This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

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

From the myth of Henry Kissinger to the real Lord of the Flies, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Myth of Henry Kissinger

Thomas Meaney
New Yorker

In 1952, at the age of twenty-eight, Henry Kissinger did what enterprising graduate students do when they want to hedge their academic future: he started a magazine. He picked an imposing name—Confluence—and enlisted illustrious contributors: Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Lillian Smith, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr. The publisher James Laughlin, who was a backer of the magazine, described the young Kissinger as “a thoroughly sincere person (terribly earnest Germanic type) who is trying his hardest to do an idealistic job.” Like his other early production, the Harvard International Seminar, a summer program that convened participants from around the world—Kissinger gamely volunteered to spy on attendees for the F.B.I.—the magazine opened channels for him not only with policymakers in Washington but also with an older generation of German Jewish thinkers whose political experience had been formed in the early thirties, when the Weimar Republic was supplanted by the Nazi regime.

For Cold War liberals, who saw the stirrings of fascism in everything from McCarthyism to the rise of mass culture, Weimar was a cautionary tale, conferring a certain authority on those who had survived. Kissinger cultivated the Weimar intellectuals, but he was not impressed by their prospects for influence. Although he later invoked the memory of Nazism to justify all manner of power plays, at this stage he was building a reputation as an all-American maverick. [continue reading]

Beware Defenders of the British Empire

Jeff Schauer
California Mwananchi

Periodically, those of us who study the British Empire run across an attempt, either by a colleague in the historical field, or popular writers, to resuscitate the British Empire as one of history’s “Good Things.” One of the latest comes from Richard Tombs, a British historian of France who took umbrage at, among other things, the British Labour Party’s promise in a recent election manifesto to “audit” the British Empire to better understand the relationship between colonial rule and the unstable politics of some of those parts of the world formerly ruled by Britain.

Tombs, who on the basis of his essay hasn’t read much scholarship generated in the past half century on the British Empire, decided that what was needed was an essay titled “In defence of the British Empire,” published in the Spectator. Tombs gets quite a few facts wrong–more on this below–and uses some curious lines of logic to mount his defence of Britain’s multi-century experiment in governing vast swathes of the world without the consent of the governed. [continue reading]

Rajat Neogy (1938-95)

Gerard McCann
Another World?

Rajat Neogy was born in Kampala in 1938, the first of three children to Indian teachers who arrived in Uganda in 1937 and migrated to Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1960. He grew up in Kampala’s Asian community in a Bengali family, a minority in the East African Indian diaspora of majority Gujarati and Punjabi migrants. After attending the elite (mainly Goan) Kololo School in Kampala, he studied anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, married Charlotte Bystrom, a Swede, and worked briefly as a scriptwriter for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

On his return to Kampala in 1961 after the demise of his first marriage, he met and married Barbara Brown (née Lapchick), an American artist, former Ford and Vogue Magazine fashion model, daughter of the renowned US basketball player, Joe Lapchick, and the first director of the Nommo Art Gallery in Kampala. That year, at just 22 years of age, in the defining act of his short public life, Neogy founded the magazine, Transition. It would become the most daring and important literary and political journal of Africa’s 1960s and, after a revival in the African diaspora in the 1990s, continues to be a path-breaking pan-African global cultural magazine. [continue reading]

Archival Reflections—Spanish Manila’s seventeenth century Media Anata

Nicholas Michael C. Sy
Toynbee Prize Foundation

The empire’s leyes de indias applied the media anata to colonial grants. In Manila, these grants ranged from the privileges of running a shop or carrying a sword, to the privileges of holding municipal office or travelling to mainland Southeast Asia. Manila’s Royal contador (fiscal officer or, simply, accountant) compiled a yearly register of these payments and sent them to the colony’s Real Hacienda.

Every register contained several hundred entries. The registry of 1656 had 326 entries. That of 1654 had 362 entries. Each entry had the following components: date, amount paid, grantee’s name, grant given, and terms of payment. Various data appeared less regularly such as: a guarantor’s name, or the grantee’s occupation, ethnicity, or place of origin. Each of these items represents a potential variable for quantitative study. In addition, a tally of payments was recorded in roman numerals at the end of every page, and an overall summation of these tallies was done at the end of every year (AGI 1654–6). [continue reading]

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

Rutger Bregman

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.

When I started writing a book about this more hopeful view, I knew there was one story I would have to address. It takes place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. A plane has just gone down. The only survivors are some British schoolboys, who can’t believe their good fortune. Nothing but beach, shells and water for miles. And better yet: no grownups. [continue reading]