The Threat of Cannibalism and Wakanda’s Place in the World

This is the newest post in our third week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Rachel B. Herrmann
Cardiff University

At a crucial point in the 2018 Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, geopolitical relationships are in flux. (Warning: spoilers) Erik Killmonger, the film’s main antagonist, has defeated King T’Challa (Black Panther). Left for dead, he is secretly taken to the Jabari stronghold in the mountains. T’Challa’s mother Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda, his sister Shuri, Nakia, T’Challa’s ex and War Dog, and Everett Ross, a white CIA operative, have fled from Killmonger’s oppressive new reign and seek aid from M’Baku, leader of the Jabari. Once there, Ross attempts to speak to M’Baku to inquire about next steps. He is immediately silenced as the Jabari start barking at him. “You cannot talk,” says M’baku. “One more word and I’ll feed you to my children.” There is a tense silence, before M’baku breaks out laughing. “I am kidding; we are vegetarians.”[1]

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The threat of cannibalism works here on three levels in this Afrofuturist movie that blurs the line between the genres of science fiction and superhero films.[2]

First, it ensures Ross’s silence. Later in the scene, a revived T’Challa will ask M’Baku for the support of his army, which M’Baku refuses. This opening meeting, then, is a diplomatic negotiation between two men, one of whom once headed a four-alliance pact and the leader of the fifth tribe that refused to enter that alliance (and who later challenged T’Challa’s right to rule). Ross represents the white colonizer, whose intervention is inappropriate and irrelevant.

Second and relatedly, this scene works to reminder viewers that the character of T’Challa was imagined by white artists Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; as Sheena Howard argues, “white people created this character . . . gatekeeping our Black imagination and negotiating our sense of escapism from the real world.”[3] The moment suggests that behind the Black Panther cannon is a long history that has been mediated by white writers and artists for white consumers.

Third and most important here, the threat of cannibalism invokes the history of slavery and imperialism that undergird the history and rationale for Wakanda’s place as an isolationist country in the era during and after the transatlantic slave trade. Continue reading “The Threat of Cannibalism and Wakanda’s Place in the World”

Debating the History of Humanitarianism

Human-Rights

Andrew Thompson
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History
University of Exeter

Humanitarianism developed at the intersection of Decolonization, the Cold War, and new & accelerating forms of Globalization. Decolonisation was about much more than the ending of colonial relationships: what was at stake was the dismantling of an entire global order: an old world of imperial states was replaced by a new world of nation states and this ushered in new patterns of cultural, political and economic relations. In the existential struggle that was the Cold War, the control of overseas territory mattered intensely to each side’s sense of security and power.

Capitalist West and socialist East competed to convince nearly and newly independent African and Asian states to adopt their models of humanitarian and development aid. As a result it became more difficult to distinguish aid given to further state interests from that given according to recipient needs. Globalisation meanwhile expanded the range of voices to which humanitarians had to listen while radically differentiating them. Aid agencies intensified their use of the international media, yet were exposed to greater pressures from their donor states and publics.

Together these 3 geopolitical forces − Decolonization, the Cold War, & Globalization − raised far-reaching questions about the relationship of international organizations and NGOs to state power; the basis upon which humanitarian needs were identified and prioritized; and the interaction of humanitarians with non-state armed groups. Continue reading “Debating the History of Humanitarianism”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

The Roman ruins in Palmyra. Photograph: G Dagli Orti/De Agostini/Getty
The Roman ruins in Palmyra. Photograph: G Dagli Orti/De Agostini/Getty

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

From the centenary of the “humanitarian occupation” of Haiti to internationalizing the ruins of Palmyra, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

First Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 13-24 July 2015

Fabian Klose
Leibniz Insitute of European History, Mainz
Follow on Twitter @FabianMKlose

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

In about four weeks the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) will meet for one week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva.The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.

GHRA announcement

The GHRA received a huge amount of applications from an extremely talented group of scholars from more than fifteen different countries around the world. The selection committee considered each proposal very carefully and has selected these 12 participants for the GHRA 2015: Continue reading “First Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 13-24 July 2015”

The Future of the Past: Shining the Light of History on the Challenges Facing Principled Humanitarian Action

ICRC 50th anniversary
Food distribution, Pakistan. ICRC / Muhammad, N.

Andrew Thompson
History Department, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the Humanitarian Practice Network

Even as Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the movement’s Fundamental Principles, there is a palpable sense that they are at risk. Threatened not only by the resurgence of state sovereignty and proliferation of non-state armed groups, the very universality of the principles may be in question. As the twenty-first century draws on, are the principles of ‘impartiality’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘independence’ still fit for purpose as Western influence wanes and the nature of conflict itself rapidly evolves?

The Red Cross’ principles have marinated in a century and a half of humanitarian history. That history matters. The past helps us to understand how different types of threat to humanitarian principles have emerged from different types of conflict and geopolitical environments. History also sheds light on how, despite such obstacles, the principles came to acquire the public prominence and moral authority they currently possess.

Where did the Fundamental Principles come from? Continue reading “The Future of the Past: Shining the Light of History on the Challenges Facing Principled Humanitarian Action”

Q&A: What Can Red Cross Records Say About History of Humanitarianism & Human Rights?

q&a

An Imperial & Global Forum Interview

Professor Richard Toye (RT) interviews Centre Director Andrew Thompson (AT). Professor Thompson recently returned from an archival visit to the ICRC and would like to thank Jean-Luc Blondel and his colleagues for their assistance and guidance.

RT: Andrew, you’ve recently come back from Geneva, where you’ve been doing some archival research. What were you looking at and why?

AT: I was looking at two sets of files in the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross that have not yet been publicly released. The first on the Nigeria-Biafran War – a watershed in the history of the ICRC as well as a conflict that has been aptly described as the “crucible of modern humanitarianism”. Continue reading “Q&A: What Can Red Cross Records Say About History of Humanitarianism & Human Rights?”

Debating Human Rights and Decolonization

human rights logoFabian Klose
Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz
Editor,
Humanitarianism & Human Rights

What was the role that universal human rights played in the process of decolonization? What links can we identify between both phenomena as they gained real momentum after 1945?

For too long historical research has neglected this issue. Only a few books on the historiography of the human rights idea linked the dissolution of European colonial empires with the debates on universal fundamental rights. Particular mention should be made here of the work by Paul Gordon Lauren (The Evolution of International Human Rights. Visions Seen, Philadelphia 1998) and Brian Simpson (Human Rights and the End of Empire. Britain and Genesis of the European Convention, Oxford 2001), who both addressed for the first time the important connections between human rights discourse and the end of colonial rule. Continue reading “Debating Human Rights and Decolonization”