From whether sanctions can stop Russia to why bootleg Moe’s Taverns are all over Latin America, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
The United States, the European Union, and countries around the world have cut Russia out of the global economy. Moscow’s central bank is struggling to support the ruble. Russian financial institutions are blocked from the global payments system. Far-reaching import and export bans have choked off trade to and from the country. Russian markets have seized up. Will these sanctions pressure Vladimir Putin to withdraw the Russian military from Ukraine? Or will their main effect be to hurt Russian civilians and damage the world economy?
This week, I put those questions to Nicholas Mulder, a historian at Cornell University who recently published The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War. The book traces the history of sanctions from the Peloponnesian War to today, with particular focus on the development of modern sanctions in the period between the two world wars. [continue reading]
In the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, before the Kingdom’s captives departed for the New World to be enslaved, they were forced “to march around the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ six times” so that they would remember neither their home continent nor the people they were leaving behind. By the middle of the 18th century, the British were annually shipping tens of thousands of Africans in chains from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, feeding their seemingly inexhaustible desire for enslaved labor to work their sugar plantations dotted across the Caribbean. For Africans forced to leave their continent and spread across the Americas as a diaspora, these voyages have frequently been referred to as the Middle Passage, a one-way journey transforming Africans into Black slaves. The irreversibility of this journey is a bedrock of the African American origin story.
The Dahomey aristocrats forced captives to sever ties with their homeland. In the same vein, contemporary Afro-pessimist intellectuals argue that the Middle Passage means that today’s Africans and members of the African diaspora have forgotten one another. Afro-pessimism is a theory developed by Black American intellectuals like Frank Wilderson, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten, which holds that the experience of racism and slavery in the Americas makes the Black American experience so unique that it cannot be compared with the suffering of other peoples. [continue reading]
In Fairfax County, Virginia, two landmarks of early American history share an uneasy but inextricable bond. George Washington’s majestic Mount Vernon estate is one of the most popular historic homes in the country, visited by roughly a million people a year. Gum Springs, a small community about three miles north, is one of the oldest surviving freedmen’s villages, most of which were established during Reconstruction. The community was founded in 1833 by West Ford, who lived and worked at Mount Vernon for nearly sixty years, first as an enslaved teen-ager and continuing after he was freed. Following Washington’s death, in 1799, Ford helped manage the estate, and he maintained an unusually warm relationship with the extended Washington family.
Awareness of West Ford had faded both in Gum Springs and at Mount Vernon, but in recent years his story has been at the center of a bitter controversy between the two sites. His descendants have demanded that Mount Vernon recognize Ford for his contributions to the estate, which was near collapse during the decades after Washington’s death. They also argue—citing oral histories from two branches of the family—that Ford was Washington’s unacknowledged son, a claim that Mount Vernon officials have consistently denied. As that debate continues, Black civic organizations in Gum Springs are engaged in related battles to save their endangered community. They have resisted, with some success, Virginia’s planned expansion of Richmond Highway, which would encroach on the town, and they have embarked on the process of getting Gum Springs named a national historic site. [continue reading]
Hanne E. F. Nielsen and Alessandro Antonello
Superbly clear images of the shipwreck Endurance, 3,000 metres below the ocean’s surface in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, were this week broadcast around the world. Found by the Endurance 22 Expedition using a state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicle, we now have images almost as iconic as those taken of the stricken ship by Australian photographer and expedition member Frank Hurley in 1915.
Endurance was the ship of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Led by British-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, the expedition aimed to cross Antarctica on foot for the first time, from the Weddell Sea (south of the Atlantic Ocean) to the Ross Sea (south of New Zealand), via the South Pole. [continue reading]
On the outskirts of Cuenca, Ecuador, bar hoppers might accidentally wander from the Andes right into Los Simpson. On one side of the road, Springfield is spelled out, Hollywood sign-style, above illustrations of Chief Wiggum arresting Bart, Kearney, and Dolph for vandalism. Across the way, the facade of Springfield Elementary School towers over two squat buildings (the full extent of this tiny DIY TV town): “Krosty Burger” and La Taberna de Mou. In the latter, fans are greeted at the bar by a life-size Moe Szyslak cutout, who extends the phone Bart often prank calls in the series. There’s a to-scale Love Tester machine, themed art covering the walls, and barrels of Duff beer, which is also available by can or on tap.
This isn’t the only boozy tribute to the show in Latin America — not even the only one in Ecuador. From northern Mexico all the way down to Argentina, scores of bars share a name with Moe — most often Taberna de Moe or Mou. There are examples in states all across Mexico: Moe’s in La Piedad de Cavadas, Moe’s Beer in Coyoacán, Mexico City (complete with melting Homer-meets-Dali decor), San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Guadalajara, Guanajuato. In Central America, you can find Tabernas de Moe in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and farther south in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and Peru. Many of them appear in the spitting image of Springfield’s dingiest watering hole, and some even serve character-themed drinks alongside Duff beer. The bars may not be canonically accurate and they likely don’t have the express written consent of Disney (which owns 21st Century Fox, and thus The Simpsons), but none of that matters to fans. [continue reading]