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”→
With Boris Johnson hailing parliament’s vote towards Britain leaving the EU on January 31, there is a general consensus among the country’s leaders that there will be an intimate trading relationship with the US after Brexit. But whenever the question of a deal comes up in the media, there is usually much talk of stumbling blocks.
There is the war of words between UK chancellor Sajid Javid and US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin over a digital tax on American companies in the UK, for instance. Or fears that the NHS will be sold off to US healthcare giants.
Much is also written about the difficulty the UK faces in steering a course between its EU neighbours and the overwhelming political might of Washington. For example, will the UK have to abandon the Iran nuclear deal to win free-trade concessions from America?
Investigating the history of the 1990s in Algeria through the issue of repression: the case of internment camps (1991-1995)
Dr. Saphia Arezki, Associate researcher (IREMAM and CHERPA ,Aix-en-Provence)
When: 4-5:30pm, Wed. Jan. 22, 2020
Where: Queens building MR2+3, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter
Having completed a thesis on the role of Algerian officers in the construction of a national army between 1954 and 1991, the focus of my postdoctoral research shifted to the 1990s in Algeria. Over the course of this decade, nearly 150,000 Algerians died, and the 1990s have come to be known as Algeria’s “black decade”. The precise nature of what took place remains a matter of debate. Was it a civil war? A war against civilians? Was it a fight against terrorism? While the term civil war is discussed but far from agreed upon, this broad descriptor perhaps best describes the reality that the country went through during the decade in question. The jurist Mouloud Boumghar justifies the use of this terminology in a way that seems convincing: “The term ‘war’ is used here in a non-legal sense of armed struggle between social and/or political groups with a goal of imposing by force a determined will on the adversary. It is described as civilian in order to mark its character as a non-international war between an established government and an insurrectional movement that challenges the former for the power of the state”. Political scientists Adam Baczko and Gilles Dorronsoro propose a definition of civil war “as the coexistence on the same national territory of different social orders maintaining a violent relationship” which is relevant in the Algerian context. Continue reading “Investigating the history of the 1990s in Algeria through the issue of repression – a talk by Dr Saphia Arezki”→
We will be running our next Decolonization Workshop here at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in Senate House, London, on Monday 16 March 2020. The day will run from 11.00am to 6.00pm.
As on previous occasions, we aim to have a series panel discussions over the course of the day. Each panel will consist of three papers lasting for 15-20 minutes. We are particularly appealing for proposals for presentations from research students and early-career researchers, although we welcome the participation of more established scholars. The workshop will provide an informal and supportive forum in which to discuss work in progress. Continue reading “CFP: Decolonization Workshop @ICwS_SAS, Monday 16 March 2020”→
While considerable literatures exist which describe interactions between European modernist art and local forms of culture, Tunisia is quite typical in being a site in which scholars know very little about indigenous forms of artistic production in the late- nineteenth and eraly-twentieth centuries. Colonists generally disparaged the paintings of locals as being instances of folk art, art brut, popular culture or graffiti, while such judgements have also tended to be replicated in the work of scholars of empire right up until our present. While a work of abstraction by Matisse or Klee is accorded value in the setting of a western museum, similar shapes and forms found painted onto walls and paper in north Africa have been viewed as crude instances of a backward culture.
Through a process of what Maziyar Ghiabi calls ‘visual archaeology’, contemporary scholars are, however, able to relocate and, in some cases, reproduce artworks from the margins of colonial-era photography and ephemeral forms such as postcards and advertisements. What such discoveries reveal in Tunisia, and across Islamic Africa, are the existence of vast corpuses of complex, beautiful and powerful works of art almost exclusively made by women. These paintings drew on traditiona forms of cultural expression in radically new ways so as to make pictures which would protect subjugated populations from the violence of colonial rule.
This got me thinking that Instagram could be an interesting place to explore the subject further, as it seems an especially apt venue for those who work primarily with images. As well as potentially exposing wider publics to new research, it has especial appeal as a means of democratically engaging audiences in the global South. I realise that some would question how the granting of intellectual property to a western digital behemoth is any sense a decolonial act, but given the manner in which scholars in the Humanities are in thrall to exclusionary paid-for publishing options, I’d suggest that it merits consideration as a means of speaking outside of the world of paywalls. Continue reading “Researching the Colonial Past on Instagram”→
Humanitarian organisations across the globe face growing challenges in delivering aid, securing funds and maintaining public confidence. Trade-offs between sovereignty, democracy, security, development, identity, and human rights have become highly complex. The Herrenhausen Conference ‘Governing Humanitarianism’ interrogates present issues and future directions for global humanitarian governance in relation to its pasts. It asks if humanitarian expansion has come at the expense of core values and effective intervention, and how the pursuit of global equity and social justice can be pursued through shifting global and local power structures. The conference features six key themes: Humanitarianism as Global Networks and Activism; Gendering Humanitarianism; Humanitarianism and International Law; Humanitarian Political and Moral Economies; Media and Humanitarianism; Humanitarianism, Development and Global Human Rights. Continue reading “Travel Grants Available – Governing Humanitarianism: Past, Present and Future Conference”→