Sydney’s Global Slavery Scandal of 1857

Sugarcane harvesters, Reunion Island c.1885
Sugarcane harvesters, Reunion Island

Karin Speedy
Macquarie University, Sydney
Follow on Twitter @KarinESpeedy

In 1857, 51 Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) and 14 Solomon Islanders were spirited away from their homes. They were transported on the Sydney-based barque Sutton, and then sold as indentured sugar labourers on the French-owned island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. When the scandal hit the shores of Sydney, the incident  shifted from a global diplomatic dispute between the British and French empires to a local story, revealing the complexity of the colonial space where culpability was tied to local politics, class, and notions of nationality.[1] Continue reading “Sydney’s Global Slavery Scandal of 1857”

A Parisian Ho Chi Minh Trail: Writing Global History Through Interwar Paris

Antiimperial Metropolis cover

Michael Goebel
Freie Universität Berlin
Follow on Twitter @mgoebel29

Anxieties over the possible political fallouts of African and Asian migration to Europe have a much longer history than the current refugee crisis might have you suspect. Colonial migration to interwar Paris, as I argue in Anti-Imperial Metropolis, turned into an important engine for the spread of nationalism across the French Empire. Studying the everyday lives of these migrants, in turn, might also offer a way out of the impasse that global historians currently face.

Let me begin with an anecdote that encapsulates my argument: In autumn 1919, while statesmen gathered in Paris’s upscale banlieues to redraw the political world map, local police hired a discharged Vietnamese adjutant as an undercover agent. His task was “to exercise a discrete surveillance” over a compatriot of his who had distributed leaflets entitled “The Demands of the Annamite People” among diplomats and informal spokesmen in the city’s shabbier neighbourhoods.

The newly enlisted informer took his assignment very seriously. He filed daily reports on just about every movement in the city’s Vietnamese community, producing a paper trail that can now only be traced through the National Archives in Paris and in the Colonial Archives in Aix-en-Provence. Continue reading “A Parisian Ho Chi Minh Trail: Writing Global History Through Interwar Paris”

Living in the Age of the Storyteller: Global History and the Politics of Narrative


Lori Lee Oates
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @LoriLeeOates

In late June, I had the honour of hearing Professor David A. Bell speak at the Society for the Study of French History conference at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The theme of the conference was Turning Points in French History and he spoke on the period between 1715 to 1815. Professor Bell went on to discuss ‘the global turn’. He noted that a significant percentage of current history Ph.D. students are using global analysis as the main methodology for their thesis. He then discussed the limits of this methodology, particularly as a largely structural analysis. He argued that the methodologies of ‘the linguistic turn’ might actually be more helpful to us in analyzing the process of why change continues after these same global structures break down. Linguistic analysis largely views language as a structure that is culturally inherited and something that limits our ability to comprehend society beyond those concepts that are available to us in our immediate environment.

As one of many Ph.D. students who have turned toward using global and imperial methodology, I was intrigued. Professor Bell’s talk also reminded me of sitting in an Ex Historia seminar on global and imperial history in 2013 and posing the question of whether this was just another passing academic fad. Like others I had been advised to do a thesis that is an analysis of the effects of globalization and the inherent influence of imperialism on that process. In many ways this is a good approach as a number of new academic positions are being created in the field of global and imperial history on both sides of the Atlantic. However, given the academic hype regarding globalization in recent years, I had honestly been wondering for some time when somebody was going to start questioning the efficacy of the methodology. Continue reading “Living in the Age of the Storyteller: Global History and the Politics of Narrative”

What Can Taylor Swift Tell Us About the Global Early American Republic?

Cool Lady Liberty

Dael Norwood
Binghamton University, SUNY
Follow on Twitter @DaelNorwood

What does Taylor Swift have to tell us about the nature of imperial crisis? How can DJ Khaled inform our understanding of revolutionary consolidation? We know Beyoncé can shed light on current events – that’s clear – but what can Queen Bey explain about the human rights consequences of nineteenth-century transatlantic religious reform movements?

More than you might expect. I teach the history of the early United States in the world, and over the last few years I’ve adopted a pop-flavored shtick to help my students and I as we investigate America’s transnational, global, and imperial history. I pair each class meeting with a piece of modern popular music, creating a playlist as the semester goes along, so that by the end students have a set of sonic references for the course’s topics. The result is a historical mix-tape that, given a friendly hearing, helps the big histories make more sense – or at least draws a cathartic chuckle at the end of an intense lecture.

I started doing this just for fun. It was my attempt at emulating my colleagues teaching 20th-century history, whose use of period-appropriate music I saw enrich their classrooms. Now, I’m all for including a hearty Whig Party campaign song or a sea chanty – but they have a tendency to kill momentum in an undergraduate crowd. So I chose an easier path, loosely tying themes of globalized American history to top 40 hits. To my surprise, what began as a self-indulgent experiment in dubious musical taste has steadily become a pedagogically useful crowd-pleaser (though still dubious and self-indulgent).

The main problem the tunes help solve is one of orientation. American students, in particular, often come to my classes expecting an encounter with a national history they know well (sometimes far too well) already. They find some familiar people and events in my classroom, but in startlingly unfamiliar, and much more complex, contexts. That defamiliarization is intentional – a primary benefit of taking transnational perspective is the critical thought it provokes – but widening the field to situate Americans’ stories within the entire world can also overwhelm at times. The pop songs provide a friendly opening for discussions on difficult topics, as well as a potential hook on which to hang unraveled course themes, keeping the threads slack and untangled as we fly through decades of revolution, slavery, revival, and frenetic capitalist development. Continue reading “What Can Taylor Swift Tell Us About the Global Early American Republic?”

Expat Imperialism: Reconsidering the Bonds of Empire

“Opium ships at Lintin in China, 1824,” by William John Huggins, 1828. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.
“Opium ships at Lintin in China, 1824,” by William John Huggins, 1828. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.

Dane Morrison
Salem State University
Follow on Twitter @trueyankees

On a balmy Sunday evening in March 1838, a colorful conclave of English, Parsee, American, and Hong merchants crowded the resplendent grand hall of the New English factory in Canton in a sort of town meeting to hear Chief Superintendent and Plenipotentiary of Britain’s China trade, Charles Eliot. Eliot was there to announce Britain’s response to the arrival of Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, who had arrived days earlier with a commission to eliminate the opium trade, his sweeping proclamation demanding they deliver “every particle of opium” to him for destruction. It was addressed to “the Barbarians of every nation.” Recognizing the sprinkling of Americans in the hall, Eliot expressed his delight for their tacit cooperation, and assured them, too, of the protection of the British government. Proclaiming what everyone already knew, that two American warships, the imposing USS John Adams and the Columbia, were expected imminently, he hoped that he could count on their assistance. “Yes, you may,” someone shouted back. All in all, it was “a very pretty speech,” American merchant Robert Bennet Forbes observed.[1]

More than a pretty speech, Eliot’s words recognized an important aspect of imperial and global history – Eliot understood that the sinews that connected the British Empire were more than ships plying trade routes, colonial administrators issuing edicts from imposing fortresses, or agents collecting taxes from impoverished farmers. They were also strengthened by informal ties of commerce, gentility and affinity that bound, albeit loosely, communities of global expatriates. In subtle but significant ways, the empire of the 1830s was already an informal phenomenon, connected by the citizens of the world whose residencies in colonial outposts created webs of support.

The print culture of early global travelers reveals a world of expatriate networks that transcend nationality. Continue reading “Expat Imperialism: Reconsidering the Bonds of Empire”

Tribute to Sir Christopher Bayly (1945-2015)


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

News of the death of Sir Christopher Bayly swept  across the world last week. We at the Centre for Imperial & Global History join the global community of scholars in expressing our sadness at his untimely passing. Below, we include some of the tributes to Bayly that have appeared in the days since: Continue reading “Tribute to Sir Christopher Bayly (1945-2015)”

Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life


Stuart Mole
Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).

Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.

From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life (2014).

This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.

But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading “Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life”