This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a classic example of dubbed post-war European film. Italian movie poster.

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

From the nationalist politics of film dubbing to the Summer of Soul, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The political history of dubbing in films

Damien Pollard

English-speaking audiences rarely come across dubbed films and television programmes. This probably explains why they tend to find dubbing so, well, weird. Dubbed voices usually sound a bit flat and never quite sync up with the mouths we see onscreen. This can be off-putting and perhaps even a bit unsettling.

But since the birth of sound cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s, dubbing has been commonplace in many countries, including (looking just at Europe) Italy, Spain and Germany. Dubbing is still used in many of these countries as a way of translating foreign films and television. In Italy, the dubbing system became so developed in the 1930s that it was even used to add voices to Italian films, right up until the 1980s when the growth of TV (which used directly recorded sound) led to changes in standard industry practice. So why did such a seemingly bizarre practice gain a foothold in these countries’ burgeoning film industries? After all, aren’t subtitles a better way to keep the original film intact and translate it at the same time? There are a few reasons. [continue reading]

China’s Hyperinflation

Adam Tooze

One of the remarkable things about China under the rule of the Communist Party is its aversion to inflation. Since 2020 the regime has been making a point of emphasizing its resistance to Western-style monetary experimentation. Fascinating background is provided by Isabella Weber’s timely book about China’s price reform discussion of the 1980s.

Weber argues that the stability of the CCP regime today owes much to the rejection of shock therapy a la Russe, urged on it by Western and East European advisors in the 1980s. Instead China opted for a gradualist program of price liberalization combined with the crackdown of 1989. This more cautious and ultimately far more successful approach was justified in the eyes of CCP experts by concerns about inflation. And that in turn owed much to the lessons learned by the Communists during the period of World War II and the civil war. One of the main forces enabling the CCP’s overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 was the economic disaster suffered by the Nationalist regime. The Communists were swept to power on a tidal wave of dissatisfaction over a ruinous hyperinflation. [continue reading]

The Brink of Erasure

Narayani Basu

It’s not easy being a historian in India. I made that discovery seven years ago in June 2014, when I first arrived at the National Archives of India (NAI). I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had quit my job, and had arrived at the NAI with a vague idea of finding out more about my great-grandfather, Vappala Pangunni (VP) Menon. I didn’t know how to begin doing that — and as a new scholar at the NAI, my path was not made any easier.

If you are not familiar with the NAI or its labyrinthine methods of functioning, then it is utterly bewildering. To start with, there are ledgers — some of them yellowed, with their pages gently crumbling — to go through. Indexes, as they’re politely called, with never-ending alphabetical lists of subjects, personalities, and events. In order to request files, a visiting researcher has to write the file name, reference number, year, department, and ministry individually on requisition slips. At no time can the scholar request multiple files on one slip. There are three times a day when a researcher can submit their requisition requests. By the end of the day, the archivist’s simple wooden collection tray brims with sheaves of paper, each bunch neatly pinned together by the dint of the steel-tipped pins kept in a nearby bottle. If you’re lucky, you’ll get five out of the ten files you requested. If you’re divinely blessed, you’ll get those five files that same day. Sometimes, though, you’ll get your slips back with NT scrawled across the top. The first time this happened to me, I was confused. So, I asked the archivist what it meant. [continue reading]

How Hollywood Has Ignored the Haitian Revolution

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall
Black Perspectives

African Americans have long been interested in Haiti. Decades before the so-called “Haitian turn” of the twenty-first century in US academia, African American scholars pioneered the study of Haitian history in English. In the Journal of Negro History and elsewhere, Mercer CookRayford Logan, and others wrote foundational studies on colonial Haiti (French Saint-Domingue), the Haitian Revolution and Haitian independence. Similarly, in art and literature, Harlem Renaissance figures saw Haiti as a beacon of Black self-determination. As the first site in the Americas where African-descended people overthrew their white oppressors, Haiti long inspired African American thinkers.

Like their scholarly counterparts, African American actors and directors have sought to make the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) better known in the United States. Actor Danny Glover’s attempt to make a film about the revolution in the 2000s and 2010s is the most famous example. But as I note in my book Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games, stars including Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, William Marshall, and Ellen Holly also sought to make films about Haitian revolutionary heroes, including Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. [continue reading]

Summer of Soul: New film revives lost ‘Black Woodstock’ gig series

Colin Paterson
BBC News

The summer of 1969: Neil Armstrong walks on the Moon. Woodstock becomes the defining moment of the counterculture movement. And Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson and BB King play to a combined crowd of more than 300,000 people at The Harlem Cultural Festival.

Two of these events have adorned the covers of 20th Century history books ever since. The third has been all but forgotten. Until now. A new award-winning documentary, The Summer of Soul, aims to right what it believes to be a serious cultural wrong; the fact that what could have been the “Black Woodstock” has been largely ignored for more than half a century. [continue reading]