This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Rufus Estes’s 1911 cookbook, included in Sokoh’s digital library on West African food heritage. PUBLIC DOMAIN

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

From a pandemic of human rights abuses to socialist revolution without class struggle, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The world faces a pandemic of human rights abuses in the wake of Covid-19

António Guterres

From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic almost one year ago, it was clear that our world faced far more than a public health emergency. The biggest international crisis in generations quickly morphed into an economic and social crisis. One year on, another stark fact is tragically evident: our world is facing a pandemic of human rights abuses. Covid-19 has deepened preexisting divides, vulnerabilities and inequalities, and opened up new fractures, including faultlines in human rights. The pandemic has revealed the interconnectedness of our human family – and of the full spectrum of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social. When any one of these rights is under attack, others are at risk.

The virus has thrived because poverty, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies. The lives of hundreds of millions of families have been turned upside down – with lost jobs, crushing debt and steep falls in income. Frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women, girls and minorities have been especially hard hit. In a matter of months, progress on gender equality has been set back decades. Most essential frontline workers are women, and in many countries are often from racially and ethnically marginalised groups. [continue reading]

Now Online: A Free Library Devoted to West Africa’s Food Heritage

Vonnie Williams
Atlas Obscura

IN A YOUTUBE VIDEO, ENTITLED A Tale of Two Fritters, Ozoz Sokoh is in her kitchen making both akara, a Nigerian bean fritter, and acarajé, the Brazilian equivalent. As she reviews the ingredients and aromatics—black-eyed peas, Thai and Scotch bonnet peppers for heat, tomatoes, ginger, and orange-red palm oil, it’s easy to see that the two dishes, though from different continents, are obviously related.

Sokoh, a food historian born in Nigeria and currently living in Canada, is an expert at making connections between different food cultures. To share her research, she recently launched Feast Afrique, an online library of free digital books that explore the influence of West African foods on culinary cultures around the world. The texts she’s chosen, both cookbooks full of recipes or tomes that touch only briefly on food, speak to the enormous reach and richness of the region’s culinary traditions. [continue reading]

Debating Shusenjo – the Main Battlefield of the Comfort Women Issue: Director Miki Dezaki in conversation with Mark R. Frost and Edward Vickers

Miki DezakiMark R. Frost and Edward Vickers
Japan Focus

The documentary film Shusenjo: the Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, by the Japanese-American director Miki Dezaki, was released in 2018. Over two hours, the film documents the controversy over ‘comfort women’ within Japan itself, its implications for Japan-Korea relations, and its extension in recent years to North America, where there have been acrimonious disputes over the erection of ‘comfort women’ statues. Dezaki conceived this project while a Masters student at Sophia University in Tokyoand presents it as stemming from a personal desire both to explore the historical truth and, in particular, to understand why ‘comfort women’ history has become such a vexed issue internationally.

Following its premier in 2018 at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, the film has been widely shown around the world, including Japan. Dezaki is currently embroiled in litigation with several prominent Japanese rightists who claim they were ‘deceived’ into agreeing to be interviewed for the film, though this dispute did not halt screenings. In September 2019, he kindly agreed to discuss the film at a special screening arranged as part of the Kyushu University conference on The Politics of War-related Heritage in Contemporary Asia, organized by Edward Vickers (Professor of Comparative Education at Kyushu University). [continue reading]

Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World

Robert D. Taber
Black Perspectives

Trite historical surveys of the Black experience in the United States will feature questions of identity politics (Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977) and intersectionality (DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, 1977) as post-Freedom Movement developments. Black women, underserved by the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation of the 1950s-70s, articulated the shortcomings of each. Better histories and interviews with theorists highlight the long-running nature of these debates, discussions, and needs, reaching as far back as the germinal careers of Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) and Maria W. Stewart (1803-79), as well as discussions of suffrage and slavery at Seneca Falls in 1848. 

However, Jessica Marie Johnson, in Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (2020) shows that these questions did not merely emerge in the nineteenth century or even in the United States or British colonial world. Johnson takes the reader back to the 1700s, looking at the experiences of African and African-descended women on the western coast of Africa, in the Middle Passage, and in Louisiana. The French colonial administration in Louisiana, for example, responded to the 1729 Natchez War with two initiatives: some enslaved Black men could receive their manumission by joining the militia and the administration supported an Ursuline convent largely focused on promoting the welfare of white women and girls. In comparison, being a signare (a woman engaged in high-level trade) in Senegambia involved a particular position, including property ownership, slaveownership, conspicuous consumption, and “marriage in the style of the country” with a European or Afro-European man but also enabled women such as the signare Anne Gusban to intervene directly in the French trading company’s policies and diplomatic endeavors. [continue reading]

Socialist Revolution Without Class Struggle?

Benno Weiner
Age of Revolutions

Can a socialist revolution be carried out without class struggle? For a short period of time and in a particular ethnopolitical setting, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong seemed to think so.

When in 1949 soldiers and cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) marched into ethnocultural borderlands such as Tibet and Xinjiang—areas of Inner Asia that had been incorporated into the defunct Qing Empire (1936-1912) but never integrated into the nascent Chinese nation-state—they faced a daunting task that demanded Party leaders balance the dual imperatives of nation making and socialist transformation. To put it another way, the CCP needed to devise a way to transform what had been loosely governed and relatively disconnected populations of imperial subjects into an integrated, socialist, political community—one now divided into a Han Chinese majority and multiple minorities. [continue reading]