
Florence’s delight in hearing from her past pupil and telling him of life with Hardy at Max Gate is palpable. “Perhaps you have read, if you have the English papers, that I am now the proud and very happy wife of the greatest living English writer – Thomas Hardy. Although he is much older than myself it is a genuine love match – on my part, at least, for I suppose I ought not to speak for him. At any rate I know I have for a husband one of the kindest, most humane men in the world.” But she was also weary of celebrity culture and the media: “Accounts of me & my portrait have been printed in every paper, I think, in England. I have been shown in the Cinematograph, written about all over America & Europe. I am tired of this publicity. I will send you a paper or two I think if you care to see them”. [continue reading]
New York Times
One symptom of the coronavirus pandemic has been an explosion of economic nationalism around the world. Many countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have erected export controls to prevent scarce goods like protective masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators and testing kits from being sold abroad. And global competition to purchase these goods is playing out like the plot of a bad action movie with accusations that planes full of Europe-bound masks have been diverted at the last minute to the United States. A German official has accused the United States of “modern piracy.”
This competition threatens to raise the prices of these goods to dangerous levels — or make it impossible to procure them at all. In early February, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, warned that prices for some protective equipment had risen to 20 times their normal amount. As the coronavirus continues to spread, this situation will become particularly dire for countries that cannot afford to keep pace. [continue reading]
The year after the devastating 1892 cholera outbreak wrought havoc on Central Europe, Germany convened an international conference to address its consequences of the catastrophe for trade and movement. As news of the deadly epidemic had spread, not only countries but individual towns closed themselves off from one another. The subsequent gathering, held in Dresden, resulted in guidelines that ensured commercial life would no longer be so disrupted during such calamities. Migrants were subject to heightened scrutiny by the agreement – yet facing lobbying by passenger shipping companies, the German government interpreted it in a way that granted them continued mobility as well – because Berlin deemed their movements, too, a vital component of commerce. Other states followed Germany’s lead.
Disasters of all types – wars, climate events, pandemics – can turn societies inward, seeking to protect their own. The Black Death, Miri Rubin has recently written, unwound medieval cities’ growing diversity. Even more famously, the intensified border controls that accompanied the First World War remained long thereafter. Will borders tightened by Covid-19 – which in some instances, as in 1892 Germany, even extend to internal divisions within countries – remain a part of the post-pandemic world? [continue reading]
Marlene L. Daut
When the topic of the Haitian Revolution comes up, most people probably think of Toussaint Louverture, the formerly enslaved man who led one of the largest slave rebellions in the world, one that forcefully abolished slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Though he was already an international figure in his day, Louverture owes his enduring fame in the English-speaking world, at least in part, to the late West Indian writer C. L. R. James. In his famous 1938 book, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, James cemented the revolutionary hero’s place in the legend of Haiti’s uprising as “the first and greatest of West Indians.”
Yet James eventually came to regret stating that the Haitian Revolution was “almost entirely the work of a single man —Toussaint L’Ouverture.” In a 1971 speech called “How I would Rewrite The Black Jacobins,” James confessed that he “would only give Toussaint a walk-on part if he were to rewrite it from scratch.” In her new monograph, Making the Black Jacobins: C. L. R. James and the Drama of History, Rachel Douglas carefully compares the first edition of James’s text, published in 1938, and the second edition, from 1963. Douglas notes that while in the later edition James did not alter his previous assertion, he did try to decenter Louverture. This was not because James sought to disavow the importance of one of Haiti’s most storied revolutionary heroes. It was, rather, because James hoped instead to reveal the role played by the Revolution’s masses and less visible leaders, those whom he would come to call the “black sansculottes.” “If I were writing this book again,” James said in the speech, “I would have something to say about those two thousand leaders.” [continue reading]