This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The Statue of Peace in front of the former Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea commemorates comfort women, sex slaves taken by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The slogans on the tarp behind the statue demand the Japanese government to make reparations. By Simon J. Levien

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

From how empire shaped Ireland’s past and present to rethinking the idea of US national security, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Empire shaped Ireland’s past. A century after partition, it still shapes our present

Machael D. Higgins

Ireland is currently engaged in a process of recalling the transformative events of a century ago that culminated in partition of the island. Six of the nine Ulster counties remained in the United Kingdom and the rest of the island opted for self-determination and what would become an independent republic. As president of Ireland, I have been engaging with our citizens in an exercise of ethical remembering of this period. This is not only to allow us to understand more fully the complexities of those times. It is also to allow us to recognise the reverberations of that past for our societies today and for our relationships with each other and our neighbours.

A feigned amnesia around the uncomfortable aspects of our shared history will not help us to forge a better future together. The complex events we recall and commemorate during this time are integral to the story that has shaped our nations, in all their diversity. They are, however, events to be remembered and understood, respecting the fact that different perspectives exist. In doing this, we can facilitate a more authentic interpretation not only of our shared history but also of post-sectarian possibilities for the future. [continue reading]

Harvard Professor’s Paper Claiming ‘Comfort Women’ in Imperial Japan Were Voluntarily Employed Stokes International Controversy

Ariel H. Kim and Simon J. Levien
Harvard Crimson

SEOUL, South Korea — A paper by Harvard Law School Japanese legal studies professor J. Mark Ramseyer that claims sex slaves taken by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II were actually recruited, contracted sex workers generated international controversy, academic criticism, and student petitions at Harvard this week.

The paper, “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” made headlines across South Korean media and was met with widespread public anger. Ramseyer’s work is set to be published in the March issue of the International Review of Law and Economics. Korean outlets picked up the news after Ramseyer’s paper was featured in a Jan. 28 press release in Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. [continue reading]

Transnational News and the Irish Free Trade Crisis of 1779

Joel Herman
Age of Revolutions

The gravitational pull of the American Revolution has been given new focus by the transnational turn, as scholars have begun to uncover the influence of the revolution elsewhere in the world. One place where the American revolutionary example was felt with particular force was Ireland. While Irish historians have been skeptical of the influence of American thought on Irish minds, few have discounted the power of the American example on Irish political actions. Especially in the year 1779, a series of domestic and transnational economic factors sparked a movement for Free Trade in Ireland that was not unlike that of the American Revolution. 

Radical Irish voices, including Presbyterian lawyer Joseph Pollock, and Dublin surgeon Frederick Jebb, took to patriot newspapers like the Freeman’s Journal to pen fierce critiques of imperial political and economic policy. Their ideas galvanized the Irish Volunteers, a militia formed in the absence of the British regiments fighting on North American battlefields, and county associations formed in protest against the importation and consumption of British goods. These radical voices found supporters through those patriot newspapers, not only in these popular movements, but also in the Irish parliament, as leading patriot MPs, including Henry Grattan and Henry Flood, gave their assent to an amendment in an address of the house of commons to the king, declaring: “That it is not now by temporary expedients, but by a Free Trade alone, that this nation is to be saved from impending ruin.” [continue reading]

Now Available Online: Department of State Records

David Langbart
The Text Message

The National Archives is pleased to announce that many important records of the Department of State are being digitized and made available online through the National Archives Catalog.  The records consist largely of the various series of records that constitute the Department’s central files for the period from 1789 to 1906.  Also included, however, are other series of value and interest.

For many years, the National Archives had an extensive program under which important and heavily-used records were reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publications.  This accomplished two things.  First, the resulting publications were (and are, as digitized copies) offered for sale, thus making the records more widely available to researchers.  Second, since the original records were withdrawn from circulation, the microfilming aided in the preservation of the records.  National Archives Microfilm Publications cover a wide range of subjects including foreign relations; justice and law enforcement; land issues; military and intelligence matters; relations with Native Americans, Black Americans, and other people of color; communications; and immigration. [continue reading]

Defeating today’s top threats requires rethinking our idea of national security

Melvyn P. Leffler
Washington Post

As President Biden and his team turn their attention to designing a new national security strategy, they will face a formidable task — one never encountered before in American history. For the first time, the biggest threats facing the United States stem not from great power rivals or geopolitical configurations, but from stateless and even nonhuman actors such as viruses and climate change. This reality demands a wholesale rethinking of national security strategy, budgetary priorities and foreign policy.

From the first days of the American republic, U.S. security was endangered by great powers encroaching on U.S. borders or seeking geopolitical dominance in ways that threatened the vitality of the American economy in peacetime or posed an existential threat in wartime. The founders had to grapple with the British, French and Spanish seeking to contain the expanding republic, sow divisions within it and curtail its trade. American presidents from George Washington to John Quincy Adams all struggled mightily to exploit the rivalries among the great powers. They sought to consolidate territorial gains, annex additional lands and insist on America’s “neutral rights” to trade in wartime or peacetime. In 1823, James Monroe and Adams, then his secretary of state, set forth a new doctrine warning European powers not to intervene in the hemisphere. U.S. security required a neighborhood with no great powers around its periphery. [continue reading]