The Imperial and Global Forum is the blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department, University of Exeter. The Centre brings together the strong research expertise of the University's eminent imperial historians. It comprises of one of the largest groups of imperial and global historians currently working in the UK. Our blog offers a dynamic exploration of imperial history. Please also visit our homepage at http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/history/research/centres/imperialandglobal/
On the 24th March, one of our own Exeter postgraduate researchers wrote this Twitter entry:
My research work is due largely to precarious waste workers in India. Many have lost livelihood. Those still working are vulnerable to #coronavirus exposure. Feels criminal to be academically “productive” right now. F*ck writing, I’m arranging financial support for my informants.
Unlike me, he dared to show how frustrating it is, how wrong it feels to be writing our thesis, using oral testimonies or inputs from real people, who in some distant part of the world could now be in a very tough and complex situation due to the current corona-crisis.
Our Uni has been amazingly supportive, our supervisors and directives, the doctoral college, our peers, in trying to keep the spirit and the optimism. They deserve a lot of recognition. And we are very much aware of how important our mental health is right now in order to fulfil our goals and follow our schedule. That said, I feel that is also important to add that for some of us it is no longer about us anymore and it just feels so unbearably wrong!
I keep on telling myself – as I did during my fieldwork while I collected those testimonies of violence, mistreatment, repression, suffering, displacement, hunger, injustice in three different peasant regions in my home-country, Colombia – that the best I can do for them is to be professional, to do my job and tell their history of food insecurity, to do it right to make a good case for their food sovereignty and basic rights. And that still keeps me going. However, it is not the same, it does not feel the same when I am fully aware of how vulnerable and endangered they are right now. Continue reading “Some reflections on international post-graduate research in the time of coronavirus”→
The editors of this volume note its origins “as a cross-corridor conversation along the lines of ‘Have you ever noticed how many influential books were written in 1944?’” (p.x). This conversation gave rise to a project of intellectual history exploring how key texts from this pivotal year reflected on, and helped shape, a different world order. The twelve chapters are not in fact confined to books; there are treatments, for example, of a Kurosawa film (by Chikako Nagayama), of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (by Suzanne Langlois), of the 1944 Democratic Party programme (by Katherine Rye Jewell), and of a Mao Zedong speech made in tribute to a fallen comrade (by Rebecca E. Karl). The Mao speech became “one of the three ‘constantly read articles’ of socialist education campaigns” (p.216). As the editors acknowledge, there are several other texts which might have been included, such as Sartre’s Huis Clos. However, they are to be commended on a judicious selection and on their choice of a novel frame through which to examine a significant historical moment.
F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom actually receives two different treatments. Radhika Desai compares it to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation which, she argues, has been unjustly neglected. In her analysis, Hayek provided a thin, ahistorical account which attributed the interwar movement towards economic planning to the intellectual failures of “socialists” (who in his view could be found in every party). She argues convincingly that Polanyi’s book “goes for the jugular of the Austrian/Hayekian argument against planning and otherwise interfering in the allegedly spontaneous or natural market mechanism” (p.34). Polanyi rejected the idea that laissez-faire had emerged naturally and that subsequent legislation that departed from it was the consequence of deliberate action by opponents of the tenets of economic liberalism. In fact, he said, laissez-faire was itself the product of purposeful government action, whereas the subsequent limitations placed upon it arose spontaneously because of the threat that free markets posed to key aspects of society. Polanyi, Desai notes, ended up being marginalised in his career, whereas Hayek took laurels which, as far as she is concerned, were wholly undeserved. Continue reading “Review – Reading the Postwar Future: Textual Turning Points from 1944”→
The global politics of the current Covid-19 pandemic (i.e. ‘pandemipolitics’) intersects in complex ways with the making, ongoing crisis, and potential unmaking of the liberal world order. What the characteristics of this order are is a hotly debated issue in international relations. Rather than using a clear-cut definition, I tend to think about the liberal order as coming together around four interlocking features which constitute our contemporary, post-Cold War, globalized international system.
First, this order is characterized by a progressive growth of international institutions and rules designed to collectively govern multiple aspects of world affairs. Second, the liberal order is marked by the spread of capitalist modes of production and the forces of economic globalization, largely organized around neo-liberal logics which require the scaling back of the state and thrive on the (relatively) free movement of goods, finance, and people worldwide. Third, this order facilitates and legitimizes the global diffusion of liberal values and institutions, including democratic regimes and universal human rights norms, while simultaneously delegitimizing and stigmatizing non-liberal worldviews and identities. Fourth, and finally, driving many of these processes and structures, are ideas, practices, and interests largely stemming from powerful Western actors. Continue reading “Pandemipolitics and the (Potential) Unmaking of the Liberal World Order”→
Secretary of State John Hay enunciated President William McKinley’s Open Door policy with a series of two “Open Door Notes,” the first in 1899 and the second in 1900. In them, Hay outlined the Republican administration’s desire for equal access to markets currently beyond the country’s economic purview, particularly the European-controlled markets of China. The Open Door Empire as a theoretical mode of analysis, however, would not take shape until the 1930s. By the 1970s, the Open Door imperial thesis – that by the late nineteenth century a bipartisan consensus had arisen in support of prying open the world’s markets for the benefit of US trade and investment through a liberal imperial policy of free trade — would become the dominant historical framework for understanding US imperial economic expansion from the country’s founding to the Vietnam War, a position of prominence that it still maintains today. And yet the historical frame of the Open Door Empire has not remained static. It has undergone a great deal of revision and criticism. Changes within both the global economy and the historical profession have redefined the Open Door’s scale and scope over the course of its long and rich historiographical journey.
The theory of the Open Door Empire went through its most sizeable transformation between its unveiling in the 1930s and its radical New Left reformation beginning in the late 1950s. Charles Beard, the most influential of Progressive scholars, was the first to popularize a working theory of the Open Door Empire as an analytical concept (Borning 1962; Nore 1983; Hofstadter 1968, 167-346; Berg 1957; Braeman 1981; Schmunk 1957; Strout 1958). Beard’s Open Door Empire made its contentious debut in the early 1930s with the publication of his twin works TheIdea of National Interest (1934) and The Open Door at Home (1934). For Beard, the Open Door arose amid great politico-ideological conflict over American foreign policy that pitted US free traders against their protectionist rivals. Owing to the subsequent neo-Marxist rise of the New Left’s “Wisconsin School” of foreign relations history (so named because of its origins within the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), Beard’s conflict-oriented interpretation of the Open Door Empire was thereafter reconfigured into one of bipartisan consensus (Kennedy 1975; Bacevich 2002; Craig 2001; Brands 1998). The Wisconsin School’s radical reworking of Beard’s Open Door thesis from the 1950s to the 1970s, begun with the publication of W. A. Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), has since established itself as the new economic orthodoxy in its uncovering of America’s formal and informal Open Door Empire. Continue reading “Charles Beard and the Open Door Empire”→
1935 was not a good year for Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Having almost been wiped out by the encirclement campaigns waged by the Chinese Nationalists (KMT) of Chiang Kai Shek and barely surviving the Long March to Shaanxi Province, one could be forgiven for thinking that the days of Chinese communism were numbered. Even fewer could have predicted that nearly fourteen years later, Mao, with his nationalist foes now vanquished to the island of Formosa, would be standing in Tiananmen Square declaring the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Much of the reversal of the CCP’s fortunes can be attributed to the ideology and strategies formulated by Mao and his German educated strategist, Zhu De, which combined Marx’s theories on communist revolution with traditional Chinese texts such as The Water Margin and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to a context far removed from Marx’s prognosis for revolution.  These ideas would form a significant part of China’s contribution to the post-colonial world and influenced both guerrilla movements across the globe and the counter insurgency planners that sought to defeat them. These strategies also would influence the thinking behind Chinese foreign policy during and after the Cold War. Continue reading “The Post-Colonial People’s War: The Legacy of Maoism”→
Iacopo Adda Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva
On 4 December 1675 (14 December in the Gregorian calendar), gunshots were fired into the air from the fortress of Nerchinsk. A conspicuous group of Cossacks had been approaching the fortress and they immediately answered the salute. It was a signal for the arrival of a special traveller, who had been sent by Tsar Alexis I to lead a Russian embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor. This special envoy was the Moldavian literary man Nicolae Milescu Spătaru, known in Russia as Nikolai Spatharii or Spafarii, who had taken up service as a diplomat of the Tsar a few years before.
Spătaru was not the first envoy whom Moscow had sent to Beijing to discuss the settlement of the border between Russia and China, but he was the first to take the internal Siberian route from Moscow to China. He was also the first to provide the tsarist court with a fairly detailed, though sometimes imprecise, description of the geography of the Russian imperial possessions east of the Urals, which was published as Journey through Siberia from Tobol’sk to Nerchinsk and the Chinese Border (see photo above). However, scientific exploration was not the primary goal of the expedition. As the Cossacks had only recently pushed down to the Amur valley, the border situation was unstable, but the Russians hoped to secure both a good strategic position on the Amur and a stable trade route to China. This would have meant reopening a sort of Russian-branded Silk Road, almost 300 years after the collapse of the one that had accompanied the pax mongolica between the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue reading “Memory Erasure of Trans-Imperial History in the City of Nerchinsk”→
I have reluctantly forborne to point out that during the war when Egypt was a Protectorate the Home Office used to treat Egyptians as alien extremists.
– Sir Robert Allason Furness, Oriental Secretary in Egypt, 1922 
12 February 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of the UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The bill – one in a series of acts passed since the Terrorism Act 2000 – was described as giving the UK ‘some of the toughest powers in the world to tackle the increasing threat from international terrorism.’ At the time it was condemned for providing the police with powers that were consequently exercised in an ‘overly-broad, discriminatory and ineffective manner.’
The Act introduced PREVENT, which places a statutory duty on public bodies to work with the police and local authorities to help prevent ‘vulnerable’ people from being drawn into terrorism. As reports and cases have shown, PREVENT works on a racialised and arbitrary logic which results in Muslim communities being suspected. In 2018 for example, a six-year-old child was referred to PREVENT for comments he had learned from the television programme ‘Horrible Histories’. The process caused great distress for the whole family. Wide powers such as these have been attributed in part to the definition of terrorism in the UK Terrorism Act 2000 being ‘one of the broadest in the world.’
The elasticity of the terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ of course did not appear with 9/11 or 7/7. Rather, they have a long historical use by imperial states justifying violence against anti-colonial resistance. Cases of British martial law and blacklisting in Egypt in the years surrounding the First World War illustrate the historical racialised and wide-reaching constructions of ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ underpinning contemporary British counter-terrorism legislation. Continue reading “From martial law to counter-terrorism law: lessons from British colonialism in Egypt”→
We at the Forum are delighted to draw your attention to the magazine Jacobin, which has just published an interview with Prof. James Mark about the new book 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, co-authored with Exeter colleagues Bogdan Iacob, Tobias Rupprecht, and Ljubica Spaskovska. Here is the introduction:
On the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, commemorations of the “end of communism” proved rather muted. The Washington Post lamented the dismantling of the democratic institutions so hard-won in 1989, accusing Hungary’s far-right premier Viktor Orbán of antics that would make his communist predecessors “blush.” Writing in the Guardian, liberal historian Timothy Garton-Ash also felt that the “dictators [are] coming back,” but insisted the “spirit of 1989” could resist the spread of so-called “illiberal democracy.”
Both readings conform to a commonplace understanding of what happened in central-eastern Europe after 1989 — a wave of democratic mobilization, cruelly beaten down by new Moscow-aligned autocrats who do not want to embrace “Western values.” This perception has been fueled by the public declarations of many leaders in the “Visegrád” countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia) who have insisted on the preservation of their Christian and national culture as against “globalism” and multiculturalism. Continue reading “Jacobin interview with Prof. James Mark: When Eastern Europe Left the World Behind”→