The misguided attacks on ‘This Land Is Your Land’

Some of Guthrie’s greatest champions have had difficulties with the song. Al Aumuller/Library of Congress

Will Kaufman
University of Central Lancashire

In recent years, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” has become a rallying cry for immigrants. And in July, after President Donald Trump tweeted that four Democratic congresswomen of color needed to “go back where they came from,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the four targeted, responded with a tweet quoting Guthrie’s lyrics.

But not everyone sees the song as an anthem for inclusion.

In June, the Smithsonian’s online magazine, Folklife, published a piece that lambasted the song for its omissions.

The article, titled “This Land Is Whose Land?,” was written by folk musician Mali Obomsawin, a member of the Native American Abenaki tribe. She wrote of being shaken up “like a soda can” every time she heard the song’s lyrics:

“In the context of America, a nation-state built by settler colonialism, Woody Guthrie’s protest anthem exemplifies the particular blind spot that Americans have in regard to Natives: American patriotism erases us, even if it comes in the form of a leftist protest song. Why? Because this land ‘was’ our land. Through genocide, broken treaties and a legal system created by and for the colonial interest, this land ‘became’ American land.”

Obomsawin’s article immediately generated a flurry of responses from conservative media outlets.

Commie Folksinger Woody Guthrie Not Woke Enough for Mob,” jeered Breitbart’s John Nolte, delighted with this evidence of internecine strife among what he dubbed the “fascist woketards” of the American left. The Daily Wire’s Emily Zanotti soon joined the fray, penning a piece under the headline “This Land Is NOT Your Land: Woke Culture Now Demanding Woody Guthrie Be Canceled Over Folk Music Faux Pas.”

But Obomsawin and her conservative critics might be surprised to learn that some of Guthrie’s greatest champions have also had difficulties with the song.

As the author of three books on Guthrie, I sometimes wonder how the folksinger would respond to the criticism of “This Land Is Your Land” for its omissions.

While we can’t know for sure, a glance at some of his unpublished writings and recently discovered recordings can offer some clues. Continue reading “The misguided attacks on ‘This Land Is Your Land’”

Greenland isn’t Denmark’s to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism

The coast of Greenland is not for sale. Shutterstock

 

Felicity Jensz
University of Münster

Donald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last.

Home of some 56,000 people and around 80% covered by ice, Greenland is culturally connected to Europe – but physiographically it is a part of the continent of North America.

The USA has purchased from the icy northern territories before. In 1867, they bought Alaska for US$7.2 million from Russia, who established settlements there in the late eighteenth century.

Then (as now) no local Indigenous people were consulted in the transaction. Continue reading “Greenland isn’t Denmark’s to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism”

Empire by Imitation?

“The next thing to do,” Puck, 1898.

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

US Economic Imperialism within a British World System

Historians have been busy chipping away at the myth of the exceptional American Empire, usually with an eye towards the British Empire. Most comparative studies of the two empires, however, focus on the pre-1945 British Empire and the post-1945 American Empire.[i] Why this tendency to avoid contemporaneous studies of the two empires? Perhaps because such a study would yield more differences than it would similarities, particularly when examining the imperial trade policies of the two empires from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.

For those imperial histories that have attempted such a side-by-side comparison, the so-called Open Door Empire of the United States is depicted as having copied the free-trade imperial policies of its estranged motherland by the turn of the century; these imitative policies reached new Anglo-Saxonist heights following US colonial acquisitions in the Caribbean and the Pacific from the Spanish Empire in 1898, followed closely by the fin-de-siècle establishment of the Anglo-American ‘Great Rapprochement’.[ii]

Gallagher and Robinson’s 1953 ‘imperialism of free trade’ thesis—which explored the informal British Empire that arose following Britain’s unilateral adoption (and at times coercive international implementation) of free-trade policies from the late 1840s to the early 1930s—has played a particularly crucial theoretical role in shaping the historiography of the American Empire. In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), William Appleman Williams provided the first iteration of the imitative open-door imperial thesis, wherein he explicitly used the ‘imperialism of free trade’ theory in order to uncover an American informal empire. ‘The Open Door Policy’, Williams asserted, ‘was America’s version of the liberal policy of informal empire or free-trade imperialism’.[iii] The influence of Williams’s provocative thesis led to the creation of the most influential school of US imperial history—the ‘Wisconsin School’—which would continue in its quest to unearth American open-door or free-trade imperialism for decades to come.[iv] As a result, the contrasting ways in which the American Empire grew in the shadow of the British Empire have largely remained hidden. Continue reading “Empire by Imitation?”

Republican Imperialism vs. Puerto Rican Democracy – A Long History

51st-state

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

Puerto Rico has a new governor, Ricardo Rosselló – and he’s committed to making Puerto Rico the 51st US state.

Stemming from Rosselló’s election on a pro-statehood platform, the Puerto Rican Senate has now approved a bill that calls for holding a referendum on June 11, where citizens will be given a stark choice to either (1) become the 51st US state or (2) declare independence.

Governor Rosselló quickly gave the referendum bill his support in anti-colonial language:  “Colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico. It’s a civil rights issue … The time will come in which the United States has to respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy.”

Puerto Rico held a similar vote in 2012, when a slim majority voted in favor of statehood. But nothing happened. Why not? Because a Republican-controlled Congress stood in the way of Puerto Rican democracy: 21st-century American imperialism on display. Continue reading “Republican Imperialism vs. Puerto Rican Democracy – A Long History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

 Soviet poster from 1948. The captions read ‘Under capitalism’ and ‘Under socialism’. Photograph: Wayland Rudd Archive/Yevgeniy Fiks/Flint
Soviet poster from 1948. The captions read ‘Under capitalism’ and ‘Under socialism’. Photograph: Wayland Rudd Archive/Yevgeniy Fiks/Flint

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

From how the Soviet Union capitalised on US discrimination to throwing out the balance sheet of 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”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

marchand Contemporary illustration of Major Marchand's trek across Africa. - See more at- http-::www.historytoday.com:sarah-searight:steaming-through-africa#sthash.hftqWHHQ.dpuf

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

From revealing the sheer scale of British slave ownership to America’s colonial fiscal crisis, 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

One among many untouched photos from Soviet Siberia. See story below. Picture: TRIVA photographers
One among many untouched photos from Soviet Siberia. See story below. Picture: TRIVA photographers

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

The Financial Times is making a global demand for more historians of wine. Also, killing Hitler, and more on New Left critiques of American imperialism. Oh, and did I mention contraband photos from Soviet Siberia? Here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”