This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

“A new Map of the whole World, by H. Moll. [In hemispheres, on the stereographic projection]” – British Library shelfmark: Maps K.Top.4.25.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the threat of academic authoritarianism to when Louis Armstrong stopped a civil war in the Congo, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Open Letter: the threat of academic authoritarianism – international solidarity with antiracist academics in France

Alana Lentin and co-signatories
Open Democracy

At a time of mounting racism, white supremacism, antisemitism and violent far-right extremism, academic freedom has come under attack. The freedom to teach and research the roots and trajectories of race and racism are being perversely blamed for the very phenomena they seek to better understand. Such is the contention of a manifesto signed by over 100 French academics and published in the newspaper Le Monde on 2 November 2020. Its signatories state their agreement with French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, that ‘indigenist, racialist, and “decolonial” ideologies,’ imported from North America, were responsible for ‘conditioning’ the violent extremist who assassinated school teacher, Samuel Paty, on 16 October 2020.

This claim is deeply disingenuous, and in a context where academics associated with critical race and decolonial research have recently received death threats, it is also profoundly dangerous. The scholars involved in this manifesto have readily sacrificed their credibility in order to further a manifestly false conflation between the study of racism in France and a politics of ‘Islamism’ and ‘anti-white hate’. They have launched it in a context where academic freedom in France is subject to open political interference, following a Senate amendment that redefines and limits it to being ‘exercised with respect for the values of the Republic’. [continue reading]

40,000 early modern maps now freely available online

The British Library is making available 40,000 maps dating between 1500 and 1824, which will be freely available online for the first time. They are part of the Topographical Collection of King George III (K. Top), and included maps, atlases, architectural drawings, cartoons and watercolours. The first batch of 18,000 images are now available for anyone to view online via the British Library’s digital Flickr Commons collection.

The collection is a distinct part of the larger King’s Library which was presented to the Nation by George IV in 1823. As a collection of maps and views that was built during the formative period of the British Empire, it is an important resource for the study of how Britain viewed and interacted with the wider world during this period. The current project, to catalogue, conserve and digitise the K.Top, has taken over seven years. [continue reading]

Book Review: Capturing the ‘Essential’ Ideas of Amartya Sen’s Work

Achin Chakraborty
The Wire

In his foreword to Lawrence Hamilton’s How to read Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze characterises the slim book as “an excellent introduction to Sen’s essential ideas”. The word ‘essential’ generally evokes scepticism about the criteria adopted for judging what is essential. Which ideas of Amartya Sen – a philosopher-economist par excellence – should we consider as essential, given that for more than six decades he has stuffed dozens of his highly acclaimed books and hundreds of widely-cited research articles in top international journals with brilliant ideas? Hamilton has taken up the challenge squarely and identified five keywords – choice, capability, freedom, justice and democracy – to introduce Sen’s ideas to those who want to dabble in such issues. These five themes, in the sequence they have appeared in the book, aptly capture the ever-expanding intellectual horizon of Sen’s academic work over time, starting with his critique of the economist’s conceptual edifice built on the issues of individual choice and preference within a utilitarian framework. Sen has clearly shown that we cannot study deprivation and inequality without challenging the fundamental premises of utilitarianism.

The chapter titled ‘Choice’ provides an excellent non-technical introduction to the main issues in social choice theory and Sen’s far-reaching intervention in this area. Sen has persuasively argued for the need for going beyond individual preferences in matters of social evaluation and provided a solid foundation for a much richer alternative conceptualisation of well-being in terms of human functioning and capability to achieve those ‘functionings’. Whereas utilitarianism tends to focus on preference-satisfaction and egalitarianism on the distribution of resources, Sen offers a far more well-founded conceptualisation of human well-being. [continue reading]

Korean Repatriation and Historical Memory in Postwar Japan: Remembering the Ukishima-maru Incident at Maizuru and Shimokita

Jonathan Bull and Steven Ivings
Asia-Pacific Journal

On 8 December 1945 Son Il, the chairman of the Aomori Regional Office of the Korean Association in Japan (Zainihon Chōsen Renmei), visited the Hirosaki branch of the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) to lodge a charge of war crimes. The written report he submitted alleged the “deliberate sinking by Japanese officials of a vessel containing several thousand Koreans.” Son Il was requested to return in two days for an interview and was told that in the meantime his report would be translated. Eventually the SCAP officers found the report to be “entirely a hearsay account” and a second report submitted by Son Il on the date of his interview was found to be “differing in detail” from the first. Rather than simply dismiss the case “an attempt was made to impress upon Mr. Son Il the importance of, and meaning of, evidence [underlined in original] which would support his claims” and the officers further instructed him to submit signed witness statements from survivors. Son Il duly complied with these instructions, submitting three accounts from survivors before the end of December 1945. These witness statements were, however, deemed to “contain no concrete evidence of a war crime” in a report (dated 1 January 1946) submitted to the Investigation Division of the Legal Section of SCAP GHQ. Further examination by SCAP GHQ saw the case dismissed on 19 January 1946 citing “insufficient evidence for trial” (GHQ/SCAP Records, LS-39038).

The incident on which Son Il’s claim was based has become known as the “Ukishima-maru incident” (Ukishima-maru jiken), a tragic event in which a military transport vessel, the Ukishima-maru, sank in Maizuru Bay (Kyoto prefecture) at approximately 5:20 p.m. on 24 August 1945 having apparently hit a naval mine. The vessel had left Ōminato port on the Shimokita peninsula (Aomori prefecture) bound for Pusan, Korea, on the evening of 22 August 1945, exactly one week after the emperor’s radio broadcast announcing the imperial rescript on surrender. The voyage was supposed to repatriate thousands of Korean labourers and their families. Many among them had been forced to work on military infrastructure projects across the Shimokita peninsula where they faced harsh conditions in what was a rushed effort to fortify the area in anticipation of the Asia-Pacific War coming to the Japanese main islands. [continue reading]

When Louis Armstrong Stopped a Civil War in The Congo (1960)

Open Culture

When Louis Armstrong appeared in his hometown of New Orleans for the first time in nine years in 1965, it was, Ben Schwarz writes, “a low point for his critical estimation.” A younger generation saw his refusal to march on the front lines of the civil rights movement, risking life and limb, as a “racial cop-out,” as journalist Andrew Kopkind wrote at the time. Armstrong was seen as “a breezy entertainer with all the gravitas of a Jimmy Durante or Dean Martin.”

The criticism was unfair. Armstrong only played New Orleans in 1965 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, having boycotted the city in 1956 when it banned integrated bands. In 1957 after events in Little Rock, Arkansas, Armstrong refused a State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union over Eisenhower’s handling of the situation. He spoke out forcefully, used words you can’t repeat on NPR, called governor Orval Faubus an “ignorant plowboy” and the president “two-faced.” But he preferred touring and making money to marching, and was happy to play for the State Department and PepsiCo on a 1960 tour of the African continent to promote, ostensibly, the opening of five new bottling plants. When he arrived in Leopoldville, capital city of the Congo, in late October, he even stopped a civil war, managing “to call a brief intermission in a country that had been unstable before his arrival,” Jayson Overby writes at the West End Blog. [continue reading]