This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Illustration of Herbert Hoover by Oscar Cesare (1929) | Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

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

From when globalization really began to the end of the global trading system, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Christiane Bird
New York Times

In the year 1000, the world was on the move. Traders and pilgrims were sailing across the Indian Ocean, to and from East Africa, Arabia, India and China. Slaves were being marched from Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa to Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. The Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula were traveling as far north as the Mississippi River Valley and as far south as Colombia. And then, in the most significant journey of the era, the Vikings sailed to Canada, connecting these trade routes and creating a round-the-world loop. Globalization, Valerie Hansen argues in her fascinating new book, “The Year 1000,” had begun.

Today, we in the West tend to believe that it wasn’t until the late 1400s and 1500s, when Europeans sailed to the Americas and around the Cape of Good Hope, that the world became interconnected, and that it wasn’t until the 20th century that globalization developed. But, as Hansen shows, the Europeans were only using existing trade routes, and by the time they ventured forth, globalization, with all its pluses and minuses — cultural exchange and conflict, winners and losers, the growth of technology and the loss of tradition — was already well underway. One of the book’s surprises is its demonstration of how much life in the early 1000s resembled that in the 21st century. In those years, a citizen living in Quanzhou, China, could buy sandalwood tables from Java, ivory ornaments from Africa and amber vials from the Baltic region; attend Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist religious services; and, if well educated, read a Japanese novel or the latest writings of Islamic scholars. [continue reading]

The pandemic adds momentum to the deglobalization trend

Douglas A. Irwin

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the world economy to retreat from global economic integration. Policymakers and business leaders are now questioning whether global supply chains have been stretched too far. In an environment where alliances are uncertain and international cooperation is absent, they are also asking whether they should reduce their economic interdependence. National security and public health concerns are providing new rationales for protectionism, especially for medical gear and food, and an emphasis on domestic sourcing.

This retreat will not mark the end of globalization, a process that has reached a historically high level. But globalization can be reversed, at least partially. The Great Recession of 2008–10 marked a historic turning point in the degree of global economic integration. Now, in response to the current health and economic crisis, policymakers appear poised to take deliberate steps to reinforce the movement toward deglobalization. These steps threaten to slow or reverse the economic growth delivered by globalization. Even worse, new restrictions on trade could proliferate and inflict damage that could take decades to reverse. [continue reading]

When jazz fever gripped the townships

Katerina Markelova

Jürgen Schadeberg, the photographer who took an iconic photograph of Nelson Mandela looking out through the bars of his former cell at the Robben Island prison in 1994, was not just a witness to apartheid. He also documented the evolution of South African jazz for almost sixty years*. The encounter of this exceptional photographer with a momentous era and a vibrant and revolutionary musical milieu resulted in a rich and authentic photographic series that has the value of a historical document.  At the age of 19, in 1950, Schadeberg fled Germany and its Nazi past. But the country he chose to settle in, South Africa, had just fallen into total apartheid. In Sophiatown (Johannesburg)  and other South African townships, to where non-whites were gradually being expelled from the city centres, the photographer mingled with the young generation of black musicians. Mostly self-taught, with their eyes glued on Manhattan, they took over the music scene with a new and distinctive style. “In South Africa, the American jazz sound was adapted and Africanized, giving it a unique township flavour,” Schadeberg explained.

Future world jazz stars – among them, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim – took their first steps in these working-class neighbourhoods. Forced into exile, especially in the United States and Europe, many of these musicians would continue to use their talent and fame in the fight against apartheid. It was this epoch, these aspirations, this struggle, that Schadeberg’s camera captured. His work resulted in several arrests and led him into exile in 1964. Regarded as the father of South African photography, Schadeberg – who became artistic director of the black urban culture magazine Drum – trained a whole generation of South African photojournalists in the 1950s. [continue reading]

What Donald Trump Could Learn from Herbert Hoover

Todd Tucker

With the U.S. health crisis showing no signs of abating, and recognition growing that even the historic $2 trillion bailout won’t be enough to keep our economy on ice while keeping people whole, ideas are piling up for what to include in future relief packages. Proposals are moving far beyond traditional benefit spending to include big new structural innovations. Those include ideas like a National Pandemic Production and Financing Board that could take equity stakes in health supply companies to help ramp up and produce medical equipment, or a Health Finance Corporation that could fund the crisis response by raising money in debt markets. Versions of these ideas have been championed on the left and the right, and by politicians from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio.

This type of agency, which uses public dollars to make big economic investments designed to help resuscitate the U.S. economy and produce needed supplies, might seem like a dramatic new emergency measure, and indeed it might be—but it wouldn’t be unprecedented. A common denominator of these proposals is they have a big, successful but controversial antecedent: the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government body that helped the U.S. fight the Great Depression and then went on to fund the massive efforts required to fight World War II and the Korean War. [continue reading]

COVID-19 Could Bring Down the Trading System

Chad Bown
Foreign Affairs

For three years, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has attacked the global trading system. Now other forces are battering international trade. The pandemic spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is stoking new pressure for protectionism, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) needs to prepare for more countries to capitulate under the strain.

If the trend is left unchecked, the world may repeat the experience of the 1930s, when industrial production fell by nearly 40 percent, unemployment soared, and economic activity remained anemic for the better part of a decade. Then as now, trade barriers did not cause the problems. America’s Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act did not trigger the Great Depression, and tariffs today will not have caused the COVID-19 depression. [continue reading]