This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Castro in Harlem
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and Cuban President Fidel Castro, center, are seen outside the Hotel Theresa in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. (Associated Press)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the African who transformed Anglo-Saxon England to the anti-colonial repatriation of museum artifacts, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The African who transformed Anglo-Saxon England

Michael Wood
History Extra

In recent years our eyes have been opened to black histories in Britain before the Windrush generation, stretching back through the world wars, on to the Victorian era and beyond. The numbers were small, but the presence was significant, as the black characters in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays show. Much further back, there were Africans in Roman Britain, from Mauretania, today’s Morocco and Algeria. Among them was Victor, the former slave of a cavalry soldier called Numerianus, who is described as “natione Maurum” (“of the Moorish nation”) on a second-century AD tombstone from modern-day South Shields.

Then there’s near silence. In the thousand years between the end of Roman Britain and the first British overseas explorations under the Tudors, people of colour are far less visible. Their stories cause barely a ripple in the waters of British history. One such story exists just below that surface – rarely impacting on public consciousness. But it is immeasurably important all the same. [continue reading]

Red-Scare Rhetoric Isn’t Gone From Histories of American Sport

Johanna Mellis, Nathan Kalman-Lamb, and Derek Silva

It is a sport in which screaming insults at children is considered an accepted motivational technique, in which competing with severe injuries is the norm . . . and in which abuse, broadly defined, is standard.” You could be forgiven for thinking this passage was written about American football or almost any other US sport, given how succinctly it defines the exploitation and abuse seemingly endemic to this country’s athletic cultures. Yet the passage isn’t about football — it is a description of gymnastics by former national champion and producer of Athlete A Jennifer Sey.

This will come as no surprise for anyone who has viewed the recent Netflix film Athlete A or ESPN’s 30 for 30 podcast series Heavy Medals. The stories depicted in both these documentaries are a shock to most Americans. Athlete A follows a team of investigative journalists from the Indianapolis Star as they chase and ultimately break the tragic story of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor and convicted abuser Larry Nassar’s sexual assault and abuse of over 250 girl athletes. The documentary details the culture of cruelty that was created and sustained in elite-level gymnastics in USA Gymnastics — one of the most prominent national governing bodies of sport in the world — and how athletes who refused to stay silent took on this system. [continue reading]

Fidel Castro Stayed in Harlem 60 Years Ago to Highlight Racial Injustice in the U.S.

Simon Hall

When the General Assembly of the United Nations opened 60 years ago this week, Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader of Cuba, audaciously ensured that the world’s attention would be drawn to America’s “race problem.” On the evening of September 19, 1960, Castro—in New York for the international summit—stormed out of his plush midtown hotel following a fight over money. After a brief sojourn at U.N. headquarters, where he threatened to set up camp in the complex’s rose garden, he relocated to the Hotel Theresa, the so-called “Waldorf of Harlem.”

The Manhattan neighborhood—with its crumbling tenement buildings, garbage-strewn streets, shockingly high rates of asthma and tuberculosis, soaring crime rates, poorly-funded, overcrowded and segregated schools, and endemic police brutality and corruption—offered a powerful illustration of the problems facing African Americans in America’s northern cities. As the local NAACP leader, Joe Overton, put it, Harlem was a “police state.” [continue reading]

Ex-slave Mary Prince was a ‘savvy narrator’ who used religion to convince the British public that black people were human beings

St. John’s College, Cambridge, Blog

When The History of Mary Prince, the first account of a black woman’s life in Britain, was published in 1831 it scandalised the British public, galvanised the anti-slavery movement and contributed to the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. But who was Mary Prince, slavery’s everywoman whose revelations about the reality of life as a female slave spoke for millions of silent women? And how did she get the British public not just to listen to her story but to care?

A new book titled Protestant Empires: Globalizing the Reformations edited by Professor Ulinka Rublack, Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, explores the relationship between religion and slavery. The book brings together leading scholars to discuss global Protestant experiences created by the Reformation in the early modern world. [continue reading]

Farah Nayeri
New York Times

PARIS — Early one afternoon in June, the Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza walked into the Quai Branly Museum, the riverfront institution that houses treasures from France’s former colonies, and bought a ticket. Together with four associates, he wandered around the Paris museum’s African collections, reading the labels and admiring the treasures on show. Yet what started as a standard museum outing soon escalated into a raucous demonstration as Mr. Diyabanza began denouncing colonial-era cultural theft while a member of his group filmed the speech and live-streamed it via Facebook. With another group member’s help, he then forcefully removed a slender 19th-century wooden funerary post, from a region that is now in Chad or Sudan, and headed for the exit. Museum guards stopped him before he could leave.

The next month, in the southern French city of Marseille, Mr. Diyabanza seized an artifact from the Museum of African, Oceanic and Native American Arts in another live-streamed protest, before being halted by security. And earlier this month, in a third action that was also broadcast on Facebook, he and other activists took a Congolese funeral statue from the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, the Netherlands, before guards stopped him again. [continue reading]