This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Jack Johnson at the wheel of his 90 horse power Thomas Flyer, 1910. via Library of Congress.

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

From neoliberalism’s death from COVID to boxing and race in colonial Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!

Eric Levitz

The second millennium was nearly over, and so were global capitalism’s worst “financial troubles.” Or so one influential economist suggested in 1999. On the eve of this century, MIT’s Rudiger Dornbusch argued that humanity was living through the early days of a nigh-interminable Belle Époque. In the century to come, the world would witness “a relentless advance of the standard of living” as “big government” policies gave way to “free enterprise” and globalization “dismantled” the nation state. Tragedies might temporarily interrupt this march of progress, but never durably reverse it. For our happy fate had been sealed in the early 1980s, when policymakers finally accepted a timeless economic truth: “Money is too serious to be left to politicians.”

By this, Dornbusch meant that whenever democratically accountable officials gain power over money creation, they prioritize economic growth and employment over price stability. Which is to say, they finance expansive public spending with heedless money-printing. The state is a terrible investor. Free markets are far wiser stewards of a society’s limited resources. Therefore, the government’s primary macroeconomic responsibility was to simply safeguard the value of money — by placing monetary policy on a shelf too high for the common people to reach. [continue reading]

KGB archives show how Chrystia Freeland drew the ire (and respect) of Soviet intelligence services

Simon Miles
Globe and Mail

The Soviet Union’s secret police, the infamous KGB, praised her savvy and erudition, even as she frustrated their attempts to spy on her in Cold War Ukraine. They tagged her with the code name Frida. But today we know Chrystia Freeland as Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Ms. Freeland’s ties to Ukraine are no secret, but materials uncovered from the KGB archives in Kyiv illuminate her role in the Ukrainian independence movement while on exchange there from Harvard University.

In the former Soviet republic – now Moscow’s antagonist – access to information on the communist period is guaranteed, both as part of reckoning with Ukraine’s past and explicitly as a rebuke to Russia, which is seeking once again to impose itself on the country. The materials show what drew the Soviet intelligence services’ attention to the then-troublesome young Canadian, who was the subject of denouncements in the Soviet press and even warranted a feature in top-secret KGB documents. [continue reading]

Afghanistan’s Film Archives Were Saved from the Taliban Once Before. What Now?

Chris Lindahl

During the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were shut out of public life, punishments took the form of public executions, and media was banned. That made the archives of the state-run Afghan Film — featuring scenes of women with their hair uncovered and other vignettes of the country’s past — a fast target of the Taliban.

But one government worker was instrumental in helping preserve them with lies and misdirection, according to Ibrahim Arify, former general director of Afghan Film who was on the job between 2012 and 2018. “In case the Taliban insisted on taking material away, this man organized celluloid films which did not contain important Afghan film material (e.g. preview clips) that the Taliban could take to burn,” Arify told IndieWire via email. He declined to name the individual, citing a need to protect his safety. [continue reading]

France’s Macron calls 1961 massacre of Algerians an ‘unforgivable crime’

Sudip Kar-Gupta and Lamine Chikhi

Algeria has closed its airspace to French military planes, France’s military said on Sunday, escalating the biggest row between the countries in years. A spokesperson for the French Armed Forces said Algeria had closed its airspace to two flights, but that it would have “no major consequences” for operations in the Sahel region, south of Algeria.

Algeria’s government and military were not immediately available for comment on the closure of airspace. On Saturday, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Paris citing comments attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron, who was quoted in Le Monde as saying Algeria’s “politico-military system” had rewritten the history of its colonisation by France based on “a hatred of France”. [continue reading]

Jack Johnson and Africa: Boxing and Race in Colonial Africa

Abraham Tapiwa Seda
Black Perspectives

Jack Johnson never set foot in Africa, but the circulation of his images was heavily censored and sometimes prohibited in colonial South Africa.1 Johnson’s triumph to become the first African American to win the world heavyweight title upended ideas of white racial superiority which were central to how societies around the world were organized. Within the United States, there was violence with many arguing that Black people had to be reminded of their place in society. Ideas about white racial superiority were therefore difficult to sustain in a world in which a Black man was the world heavyweight champion. For many Black people within the United States and beyond, Johnson became a folk hero

In colonial Africa, boxing was a popular sport among African men working in colonial urban centers. From Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa to colonial Zimbabwe, boxing was a widely popular pastime. Compared to other sports such as cricket and soccer, which became popular within the British empire, boxing was different. Violence and combat were central to the sport. The Queensberry rules of boxing sanitized the sport and created a universal code of conduct for boxers. Among the many taboos which were frowned upon included hitting a man when he was down or hitting below the belt. The Queensberry rules of boxing were considered sacrosanct, they set the sport apart from street brawls, they made the sport “noble.” Colonial settlers in Zimbabwe believed the sport could be weaponized for purposes of social control as long as its conventions and norms were observed. [continue reading]