Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?

This post is the third in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Ahmed R. Memon
University of Kent

Star trek Discovery—the new instalment to the Star Trek universe—only confirms what enthusiasts of the series have long said: that it is a science fiction show with unmistakable allusions to an international vision of a peaceful, cooperative world reflecting the liberal internationalism of the post-Second-World-War global legal order.[1]

The Charter of the United Federation of Planets is in fact based on the international vision of global order entrenched in the United Nations charter.[2] The text of the Federation’s charter was merely a rewording of the United Nations, wherein Earth-centric terms such as “people,” “human,” and “international community” have been replaced by inclusive and expansive “life forms,” “planetary communities,” and “sentient beings.” The main body of the text in the Federation charter even reproduces important phrases from the United Nations charter such as “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” “promote cooperation, maintain peace and security” based on values of “universal peace, liberty and equal rights,” “obligation to treaties,” and the “social progress and better standards to life.”

Yet despite these obvious allusions to the United Nations, the imperial history of the League of Nations is an even more apt historical parallel to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets (the Federation). In understanding the ideological discourses of the League of Nations, we can thus see how the Federation is a far-future model of early-twentieth-century imperial internationalism. Continue reading “Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?”

Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May

Ursula K. Le Guin (left, illustration by Essy May), Anne McCaffrey (middle, illustration by Linda Eicher), Julian May (right).

This post is the third in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Tris Kerslake
Central Queensland University

For as long as the concept has existed, the struggle for empire has been seen as the most masculine of endeavours; strategic conflict, war and bloodshed on an industrial scale was not, apparently, for the ladies.

Of course, this attitude originated in the patriarchal headspace that considered women to be most useful as producers and nurturers of the next generation of soldiers, rather than as soldiers in their own right.

This mindset has never really been shaken off and wanders on even today in the realm of science fiction (SF), despite the best efforts of Black Widow in the latest DC marvel escapade (Infinity War, 2018). Publishers routinely advise women SF/Fantasy authors such as K. A. Stewart (Second Olympus, 2015), Rob Thurman (Everwar, 2016), and K. J. Taylor (The Last Guard, 2016) to avoid adopting a feminine authorial name as male readers tend not to read female writers of SF.

This is a shame for several reasons, not least of which being that any male readers who think this way are missing out on some of the best pulse-thumping action involving the violent ending of worlds, the annihilation of aggressive alien species and the unleashing of unspeakable doomsday weapons.

Imperialism flourishes in all its forms in SF and the spread of empire has formed the crux of stories written by the most respected names in the SF genre, not all of them men. To illustrate this point, I shall examine, in brief, a unique imperial concept from each of three past and much-lauded SF authors, all of whom shared the XX chromosome: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011), and Julian May (1931-2017). Continue reading “Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May”

Is Theresa May the Next Harold Wilson?

Harold Wilson campaigned for a Yes vote in 1975, despite achieving office on a Eurosceptic manifesto the year before.

Josh Hockley-Still
University of Exeter

The Windrush scandal and the subsequent resignation of yet another Cabinet Minister, Amber Rudd, means that Theresa May’s continued occupancy of No. 10 Downing Street appears ever more insecure. Her political obituary has already been written on multiple occasions, and yet she continues to survive.

Has there ever been a British Prime Minister who has displayed such resilience when their odds of political survival looked so bleak?

Yes. His name is Harold Wilson.

These days Wilson is more commonly compared to David Cameron, as in 2016 when Cameron attempted without success to follow Wilson’s playbook on how to win a European referendum. However, in political style and temperament Wilson has far more in common with May than Cameron.

So what are the similarities between Wilson and May, and what does this mean for British politics? Continue reading “Is Theresa May the Next Harold Wilson?”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Europeans such as the Spanish explorers shown here brought germs, as well as slavery, to the Americas. Photograph: Rex

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

From what happens when a bad-tempered, distractable doofus runs an empire to how our colonial past altered the ecobalance of an entire planet, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

“To boldly go!”: Adventure and Empire in Star Trek

This post is the second in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the first post in the series here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

E. Leigh McKagen
Virginia Tech

All iterations of the classic American science fiction television show Star Trek present space as a place for exploration and discovery accessible as the result of superior technology. Through the codependence on adventure and technology, Star Trek reinforces an empire that exists without features of conquest seen in much historical imperialism. The narrative of empire in Star Trek is rooted in historical imperial power relations that continue into the present, and are projected far into the future. I would suggest that the links between adventure narratives, technology, empire, and Star Trek demonstrate how one of the most popular American SF TV shows reinforces and perpetuates imperial power structures through the emphasis on discovery and exploration.

Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966, and the original series details the adventures of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew aboard the USS Enterprise. After three years on the air, the show sparked a movie franchise and was later revised on television with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) at the helm of the Enterprise in The Next Generation (1987-1994). Although Roddenberry passed away in 1991, the series has continued in various iterations, including Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-2005), and most recently, a series of rebooted films and Discovery (2017-present).

Despite the many versions of the story, the show remains true to Roddenberry’s original interest in exploration and adventure, as outlined in the opening credits of TOS and TNG: “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!”[1] This goal of exploration links the Star Trek universe to the genre of adventure narratives, which Martin Green traces to the publication of Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe in 1719.[2] In Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire (1980), Green links the origin of the novel with adventure narratives and the spread of English imperialism, beginning with the 1707 union of England and Scotland.[3] Predating Edward Said’s notable exploration of the “imagination of empire” woven into British novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Green argues that “adventure is the energizing myth of empire.”[4] Specifically, Green explores a capitalist adventure narrative that strengthens the expansion of the British Empire in a subtle manner through a civilizing mission disguised through adventure and discovery. Building on narratives that predate official British imperialism, Victorian and Edwardian adventure novels popularized and reinforced the sense of excitement and discovery utilized by English explorers as a vital component to imperial expansion in the traditional “Age of Imperialism.” Continue reading ““To boldly go!”: Adventure and Empire in Star Trek”

Conference Programme – Britain & the World (June 21-23, University of Exeter)

Reed Hall
Reed Hall, University of Exeter, where the 2018 conference will be held.

From June 21-23, 2018, the Centre for Imperial & Global History is hosting the Britain & the World Conference at Reed Hall. Professor Martin Thomas (University of Exeter) is giving the keynote, and Professor Audrey Horning (William and Mary) the plenary. Please find the programme below.

Wednesday Icebreaker: 7:30- @ The Imperial


8:45- 10:15am

  1. Humanitarian Mission and British Imperialism Ibrahim Ahmed

Chair: Ben Holmes, University of Exeter, UK

“‘Where Britain’s power is felt mankind should feel her mercy too’: The ‘mercy’ of

empire in the long nineteenth century,” James Gregory, University of Plymouth, UK

“Reforming the poor, a charitable enterprise of colonization? Protestant missions in

Ireland in the nineteenth century,” Karina Bénazech Wendling, EPHE-PSL University

Paris and GSRL-CNRS, France

“Bringing Light to the Heart of Darkness: Transnational Human Rights and the Congo

Reform Association,” Dean Clay, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

  1. Negotiating (Im)mobilities: Travelling British and Indian Women in the British Empire Margaret Hewitt

Chair: Lisa Berry-Waite, University of Exeter, UK

“Consolidating Power and Advancing Causes: Annie Besant’s Strategic Mobility across the Empire,” Catherine E. Hoyser, University of Saint Joseph, US

“Travelling the Empire and Crafting Careers: Maud MacCarthy and an Imperial Network of Art at the turn of the 20th century,” Louise Blakeney Williams, Central Connecticut State University, US

“Translating (Im)Mobilities in Migrations: Cases of Indian Travelling Ayahs in Britain (1890-1940),” Arunima Datta, National University of Singapore, Singapore

  1. British Relations with Central and Eastern Europe, 1900-1930         Garden

Chair: Daniel Steinbach, University of Exeter, UK

“‘What Shall Become of the Orphaned Congregations?’: The Expulsion of German Missionaries from British India during the First World War,” Sharon Arnoult, Midwestern State University, US

“‘The crimson trail of Britain across the world’: German representations of British Imperialism around the First World War,” Mads Bomholt Nielsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

“R. W. Seton-Watson and the Yugoslavs, 1906-1921: The Limits and Contradictions of British Liberal Internationalism?,” Samuel Foster, University of East Anglia, UK

  1. Towards a System of Nations Upper Lounge

Chair: Marc-William Palen, University of Exeter, UK

“The economics of Edwardian imperial preference: what can New Zealand reveal?,”

Brian Varian, Swansea University, UK

“Forging imperial bonds in the pursuit of global unity: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the British government in Palestine,” Diane Robinson-Dunn, University of Detroit Mercy, US

“From Ottawa to Geneva: The British World of trade and the League of Nations,

c.1918-39,” David Thackeray, University of Exeter, UK

  1. Imperial Discourses Walter Daw

Chair: Richard Toye, University of Exeter, UK

“The World and Britain: The British Empire as Model for American and German imperialism,” Julio Decker, University of Bristol, UK

“The classical world, the civic space, and the concept of civilisation in British international thought, 1919-39,” Liam Stowell, University of Manchester, UK

Continue reading “Conference Programme – Britain & the World (June 21-23, University of Exeter)”

Colonising the Verse: Genre, Imperialism and Frontier Violence in Firefly and Serenity

This post is the first in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here. Posts will run twice a week between now and the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these posts!

Joel Barnes
University of Melbourne

Five hundred years in the future, humanity has left earth and expanded into a new solar system. New planets have been terraformed and colonised. Life at the centre of this system is luxurious, sophisticated, civilised. On the outer fringes, existence is more precarious, eking out a living a more dangerous game. This is the world of Joss Whedon’s regrettably short-lived television series Firefly (2002) and its feature film follow-up Serenity (2005). Both follow the rag-tag crew of the spaceship Serenity, led by captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), as they struggle to make ends meet by means legal and otherwise on the rough outer edges of this fictional universe, known in the show’s jargon as “the Verse.”

The Verse is cast in the mode of not one but two genres—the space opera and the western—that dramatise life on the frontier, and much of its humour and interest lies in the productive tension between their respective visions of that setting. According to Whedon, Firefly’s genesis lay in his reading of The Killer Angels (1974), Michael Shaara’s historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. He afterwards became “obsessed with the idea of life on the frontier, and that of course [made him] think of the Millennium Falcon.”[1] In imagining the space opera as an adapted western that shifted nineteenth-century imperial tropes into an extraterrestrial future, Whedon was merely making explicit long-standing undercurrents within the genre. (Gene Roddenberry’s working title for Star Trek—a constant intertextual counterpoint in Firefly—had been Wagon Train to the Stars.[2] Its trademark incantation of “space, the final frontier” was not incidental.) Continue reading “Colonising the Verse: Genre, Imperialism and Frontier Violence in Firefly and Serenity