This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Una Marson recording at a reception for Jamaican technicians working in factories in Britain

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

From the nature of J. A. Hobson’s racism to dispelling the myths of Swiss colonialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Hobson’s Statecraft, World Federation and the Nature of his Racism

Eric Schliesser

Duncan Bell once pointed out to me that while Hobson is a genuine and fierce critic of really existing imperialism, he is in favor of what we now call white ‘settler colonialism’ (with this qualification that the colony needs to occupy is thinly occupied). In addition, Hobson clearly argues for a European federal entity that, if it can be properly designed, will take on global responsibilities, and, in turn, even be the foundation for a world-federation.

One of these potential global responsibilities is to engage in a kind of eugenics (which Hobson calls echoing Pearson, ‘rational selection’): “If progress is helped by substituting rational selection for the struggle for life within small groups, and afterwards within the larger national groups, why may we not extend the same mode of progress to a federation of European States, and finally to a world-federation?” As he puts it, “Biology furnishes no reason for believing that the competition among nations must always remain a crude physical struggle, and that the substitution of “rational” for “natural” selection among individual members of a nation cannot be extended to the selection of nations and of races.” [continue reading]

Who Is Red?

Richard J. Evans

When some of the people blacklisted during the McCarthy era left the United States to find work in the United Kingdom, they might have thought they had left their troubles behind them. But they were wrong. The FBI passed its files on to MI5, the British Security Service, which seems to have accepted the bureau’s judgments without question.

The theater and movie director Joseph Losey was a case in point. Openly a man of the left, he was fingered in Hollywood after the war as a possible Soviet agent. “I was offered a film called I Married a Communist, which I turned down categorically,” Losey reported. “I later learned that it was a touchstone for establishing who was a ‘red’: you offered I Married a Communist to anybody you thought was a Communist, and if they turned it down, they were.” (The film was eventually made as The Woman on Pier 13 by the British-born director Robert Stevenson, who went on to direct Mary Poppins.) Eventually named as a member of the Communist Party, Losey found it almost impossible to obtain employment in the US and settled in Britain in 1953. [continue reading]

The Cuban Missile Crisis @ 60: How John F. Kennedy Sacrificed His Most Consequential Crisis Advisor

Peter Kornbluh
National Security Archive

In a secret “eyes only” memorandum for John F. Kennedy, written 60 years ago today at the outset of the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson admonished the president to abandon his initial plan to attack Cuba and to consider, instead, the diplomatic option of dismantling U.S. missile bases in Europe in return for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Air strikes against Cuba would “have such incalculable consequences,” he argued, “that I feel you should have made it clear [to your advisors] that the existence of nuclear missile bases anywhere is negotiable before we start anything.”

The memorandum, which was a follow-up to a private meeting Kennedy and Stevenson had on October 16 about the unfolding missile crisis, concluded with Stevenson’s mantra for U.S. diplomacy in the face of Soviet provocation: “Blackmail and intimidation never; negotiation and sanity always.” [continue reading]

Sir Lenny Henry on Una Marson’s forgotten legacy

BBC News

When Una Marson became the BBC’s first black radio producer and presenter in the 1940s, she brought Caribbean voices and culture to a global audience, but her name is now little known. Sir Lenny Henry explains why he is reviving Marson’s story.

When I think of Una Marson, I think of a trailblazer – a pioneer who connected the Caribbean to the world through her radio programmes. But most people don’t even know who she was, let alone anything about her work at the BBC. It would take many, many hours to uncover her story but my production company, Douglas Road Productions, makes a valiant attempt to tell it in a new documentary. We mix rare archive of Una from the 1940s with reflections from historians and writers, and actress Seroca Davis skilfully brings this remarkable woman to life. [continue reading]

Swiss myths fall apart at the Zurich Film Festival

Alan Mattli

Goats, milk and frolicking in the shadow of the Swiss Alps – that’s what Heidi is all about, right? Not if you go to the 18th Zurich Film FestivalExternal link, which is hosting a decidedly R-rated version of the happy mountain girl, recast as an anti-fascist rebel in the highly anticipated exploitation movie Mad Heidi. But that is just the tip of the ZFF iceberg, which features an array of Swiss films that tackle entrenched national myths.

Switzerland is not short of such narratives: 1291, the country’s quasi-mythical founding year, is a fiction born out of political expedience. Swiss neutrality is often controversially traced back to 1515’s Battle of Marignano, the Old Swiss Confederacy’s most ignoble military defeat. Meanwhile, the debates surrounding the legacy of Switzerland’s “colonialism without colonies” are ongoing. [continue reading]