This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Women workers demonstrating in St Petersburg, Russia on International Women’s Day 1917.

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

From the socialist origins of International Women’s Day to Hong Kong in the neoliberal imagination, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day

Cintia Frencia and Daniel Gaido

In 1894, Clara Zetkin took to the pages of the Social Democratic women’s magazine Die Gleichheit (Equality), which she had founded three years earlier, to polemicize against the mainstream of German feminism. “Bourgeois feminism and the movement of proletarian women,” Zetkin wrote, “are two fundamentally different social movements. According to Zetkin, bourgeois feminists pressed reforms, through a struggle between the sexes and against the men of their own class, without questioning the very existence of capitalism. By contrast, working women, through a struggle of class against class and in a joint fight with the men of their class, sought to transcend capitalism.

By 1900, women in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) were holding biannual conferences immediately before the party congresses — conferences where all the burning issues of the proletarian women’s movement were discussed. This ideological and organizational strength turned the German Socialist working women’s movement into the backbone of the International Socialist Women Movement. [continue reading]

The Lost Boys of Daylesford


On a clear, cold Sunday in June 1867, three little boys wandered away from their home near the town of Daylesford, on Dja Dja Wurrung country in central Victoria.

Over the next six weeks the boys’ story gripped the colony, and made newspaper headlines around the world. Over a century later, the case continues to capture the imagination of locals and visitors to the region.

Philosopher Patrick Stokes heads to Daylesford to find out why the lost children story has such enduring and haunting resonance.


Yvonne Fix, local historian
Megan J. Riedl, playwright
Dr Ben Wilkie, historian and author
Dr Joanne Faulkner, ARC Future Fellow in cultural studies, Macquarie University
Timothy Calabria, PhD candidate in history, La Trobe University

[Listen here]

Slavery and Australian colonisation

Jane Lydon
History Workshop

Yes, the year 2020 was dominated by a pandemic – but perhaps even more consequential was the social protest movement #BlackLivesMatter which swept America and the world. As many have pointed out, the structural racism that sanctions Black deaths in custody can be understood in part as a legacy of slavery, abolished in 1833, when the Slavery Abolition Act made slavery illegal within the British Empire, and provided for compensation to be paid to slave-owners.

The history of British slavery and its abolition continues to shape ideas and debates in the present: in June 2020 the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison controversially stated that ‘Australia when it was founded as a settlement, as New South Wales, was on the basis that there be no slavery … And while slave ships continued to travel around the world, when Australia was established, yes sure, it was a pretty brutal settlement… but there was no slavery in Australia.’ In responding to Morrison, Indigenous leaders such as Northern Territory Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy suggested that he ‘would do well to look into the history of the country he is trying to lead. Truth telling must be an integral part of unifying our country, not dividing it.’ West Australian Labor senator and Yawuru leader Pat Dodson said there were numerous examples of Aboriginal people ‘who were basically incarcerated, enslaved, on pastoral properties under acts which indentured them to employers without any pay’. These comments hint at the ways that celebrating the end of one, archetypal, form of unfreedom in the Caribbean simultaneously obscured and sanctioned other forms of exploitation. [continue reading]

City of lost mosques: how Suzhou tells the story of China’s Islamic past

Alessandra Cappelletti

The labyrinth of alleys and lanes in the old city of Suzhou hides a secret: historical fragments of the long history of Islam in China. Regular stories in the international press highlighting the treatment of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region tend to obscure the fact that Islam was once highly regarded by Chinese emperors. From written records and imperial edicts engraved on steles (standing stone slabs monuments) it is clear that these Islamic communities enjoyed the favour of the emperors – especially during the Tang (618-907 AD)Yuan (1271-1368)Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Islam was looked on favourably by the imperial court because of its ethics, which – as far as the emperors were concerned – promoted harmonious and peaceful relations between the diverse peoples in the imperial territories.

Before the Panthay and Tungan rebellions in the second half of the 19th century in western China, when millions of Muslims were killed or relocated, Islam was considered by Christian missionaries in the country – and particularly by Russian scholars – as a growing threat. Islam was considered by many in the west to have the potential to become the national religion in China – which would have made China the biggest Islamic country in the world. [continue reading]

Milton Friedman’s Favorite Economy: Hong Kong in the Neoliberal Imagination

Jamie Peck
LPE Project

Hong Kong was Milton Friedman’s favorite economy. From a first encounter in the mid-1950s, all the way through to the end of his life, the economist regarded Hong Kong as a kind of free-market utopia. He loved the variety of freebooting capitalism that had been established there under British colonial rule, the entrepreneurial spirit of its residents, the official deference to free-market ideals and common-law principles, and the disciplined commitment to tight-fisted social policies. The Hong Kong style of laissez-faire governance, he understood, should not be mistaken for a do-nothing policy:  what became known as “positive non-interventionism” entailed the rigorous defence of free-market rule. And so it was to Hong Kong that Friedman went to shoot the opening scenes for the widely watched TV series, Free to Chooseaired in 1980, which did so much to popularize his ascendant brand of monetarist economics and neoliberal policy advocacy.  Speaking directly to camera, with a panoramic view of Victoria Harbour in the background, Friedman declared, “if you want to see how the free market really works, this is the place to come.”

Now, the discrepancies between Friedman’s selective, stylized, and idealized reading of Hong Kong and the actually existing realities of the city-state, before and after the return of the former colony to China, have been thoroughly documented by political economists like Tak-Wing Ngo and Alvin So, as well as by well-placed insiders like the late Leo Goodstadt.  Friedman himself would however remain largely impervious to (and incurious about) such facts on the ground, opting instead to recirculate an ideologically stylized narrative of “free-market” Hong Kong, in the service of pro-market policy advice. [continue reading]