This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

An old water tower stands near abandoned outhouses on the former site of a Firestone plantation in Liberia. Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis/Sygma via Getty Images.

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

From the run up to perestroika to why companies with long histories should open up their archives, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Chernyaev Diary, 1982—”The run up to perestroika

Anna Melyakova and Svetlana Savranskaya
National Security Archive

The National Security Archive marks what would have been Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s 101st birthday today with the publication for the first time in English of his Diary for 1982. At the time, Chernyaev was deputy director of the International Department of the Central Committee responsible for the International Communist Movement (ICM). Within a few years he became a close adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev and a leading theorist in the era of perestroika and glasnost.

After the Soviet collapse, Chernyaev transformed into one of the most important and reliable sources of historical information for Western observers about the Soviet system and the Kremlin’s Cold War. An invaluable contributor to international scholarship, including conferences and research conducted by the National Security Archive, he ultimately donated his diary – which Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Hoffman called “irreplaceable” and “one of the great internal records of the Gorbachev years” – to the Archive. Every year, this organization translates and posts another installment of this extraordinary chronicle. [continue reading]

At Home in Our Sounds: Music, Race and Cultural Politics in Interwar Paris

Anne van Mourik and Rachel Gillet
NIOD Rewind Podcast on War & Violence

Why was music key to anticolonial and antiracist cultural politics in interwar Paris? Anne van Mourik interviews Rachel Gillet on her new book At Home in Our Sounds: Music, Race, and Cultural Politics in Interwar Paris. In the aftermath of World War I, Black men and women participated in the Parisian cultural and political life via music. How could music function to build community and assert belonging? And how was it deployed to combat fascism and racism in the early 1930s? [continue reading/listening]

Removed, this past that I cannot see!

Silyane Larcher
Le Club de Mediapart

On May 22, the anniversary of the slave uprising in northern Martinique, which precipitated the application of the decree of April 27, 1848, abolishing slavery in the French colonies, a small group of activists removed two statues of Victor Schoelcher in Fort-de-France and in the town of Schoelcher. Since then, a surge of passions and a hubbub of stories have invaded social networks and Martinican public space, each one going there with their explanation, their truth, improvising themselves as a mercenary exegete of texts by Victor Schoelcher brandishing like coins to conviction of the character’s colonial crime against enslaved ancestors. 

If each year the month of May gives rise in Martinique to a disorderly outpouring of memory, this time the extent of the emotion and the strength of the divisions, real fractures between several fringes (generations?) of the population, can only challenge . First as a Martinican intellectual, then as a researcher who worked on the tensions of French republicanism during the post-slavery period in the West Indies. [continue reading]

Seven centuries of Irish archives painstakingly recreated after being destroyed in civil war

Rory Carroll

In June 1922, the opening battle of Ireland’s civil war destroyed one of Europe’s great archives in a historic calamity that reduced seven centuries of documents and manuscripts to ash and dust. Once the envy of scholars around the world, the Public Record Office at the Four Courts in Dublin, was a repository of documents dating from medieval times, and packed into a six-storey building by the River Liffey. It was obliterated when troops of the fledgling Irish state bombarded former comrades who were hunkered down at the site as part of a rebellion by hardline republicans against peace with Britain.

Each side blamed the other for the destruction, but there was no disputing the consequences. “At one blow, the records of centuries have passed into oblivion,” said Herbert Wood, deputy keeper of the public records. The ruins stood as a testament to loss and a harbinger of the destruction of European cultural treasures in 20th century wars. [continue reading]

Why companies with long histories should open up their archives

Gregg Mitman

Firms build worlds. On this, historians and businesspeople agree. Corporations have always been among the greatest forces shaping American life. And the many corporations that hold private archives documenting their past activities have unique powers to disclose—or hide—their contributions to racial injustice in America. That’s why, if they truly want to advance the cause of social justice, companies should throw open their archives for researchers to use.

Let me make the case, using one example from my own experience as a historian. Harvey Firestone Jr., president of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, recognized the power of American industry in making history when he established the company’s archives in 1943. The records “not only of Firestone but of all American industry,” the rubber magnate believed, “represented vital source material as historically important as the records of Government and the military.” By 1952, the company had amassed what it described in a pamphlet as “560,000 documents, 150,000 photo negatives, thousands of feet of microfilm and 400 recordings.” [continue reading]