This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

‘This Plaque Is Dedicated to the Slaves That Were Taken From Their Homes.’ Banner taped to the pedestal of the toppled statue of Edward Colston, Bristol, UK. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

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

From decolonizing Exeter to Black Lives Matter as America’s best ambassadors, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Decolonise Exeter

Neha Shaji

You drive towards the globally renowned University of Exeter and a brazen man on an impatient horse glares down at you. A traffic cone on his head, a memorial at his feet for a boy who passed away in a tragic accident. Engraved on his plinth are the words “he saved Natal”, and the names of several countries across seas, spanning the globe. The sun wouldn’t have set on his cone-clad head. His horse paws the pedestal as you drive forward, thinking, he must have been loved.

Within the University grounds now, past the man and his horse, you’re in a different world. There are international students unloading trunks from taxis and there are posters and signs up about diversity and inclusion and, surely not, decolonization. So you don’t know, and you wouldn’t know about the ground you stand on and how the money for these beautiful buildings around you was harvested from magic money trees far away and centuries ago. [continue reading]

The Black Women Who Paved the Way for This Moment

Keisha N. Blain

In cities across the United States, black activists are denouncing state-sanctioned violence and demanding radical changes to American policing. Black women leaders occupy a central role in these movements. Utilizing public spaces—such as city parks and streets—they are advocating for equality and justice and giving voice to historical truths many Americans find uncomfortable. From the activist Tamika Mallory, who spoke before a crowd of protesters in Minneapolis, to the Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who promoted the growing movement to defund the police, black women are at the forefront of the protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade.

But the prominence of black women in these protests is not a sudden development. In taking to the streets in support of their goals, they are building upon a rich tradition of black women’s organizing. [continue reading]

Don’t worry about ‘rewriting history’: it’s literally what we historians do

Charlotte Lydia Riley

People are suddenly very concerned about the perils of rewriting history. We must be vigilant, apparently, to the possibility that great swaths of the past will be forgotten or, worse, “erased”. We must remain alert to the risk that our history will be “whitewashed” – as if there were enough whitewash in the world – with the difficult, complex bits disappeared. Meanwhile, unaware of all the controversy he has caused, Edward Colston’s statue lies peacefully at the bottom of Bristol harbour.

Historians are not too worried at the threat posed by “rewriting history”. This is because rewriting history is our occupation, our professional endeavour. We are constantly engaged in a process of re-evaluating the past and reinterpreting stories that we thought we knew. Despite what Leopold von Ranke – one of the pioneers of modern historical research – said, history is not only about finding out “how it actually happened”, but also about how we think about the past and our relationship to it. The past may be dead but history is alive, and it is constructed in the present. [continue reading]

These anti-racism protests show it’s time for Britain to grapple with its difficult history

Olivette Otele

We have spent more than a week experiencing turmoil, violence and soul searching following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Anti-racist groups mobilised people to support the Black Lives Matter movement across the US, and the rest of the world. In Britain, weekend protests culminated in Bristol with a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston being knocked from its plinth and thrown into the nearby harbour.

Despair, pain and anger have been running high within black communities. The recent killings of Breonna TaylorTony McDade, and George Floyd echoed the deaths of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and many others. These terrible events have ignited much more than mass demonstrations: they have triggered feelings that many within black communities have been suppressing for a long time, in order to simply be able to carry on living their lives. The issue of intergenerational trauma that is often explored when studying the history of slavery has resurfaced in the most violent way. [continue reading]

Black Lives Matter now represents America’s best ambassadors

Vivien Chang
Washington Post

George Floyd’s killing took place in Minneapolis, but its effects are reverberating far beyond the confines of the Twin Cities — and the nation. In London, a rainbow coalition demonstrated at Trafalgar Square and along the River Thames. In Bristol, England, protesters toppled a statue of a slave trader and plunged it into the harbor. In Abuja, Nigeria, protesters surrounded the U.S. Embassy, demanding justice for Floyd.

At a moment when pundits and academics may lament how President Trump’s America is retreating from the world stage, the persistence of the black freedom struggle and ongoing protests on six continents make plain that the longing for self-determination, human rights and egalitarianism ⁠ — values the United States touts but often fails to live up to ⁠ — continues at home and abroad. But leadership is emanating from the streets rather than the White House. [continue reading]