This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From how Japanese Canadians survived internment to when Africa was a German laboratory, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

How Japanese Canadians Survived Internment and Dispossession

Jessica Leigh Hester
Atlas Obscura

WHEN YON SHIMIZU HEARD THE news that Japanese forces had bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was on his hands and knees, scrubbing his family’s linoleum floor. Living in a rented house in Victoria, British Columbia, with his sister, two brothers, and their widowed mother, he was listening to the radio while completing his chores. He raced from the room to tell the rest of his family. “I was frightened and dismayed,” he recounts in the prologue to his book, The Exiles. Life had never been easy for his family, he adds, “but none of us were really prepared for the devastating events which were to unfold in the coming months.”

In 1942, the Canadian government declared a “protected area” along the Pacific Coast—a buffer zone between the water and the Japanese-Canadian communities that had flanked it. Under pressure from officials such as Ian Mckenzie, a cabinet minister from British Columbia, elected officials at federal, provincial, and local levels insisted that the Japanese Canadians who lived there be forcibly relocated. Nearly 22,000 people—roughly 90 percent of the Japanese Canadian population at the time—were uprooted. [continue reading]

Stephen Wertheim
New York Times

The next president, whoever he is, will not determine the future of America’s role in the world. Joe Biden does not recognize there is a problem. President Trump has no answers. Three decades into the “post-Cold War era,” still named for what preceded it, the United States possesses no widely shared, deeply felt purpose for vast global power. America’s armed dominance today occupies a position similar to that of liberal immigration, free trade or private health insurance a decade ago. Taken for granted by political elites, it is nonetheless ripe for challenge beneath the surface.

One source of challenge comes from recent experience: America’s wars have projected mayhem across the greater Middle East and brought militarized violence home to American streets. Another source is prospective: As both liberals and conservatives rack up debt, they will face pressure to cut the gargantuan, trillion-plus sum lavished annually on national security. But the most profound challenge is rooted deep in the past. If many Americans no longer understand why their country should police the world, it is for good reason: U.S. military supremacy has outlived its original purpose. [continue reading]

The real black history? The government wants to ban it

Priyamvada Gopal

When the enslaved African was put on a ship to be transported across the Atlantic, “that moment he became a revolutionary”, wrote the historian, campaigner and later prime minister of Trinidad, Eric Williams. He was complicating the familiar British story of abolition, in which black people who had somehow managed to get themselves enslaved were freed by the ‘Saints’ – educated white men of conscience.

In reality, both slaves and other colonial subjects in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean fought for their rights and freedom in very difficult circumstances. Those rebellions and liberation movements, along with the work of white abolitionists and critics of empire, put pressure on Britain to ultimately concede emancipation and independence. If the official history is of Britannic rule, a still-hidden history tells of black (and Asian) resistance to that rule. So, when speaking of black history, which is also British history, we need to ditch prejudicial and misleading phrases like “victim narratives”, recently used in the Department for Education’s statutory guidance to English schools. [continue reading]

The Imperial Boomerang: How France used colonial methods to massacre Algerians in Paris

Connor Woodman

In October 1961, several hundred Algerians were shot, strangled and dumped in a local river system by police officers. Bullets thudded into crowds of demonstrators, torture camps dotted the city, and entire neighbourhoods cordoned off over-night as police prowled door to door, beating every Algerian man they found. And what was the city hosting this cascade of brutality? Paris. The Parisian chief of police, Maurice Papon, once an enthusiastic Nazi collaborator, oversaw the bloodiest episode of state violence in post-WWII Western Europe.

What occurred in France in 1961 is one stunning example of a more general phenomenon: the imperial boomerang effect, when colonial methods of social control are imported back into the metropolis itself and deployed against marginalised populations at home. The methods of repression deployed by the French state in Paris were almost carbon copies of some of those developed to crush the National Liberation Front (Front de libération nationale, FLN) during the war in Algeria. To understand the political present in France, indeed, we must look to the continuing legacy and impacts of French colonialism within the metropolis itself. [continue reading]

When Africa was a German laboratory

Edna Bonhomme
Al Jazeera

At the turn of the 20th century, epidemics of trypanosomiasis, or “sleeping sickness” as it is more commonly known, started to appear across Africa. A vector-borne parasitic disease causing apathy, slow movement, speech disorders, physical weakness and death, sleeping sickness raised alarm among European colonisers on the continent who feared that its spread could slow down the African workforce, and subsequently their colonial projects. In 1906, a renowned German scientist travelled to East Africa with his wife and assistants to try and find a “cure” for the disease. He set up a sleeping sick “concentration camp” for East Africans, and started to “treat” them with Atoxyl – a reagent containing arsenic – even though it was known to cause pain, blindness and even death.

That scientist’s name was Robert Koch. Today, Koch’s legacy lives on across Germany. The city of Berlin is full of plaques, monuments, and statues bearing his name and praising his medical accomplishments. The German federal agency responsible for disease control and prevention, which is currently leading the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is also named after Koch. [continue reading]