In case you missed it (I was tweeting about it A LOT last week), Cornell Library’s Digital Collections have just made available an amazing archive – the PJ Mode Collection – consisting of around 800 political maps that should be on the radar of anyone working on imperial and global history. They. Are. Awesome.
Here’s a sampling.
‘The Whole Story in a Nutshell!’ (1888) – Here’s one of my favorites for a lot of reasons. To give it some context, the so-called Great Debate of 1888 (that year’s presidential election) was centered around the future of US trade policy. The GOP was staunchly protectionist and Anglophobic at this time, and they feared the perceived influence of ‘Free Trade England’ on US politics. British free traders (in particular London’s Cobden Club, featured on the bottom left), were the main targets of paranoid Republican protectionist propaganda. Democratic President Grover Cleveland only added to the conspiracy theories when he filled his cabinet and advisors with US members of the Cobden Club. The pro-Harrison map does a vivid job of illustrating the GOP’s economic nationalism in contrast to Democratic free trade. For more on this, my book, The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade, explores the conspiratorial reception of British free-trade ideas in Gilded Age America.
In the vein of its rich history in Central Asia, China’s quest for economic development has seen it return to the region that was once spanned by the Silk Route. While Central Asia has served as the cross roads between Eastern and Western civilisation for centuries, it also once provided the chessboard upon which the Great Powers of the past had battled each other for land and influence. In sum it is one of the most strategic regions of the world, whether it be the Great Game of the nineteenth century or the superpower conflict of the 1980s.
In line with the power politics of the past, the region has seen a new Great Game where today’s strongest nations compete for the region’s natural resources. With the close of the twentieth century, Central Asia re-entered the spotlight as a result of the War on Terror and, more recently, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路). In light of these developments, the imperial struggles of the past two centuries take on a new importance, as they continue to influence the perceptions of China’s return to the region. These perceptions, real or imagined, have fuelled the struggles of the Great Powers in the region and China’s involvement is simply the latest chapter in a centuries long struggle. Continue reading “China’s New Silk Road: Central Asia and the Imperial Legacy of the Great Game”→
Amid the early decades of the twentieth century, critics of Western imperialism such as economist Joseph Schumpeter and sociologist Thorstein Veblen may have been correct to connect aristocratic tendencies with imperial expansion. And political scientist Louis Hartz may also have been correct when he proclaimed in The Liberal Tradition in America (1953) that, unlike Europe, the United States had no aristocracy. However, Hartz’s analysis will provide little comfort to the vast majority of the American public, who find their more pacific views are not reflected in US foreign policy making. Continue reading “Could Imperial History Help US Foreign Policy Makers?”→
“Allende was assassinated for nationalizing the . . . wealth of Chilean subsoil,” Pablo Neruda wrote on September 14, 1973. Neruda was lamenting the overthrow and death of his friend, Chilean President Salvador Allende, a week before he himself succumbed to cancer. “From the salt-peter deserts, the underwater coal mines, and the terrible heights where copper is extracted through inhuman work by the hands of my people, a liberating movement of great magnitude arose,” he continued. “This movement led a man named Salvador Allende to the presidency of Chile, to undertake reforms and measures of justice that could not be postponed, to rescue our national wealth from foreign clutches.” Unfortunately, Allende’s flirtation with economic nationalization ran up against the country’s multinational business interests, particularly those that had support from the U.S. government. His socialist reforms were also ill timed; the U.S. government’s ideological view towards the global economy tended towards the Manichean.
In the early 17th century, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the Dutch East India Company’s governor-general in the Indies, explained that trade and war were inseparably linked: ‘we cannot make war without trade nor trade without war’. The utility of war and other violent methods to secure an advantageous commercial position was an extreme view even by the mercantilist standards of the day, but trade and conflict were commonly connected. About one hundred years later, Montesquieu, the Enlightenment political philosopher, reached the radically different conclusion that trade was an instrument of peace; thus in 1748, he wrote ‘Peace is the natural effect of trade’. Continue reading “Does Trade Promote Peace? An Historical and Global Perspective”→