This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé, 1908. Chief workmaster Henrik Wigström. © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

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

From why the “Cold War” analogy today is lazy and dangerous to the ongoing hunt for the missing Fabergé Eggs, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

With China, a ‘Cold War’ Analogy Is Lazy and Dangerous

Joseph S. Nye Jr.
New York Times

A new idea is gaining currency among some politicians and policymakers in Washington: The United States is in a Cold War with China. It’s a bad idea — bad on history, bad on politics, bad for our future. The Biden administration has wisely pushed back on the framing. But the president’s actions suggest that his strategy for dealing with China may indeed suffer from Cold War thinking, which locks our minds into the traditional two-dimensional chess model.

Competition with China, though, is a three-dimensional game. And if we continue to play two-dimensional chess, we will lose. While neither the conflict with the Soviet Union nor the current competition with China has led to all-out combat, the games are very different. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a direct military and ideological threat to the United States. We had almost no economic or social connections: Containment was a feasible objective. [continue reading]

How the Marshall Plan Sold Europe to Americans

Erin Blakemore
JStor Daily

After World War II, much of Europe was in ruins. In an attempt to help the continent recover and bolster its alliances abroad, the United States invested in the mammoth Marshall Plan. But there was more to it than food aid and infrastructure—and some of its most ardent ambassadors never even set foot on the European continent. Historian Stephanie M. Amerian explains how consumers helped move the Marshall Plan along by browsing imported goods at department stores.

In the eyes of American diplomats, the United States’ consumer-focused culture was the perfect export—both for economic and cultural reasons. Officials had an eye on creating and feeding a European market for American-made goods, and considered the nation’s liberal consumer culture a democratizing force. And they intended to return the favor, urging American consumers to buy European to help bolster the sagging industries of countries that had been all but decimated during World War II. [continue reading]

Anger over ‘grotesque abuse’ of £600,000 case to keep Mountbatten papers secret

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The Cabinet Office has been accused of a “grotesque abuse” of public funds in a freedom of information battle over the personal diaries of Lord and Lady Mountbatten in which costs are now expected to exceed £600,000. Andrew Lownie, the author and historian, has fought a four-year legal battle over the papers that are in an archive saved for the nation after a fundraising campaign. They are now held at Southampton University.

The university initially blocked the release of the diaries and correspondence between the Mountbattens covering historical events from the abdication of Edward VIII to the independence of India, after seeking advice from the Cabinet Office. Lownie, author of a 2019 biography of the Mountbattens, has successfully forced the release of the vast bulk of papers. The Cabinet Office and the university are still fighting Lownie in an information tribunal over the material not yet released. [continue reading]

The Politician-Scholar: Eric Williams and the tangled history of capitalism and slavery

Gerald Horne

Before he became a celebrated author and the founding father and first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Eustace Williams was an adroit footballer. At his high school, Queen’s Royal College, he was a fierce competitor, which likely led to an injury that left him deaf in his right ear. Yet as Williams’s profile as a scholar and national leader rose, so did the attempts by his critics to turn his athleticism against him. An “expert dribbler” known for prancing downfield with the ball kissing one foot, then the other, Williams was now accused by his political detractors of not being a team player. Driven by his desire to play to the gallery—or so it was said—he proved to be uninterested in whether his team (or his nation, not to mention the erstwhile British Commonwealth) was victorious.

What his critics described as a weakness, though, was also a strength: His willingness to go it alone on the field probably contributed to his willingness to break from the historiographic pack during his tenure at Oxford University, and it also led him to chart his own political course. Williams, after all, often had good reason not to trust his political teammates, particularly those with close ties to London. Moreover, he was convinced that a good politician should play to the gallery: Ultimately, he was a public representative. And this single-minded determination to score even if it meant circumventing his teammates, instilled in him a critical mindset, one that helped define both his scholarship—in particular his groundbreaking Capitalism and Slavery—and his work as a politician and an intellectual, though admittedly this trait proved to be more effective at Oxford and Howard University than during his political career, which coincided with the bruising battles of the Cold War. [continue reading]

Shell shock: Lenin, revolution and the hunt for the Fabergé Eggs

Rob Crossan
Luxury London

When the men finally came, armed and drunk on ideological fervour, Carl Fabergé knew better than to try and resist. “Give me 10 minutes to put on my hat and coat,” he said. These are the words, according to sources from the time, that the founder of arguably the world’s greatest jewellery firm uttered before his empire was lost to communism. Kitsch, extravagant and with its origins in organised religion, it would be hard to think of a single artefact that better symbolised everything the Bolsheviks wanted to destroy than the Fabergé egg.

Every Easter from 1885 until 1917, when the Russian Revolution began, the eponymous St. Petersburg-based jewellery company was commissioned by the ruling Tsar to create Easter eggs for his beloved Tsarina. When Nicholas II, who would be Russia’s last Tsar, came to the throne, he continued the tradition, asking Carl Fabergé to make eggs for the new Tsarina Alexandra, as well as his mother. [continue reading]