This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Knole House, home of the Sackville-Wests. Photograph: IR_Stone/Getty Images.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From Belgium’s reckoning with its brutal colonial past to Novia Scotia’s lobster wars, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

A Dutch Netflix Postcolonial Horror Story

Dominic Alessio, Yaffa Caswell, Charlie Klucker, Yeats McDonald, and Emma Nourry
Richmond, the American International University of London

Please note: this article is a co-production with undergraduate history and film students at Richmond, the American International University of London. It was written in a time of COVID as an experiment in alternate assessment forms when regular classes and seminars were not always an option. It was also a useful way for students to apply the lessons of theory and history to the present.

Please also note that there are spoilers below.

In 2020 Netflix produced Ares (directors Giancarlo Sanchez & Michiel ten Horn), its first Dutch horror series. The eight episodes in the series deal with the story of Rosa (Jade Olieberg), an Amsterdam university student of mixed ethnicity and working-class/lower middle-class background, who is invited to join a wealthy and powerful secret society called Ares. Apart from Rosa the other members of Ares appear entirely European and extremely rich and well-connected.

The secret fraternity Ares can be read as a metaphor for how white Dutch society continues to clandestinely benefit economically, politically, and socially from the country’s history of colonialism and slavery. We also believe that the Netflix production was especially prescient given that 2020 was also the year of the year of Black Lives Matter and that this series followed upon growing calls for the Netherlands to address various postcolonial lacunae in its academic curriculum, namely: its need to address the atrocities committed during the heyday of its imperial rule (Doolan 2016); its late and shameful late abolition of the institution of slavery in 1863; and the fact that the country had “failed to acknowledge the continuing influence of its colonial legacies” (Pattynama 2012: 176). Continue reading “A Dutch Netflix Postcolonial Horror Story”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

“A new Map of the whole World, by H. Moll. [In hemispheres, on the stereographic projection]” – British Library shelfmark: Maps K.Top.4.25.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the threat of academic authoritarianism to when Louis Armstrong stopped a civil war in the Congo, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?

Gregorio Bettiza
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the Religion and IR Blog

Samuel Huntington’s theory that post-Cold War world politics would be defined by the “clash of civilizations” has generated much debate in scholarly and policy circles since it first appeared on the pages of Foreign Affairs in 1993. One of the main controversies has revolved around the extent to which Huntington’s (in)famous thesis would come to shape America’s foreign policy and its War on Terror since the attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11).

Some like Paul Avey and Michael Desch have suggested in a 2014 International Studies Quarterly article that Huntington’s ideas have had scarce purchase among US national security policymakers and, by implication, little impact on American foreign policy. Through the use of surveys, Avey and Desch found that across a range of theories which policymakers where most familiar with, Huntington’s clash of civilizations was the one they exhibited the greatest skepticism towards and influenced their work the least. (Other theories policymakers were surveyed on included: democratic peace theory, mutual assured destruction, population centric COIN, structural realism, expected utility.)

Others, especially critical scholars often drawing on Edward Said’s concept of orientalism, have tended to reach dramatically different conclusions. Within this scholarship the clash of civilizations is generally understood as a shared discourse that percolates across all levels of American society, from Hollywood productions to the corridors of power in Washington DC, consistently categorizing Islam and Muslims as the new post-Cold War ‘other’. The War on Terror is then understood as an enactment of these discourses on the world political stage. Continue reading “Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A potester demonstrating against the continued conflict in Yemen. Parliament Square, London,  July 5, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From how the Soviets recruited Nazi war criminals to spy on the West to misremembering the British Empire, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Postdoctoral Research Fellow – 19 Nov. Deadline

Job reference: R73691

Date posted: 22/10/2020

Application closing date: 19/11/2020

Location: Cornwall

Salary: The starting salary will be from £35,845 up to £40,322 on Grade F, depending on qualifications and experience.

Package: Generous holiday allowances, flexible working, pension scheme and relocation package (if applicable).

Job category/type: Research

College of Social Sciences and International Studies

This full-time post is available from 1st January 2021 on a fixed term basis for two years.

The post

The College wishes to recruit a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for a Leverhulme Research Project Grant, ‘Warnings from the Archive: A Century of British Intervention in the Middle East’, led by Dr Owen Thomas and Prof Catriona Pennell. This interdisciplinary project encompasses International Relations, History, and Political Science. It is a systematic archive-based comparison of two official inquiries, one hundred years apart, into British military intervention in Iraq: the Mesopotamia Commission (1917) and the Iraq Inquiry (2016). The project will deconstruct these inquiries to understand the contexts, values, cultures and beliefs that have shaped British grand strategy, the lessons learnt and lost from a century of intervention, and the voices heard and unheeded.

This Leverhulme Trust funded post is available from 1st January 2021 for two years. The successful applicant will work under the direction of Dr Thomas and Prof Pennell to conduct literature reviews, exploration of physical and digital archives, and discourse analyses. The post will include co-authoring peer-reviewed journal articles, disseminating findings, coordinating a workshop and journal special issue, producing an open-access digital catalogue of the project’s archival, and developing a project website (including podcasts and teaching materials). Continue reading “Postdoctoral Research Fellow – 19 Nov. Deadline”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From teaching anticolonial archives to race and empire in Meiji Japan, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From how Japanese Canadians survived internment to when Africa was a German laboratory, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

On Trade Books and Global History

Map of Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital of the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. Printed in 1572 by Braun and Hogenberg in Civitates Orbis Terrarum. nicoolay/Getty Images

In this blog post Professor Maria Fusaro responds to some questions put to her by Professor Richard Toye about trade books and global history.

RT: In the many discussions that are currently going on around ‘decolonising’, one thing I’ve not seen addressed is the role of the publishing industry. Whatever happens in universities, publishers have a big influence on how history is discussed in the public sphere. Are there particular pitfalls surrounding trade publishing (as opposed to academic publishing), do you think?

MF: What a good question! Or I should probably say ‘questions’, as you raise more than one point as ‘trade books’ are an important phenomenon within the Anglosphere.

The first question you raise is about relationship between ‘academic’ and ‘trade’ publishing, and their different (divergent?) goals. Directly descending from this is a separate issue, namely how this affects efforts at decolonising the curriculum. And connected to both is how ‘trade’ and academic publishing need to interact.

Professional historians tend to be based in universities, and their scientific reputations are built through their production of academic essays and volumes. Once upon a time, there was an organic development between academic and trade books. One started to publish within the academic world, built his (I was going to write ‘her’ and then realised they were all men) scientific reputation and then, towards the end of his career or in retirement wrote for the general public. As a phenomenon peculiar to the Anglosphere, there was also the non professional historian, who eschewed the academic path and wrote ‘histories’ for the educated public, the latter type were (and are) usually very gifted writers.

These two publishing paths now run instead mostly in parallel, and historians frequently write both academic and trade books, which is great news for the profession, but also potentially dangerous. This is due to the growing schizophrenia between the type of books published by academic presses, and the growth of trade books with a ‘global’ subject, usually sensationalizing individuals or goods – single years are also in vogue. Continue reading “On Trade Books and Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Black Lives Matter demonstration in London on July 8, 2016 (Photo: Alisdare Hickson, Flickr).

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the transnational roots of Black History Month in Britain to how bad medieval history feeds far-right fantasies, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

The Human Rights Dictatorship – An Interview with Ned Richardson-Little

Ned Richardson-Little. The Human Rights Dictatorship: Socialism, Global Solidarity and Revolution in East Germany. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2020. £22.99 Paperback

Interviewed by Marc-William Palen

Ned Richardson-Little’s The Human Rights Dictatorship recovers the history of human rights within the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In doing so, he provocatively reinterprets the Cold War, the evolution of human rights in the Eastern Bloc, and the revolutions of 1989. The book provocatively shows how “human rights” had multiple meanings depending upon which side of the Cold War – and the Berlin Wall – you found yourself. Richardson-Little’s tracing of how the meaning of human rights evolved in the decades after the Second World War illuminates a global battleground of ideas that continued to be fought in Eastern Europe long after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Dr Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he leads a project on international crime and globalization. Before this, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the 1989 after 1989 research group (2014-18). He received the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize from the German Historical Institute (Washington) and a commendation from the Fraenkel Prize committee at the Wiener Library. Academic publications include numerous chapters and journal articles, and the editing of a special issue of East Central Europe.  He has also written for the Imperial & Global Forum, and hosts a blog, History Ned. You can follow him on Twitter @HistoryNed.

How would you briefly summarize your book? Give us your “elevator pitch,” if you will.

The idea of human rights was crucial to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of state socialism in East Germany, but before that, it had also been a core part of communist ideology used to legitimize dictatorship. The ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) came to see itself and the German Democratic Republic as a champion of human rights, both at home and around the world. The party even created a socialist version of Amnesty International to campaign on behalf of victims of human rights violations in West Germany and beyond. For dissident activists, creating a human rights movement wasn’t a matter of being inspired by the West, but reclaiming the idea of human rights from the state by demanding democracy and pluralism from within. The SED was able to use human rights politics to sustain power for decades, but once dissident groups succeeded in wresting it from the party, this accelerated the process of collapse leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Continue reading “The Human Rights Dictatorship – An Interview with Ned Richardson-Little”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Castro in Harlem
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and Cuban President Fidel Castro, center, are seen outside the Hotel Theresa in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. (Associated Press)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the African who transformed Anglo-Saxon England to the anti-colonial repatriation of museum artifacts, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Why Globalise? 1989 in Eastern Europe and the Politics of History

East and West Berliners gathering at the Berlin Wall on November 10, 1989, one day after the wall opened. Source:

Zoltán Ginelli

Excerpted from LeftEast

In this three-part interview, conducted, transcribed and edited by Zoltán Ginelli, history professor James Mark talks about his latest book.

James Mark is a British Professor of History at the University of Exeter. His research focuses on the history and memory politics of state-socialism in East Central Europe from the perspective of broader global histories, transnational processes and comparative methods. In 2019, James finished leading two 5-year international research projects: 1989 After 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective and Socialism Goes Global: Cold War Connections Between the ‘Second’ and ‘Third Worlds’. The two projects focused on how to reinterpret state-socialism, the Cold War, the 1989–91 system changes and the postsocialist period in Eastern European history as part of global processes and in the histories of colonialism and anti-colonialism. The titles of the two projects came from two published articles.[1] In 2019, these projects published several books, such as 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, and Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World, but three further volumes are in also production, one of them entitled Historicizing Whiteness in Eastern Europe. Readers might also be interested in the exhibition Tito in Africa: Picturing Solidarity organised as part of the second project and bearing an exhibition book (The Wende MuseumPitt Rivers MuseumMuseum of Yugoslavia). The exhibition presents the African round-trips of Yugoslavian president Tito in the 1960s and 1970s in the context of the development of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Third World. Continue reading “Why Globalise? 1989 in Eastern Europe and the Politics of History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Demonstrations against Treuhand, as seen in the documentary. Photograph: Netflix

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

From Germany’s answer to the JFK assassination to Wendell Willkie’s world without borders, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Dangerous but rarely deadly: Fire as protest in modern Ireland

Gemma Clark
University of Exeter


Arson is the criminal act of setting fire to property with the aim to cause damage; yet, whether or not incendiaries also intend to harm people, fires often result in ‘tragedies involving burns and scalds’, as documented by this blog. In November 1991, during the Northern Ireland Troubles, two young arsonists ‘motivated by sectarian hatred’ killed Kathleen Lundy, a Catholic convert through marriage, and her 15-year-old son, Colin, residents of the predominantly Protestant area of Glengormey, near Belfast. (Another son, Gerard, aged 19, was injured.) Mark Whyte, 18, and Richard McKay, 19, claimed at Belfast Crown Court that they believed the family was staying with relatives on the night they ‘poured petrol through the letterbox’ of the Lundy home and ‘set it alight’.[1] In a seemingly-weak defence of a life-threatening act, McKay ‘thumped the dock with his fist and shouted out – “Nobody was meant to die”.’[2] Mr Justice Nicholson ‘had a “slight doubt” as to whether they intended to kill’, sentencing the pair, in February 1993, to concurrent fifteen-year sentences for arson and manslaughter.[3]

As a historian of arson, I explore similarly difficult questions around personal and collective motivations for malicious fire setting, focusing specifically on its function as a tool of protest and intercommunal violence. One of the core and perhaps unexpected findings in my research area, Britain and especially Ireland since c.1800, is that this inherently dangerous strategy has claimed relatively few casualties, especially when compared to modern, sinister usages of fire, such as ethnic cleansing and inter-religious/racial violence, elsewhere in the world.[4] There have been racist and suspected-racist arson attacks in modern Britain; the New Cross house fire, in London, 1981, for example, claimed thirteen young lives and shaped Black British identity.[5] However, the relative scarcity of lethal arson, particularly in the British/Irish protest sphere, is surprising because arguably incendiarism works so effectively – as intimidation and insurgency – precisely because of its lethal potential. Humans learn from a young age ‘that fire can hurt us. It can burn our body and lay waste to our home’;[6] I have found that politically-motivated arsonists historically have traded on this primal fear, of losing everything to the flames, to induce action and compliance with demands. Continue reading “Dangerous but rarely deadly: Fire as protest in modern Ireland”