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”

America’s Absentminded Empire

Just one of a variety of designs for the flag, if Puerto Rico becomes a state.  For other, wilder designs, see http://fusion.net/american_dream/story/10-wildest-proposed-51-star-american-flags-puerto-22512
Just one of a variety of designs for the American flag, if Puerto Rico should become the 51st state. Click here for other, wilder designs.

Marc-William Palen

In November 2012, a slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of U.S. statehood. And within the last week, Dr. José M. Saldaña, former president of the University of Puerto Rico, and former mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, each once again raised the call for Puerto Rican statehood. Yet modern-day remnants of the American Empire continue to trouble US relations with Puerto Rico, which still holds a semi-colonial American status. To give the issue some much-needed historical perspective, what follows is a revised version of an article that previously appeared in the History News Network and the Australian newspaper.

Burn your outdated American flags; make room for the fifty-first star on the star-spangled banner.

For the first time in Puerto Rico’s more than hundred-year history as an American territory, on Election Day in November 2012, a slim majority voted in favor of U.S. statehood in a non-binding referendum that now goes to the U.S. Congress.

Puerto Ricans had been given a similar option three times before — in 1967, 1993, and 1998 — but with opposite results.

Why this apparent about face?

Because of a weakening economy, a decreasing population, and because “the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” says Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock.

As it stands, 58 percent of Puerto Ricans now live in the mainland United States. Puerto Rico’s four-million residents — the 42 percent remaining on the island — are American citizens but can’t vote in American elections. Such has been the status quo since 1917.

But all this could change if Puerto Rico becomes the fifty-first state of the Union.

Whatever the outcome, this historic moment deserves due attention. Instead, aside from a brief flurry of superficial analysis, the implications of Puerto Rico’s self-determinative vote have gone largely ignored.

We might easily blame American political ADD for such a short attention span. More uncomfortably, such an imperial absence of mind is also a garish reminder of how much Puerto Rico’s complicated, century-long, semi-colonial status has become an accepted part of the American subconscious. Continue reading “America’s Absentminded Empire”