The Science Fiction of Empire: the Best of All Possible Worlds?

Dr Tris Kerslake, author of the book Science Fiction and Empire (2010), provides the final post of our multi-week 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, herehere, here, and here. Thanks to all of our participants for writing and we’re still looking forward to hearing what you think!

Tris Kerslake
Central Queensland University

It has been a pleasure and an academic delight to be involved in this series of essays focused at the interconnection of Science Fiction (SF) and imperialism. Long considered the sandbox of neo-empire, these particular thought-experiments of SF cast their shadows both backwards and forwards. Continue reading “The Science Fiction of Empire: the Best of All Possible Worlds?”

Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?

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

Ahmed R. Memon
University of Kent

Star trek Discovery—the new instalment to the Star Trek universe—only confirms what enthusiasts of the series have long said: that it is a science fiction show with unmistakable allusions to an international vision of a peaceful, cooperative world reflecting the liberal internationalism of the post-Second-World-War global legal order.[1]

The Charter of the United Federation of Planets is in fact based on the international vision of global order entrenched in the United Nations charter.[2] The text of the Federation’s charter was merely a rewording of the United Nations, wherein Earth-centric terms such as “people,” “human,” and “international community” have been replaced by inclusive and expansive “life forms,” “planetary communities,” and “sentient beings.” The main body of the text in the Federation charter even reproduces important phrases from the United Nations charter such as “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” “promote cooperation, maintain peace and security” based on values of “universal peace, liberty and equal rights,” “obligation to treaties,” and the “social progress and better standards to life.”

Yet despite these obvious allusions to the United Nations, the imperial history of the League of Nations is an even more apt historical parallel to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets (the Federation). In understanding the ideological discourses of the League of Nations, we can thus see how the Federation is a far-future model of early-twentieth-century imperial internationalism. Continue reading “Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets: a far-future League of Nations?”

100 Years After the Balfour Declaration – Revisiting Sir Herbert Samuel’s Legacy

Sir Herbert Samuel inaugurating the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, 5 Oct 1920 (Prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)
Sir Herbert Samuel inaugurating the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, 5 Oct 1920 (Prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

Charlotte Kelsted
University of Exeter

Speaking before the UN General Assembly last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested that the British government offer an apology for its 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine. ‘We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,’ Abbas said. ‘This is the least Great Britain can do.’

Abbas’s demand for an apology is far from the only one. Just last November, for example, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge hosted the launch of the Palestinian Return Centre initiative to get the UK government to recognize its role in ‘almost a century of Palestinian suffering.’ 100 years on, the Balfour Declaration’s legacy remains a controversial part of the present day – so, too, is the legacy of the first High Commissioner to the Palestine Mandate, Herbert Samuel. Continue reading “100 Years After the Balfour Declaration – Revisiting Sir Herbert Samuel’s Legacy”

The Colonial Origins of the Greek Bailout

not merkel's colony

Jamie Martin
Harvard University
Follow on Twitter @jamiemartin2

When news broke two weeks ago of the harsh terms of a new bailout for Greece, many questioned whether the country still qualified as a sovereign state. “Debt colony,” a term long used by Syriza and its supporters, was suddenly everywhere in the press. Even the Financial Times used the language of empire: “a bailout on the terms set out in Brussels,” as a 13 July editorial put it, “risks turning the relationship with Greece into one akin to that between a colonial overlord and its vassal.”

Suggestions like these have invited historical comparison. One parallel that’s been mentioned is that of Egypt during the late nineteenth century. In 1876, as a heavily indebted Egypt approached bankruptcy, the Khedive Ismail Pasha agreed to the creation of an international commission, staffed by Europeans, with oversight of the Egyptian budget and control over certain sources of public revenue. This arrangement, designed to ensure the timely servicing of foreign debts, opened a new and extended period of intensified European intervention in Egypt – the Caisse de la Dette Publique was not abolished until 1940.

In the case of Greece, the comparison to nineteenth-century Egypt carries polemical weight largely as metaphor: Eurozone leaders should not treat Greece as if it were a semi-colonial territory. But there’s more at work here than just metaphor – at least historically speaking. As recent works in international history have demonstrated, there are important, and often obscured, continuities between the institutions and practices of European imperialism and the systems of global governance created or expanded in the second half of the twentieth century.[1] Continue reading “The Colonial Origins of the Greek Bailout”