This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Man in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, sitting beneath graffiti depicting African American man George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody [Baz Ratner/Reuters]
Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the USA as a long-time symbol of anti-black racism to global protests against police brutality, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Around the world, the U.S. has long been a symbol of anti-black racism

Nana Osei-Opare
Washington Post

The extrajudicial killing of George Floyd has sparked days of unrest and protest around the United States. What is less well known but no less important is how this event has sparked massive anti-racism protests around the world, including in Nairobi, Lagos, London, Berlin, Toronto and most recently, Paris. Among black Africans, anger and criticism have spread widely on social media platforms. The African Union also waded into the controversy. It released a statement on May 29 condemning Floyd’s murder “at the hands of law enforcement officers.” And on June 1, the Zimbabwean government summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain Floyd’s death.

These represent only the most recent episode in a long global history of black protest and activism against anti-black violence. Throughout the last century, the United States has projected itself as a global leader of liberty, democracy and freedom. But on questions of race, America has consistently been on the wrong side of history — and the world has noticed. [continue reading]

India’s first gay film Badnam Basti resurfaces after nearly half a century’s hibernation in Berlin archive

Manish Gaekwad

Badnam Basti’s fate is as chequered as its history. The 1971 Hindi film considered as India’s first movie depicting a homosexual relationship and thought to be lost, has emerged after 49 years of hiding in an archive in Berlin. It is one year short of celebrating half a century of obscurity. The Block Museum of Art in Illinois livestreamed the 83-minute film (with English subtitles) over 7-10 May, with the support of the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Artin Berlin.

Simran Bhalla, PhD, a candidate in screen cultures at Northwestern University and The Block 2019–2020 Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow, said she and Michael Metzger (Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts) were curating a programme of Indian films reflecting on modernity in India from the 1960s-1970s. “We were looking to feature a film by Raj Kapoor when we discovered a listing of Badnam Basti in the archive of the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art,” she said. [continue reading]

History Will Judge the Complicit

Anne Applebaum

On a cold march afternoon in 1949, Wolfgang Leonhard slipped out of the East German Communist Party Secretariat, hurried home, packed what few warm clothes he could fit into a small briefcase, and then walked to a telephone box to call his mother. “My article will be finished this evening,” he told her. That was the code they had agreed on in advance. It meant that he was escaping the country, at great risk to his life.

Though only 28 years old at the time, Leonhard stood at the pinnacle of the new East German elite. The son of German Communists, he had been educated in the Soviet Union, trained in special schools during the war, and brought back to Berlin from Moscow in May 1945, on the same airplane that carried Walter Ulbricht, the leader of what would soon become the East German Communist Party. Leonhard was put on a team charged with re‑creating Berlin’s city government. [continue reading]

The Final Years of the USSR: Research Opportunities and Obstacles in the Moscow Archives

Mark Kramer
Sources and Methods

Despite the continued slowness and unevenness of declassification in Moscow archives, progress over the past decade has given researchers a wealth of crucial materials they can now consult about the final years of the Soviet Union. In late March 2020, the COVID-19 crisis in Russia led to the temporary closure of central archives that hold records from the Soviet period.  Although the Russian government has not yet announced when the archives will reopen, the good news for researchers is that the archival situation in Russia has improved a great deal over the past several years despite Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian clampdown.

Extremely important collections of Soviet documents became available for the first time in Moscow in 2014, and even larger collections (amounting to many millions of pages of sensitive materials) were opened in August 2015, giving researchers a huge number of new research avenues to pursue.  Other crucial collections became available in Moscow in December 2018 when the Russian State Archive of Recent History (RGANI), which had been closed for two-and-a-half years during a move to a new location, reopened with much better working conditions than previously.  Despite the dismal political situation in Russia under Putin, opportunities to explore the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union based on documents from the Russian archives (as well as other countries’ archives) are now better than at any time in the past. [continue reading]

Damien Cave, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Iliana Magra
New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia — They were warned by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia against attending a Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday because of the coronavirus risk, but tens of thousands would not be deterred. The health minister in Britain pleaded with residents not to gather for similar marches in cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham to stop the virus’s spread, but throngs showed up anyway — despite the cold weather, the spitting rain and warnings by the police that mass gatherings would violate the rule that only six people from different households could gather outside during the pandemic.

From Paris to Berlin — as in demonstrations this past week in Japan, Sweden and Zimbabwe — people around the world once again turned out in solidarity with Americans protesters calling for justice in the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. [continue reading]