On Trade Books and Global History

Map of Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital of the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. Printed in 1572 by Braun and Hogenberg in Civitates Orbis Terrarum. nicoolay/Getty Images

In this blog post Professor Maria Fusaro responds to some questions put to her by Professor Richard Toye about trade books and global history.

RT: In the many discussions that are currently going on around ‘decolonising’, one thing I’ve not seen addressed is the role of the publishing industry. Whatever happens in universities, publishers have a big influence on how history is discussed in the public sphere. Are there particular pitfalls surrounding trade publishing (as opposed to academic publishing), do you think?

MF: What a good question! Or I should probably say ‘questions’, as you raise more than one point as ‘trade books’ are an important phenomenon within the Anglosphere.

The first question you raise is about relationship between ‘academic’ and ‘trade’ publishing, and their different (divergent?) goals. Directly descending from this is a separate issue, namely how this affects efforts at decolonising the curriculum. And connected to both is how ‘trade’ and academic publishing need to interact.

Professional historians tend to be based in universities, and their scientific reputations are built through their production of academic essays and volumes. Once upon a time, there was an organic development between academic and trade books. One started to publish within the academic world, built his (I was going to write ‘her’ and then realised they were all men) scientific reputation and then, towards the end of his career or in retirement wrote for the general public. As a phenomenon peculiar to the Anglosphere, there was also the non professional historian, who eschewed the academic path and wrote ‘histories’ for the educated public, the latter type were (and are) usually very gifted writers.

These two publishing paths now run instead mostly in parallel, and historians frequently write both academic and trade books, which is great news for the profession, but also potentially dangerous. This is due to the growing schizophrenia between the type of books published by academic presses, and the growth of trade books with a ‘global’ subject, usually sensationalizing individuals or goods – single years are also in vogue. Continue reading “On Trade Books and Global History”

Seeking Thomas Howard in Rotherham: local groundings for a global life

Julia Leikin
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from Historical Transactions

In the last weekend of April, as part of the program for Professor Elena Smilianskaia, a visiting fellow at the University of Exeter, Dr Julia Leikin, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, organized a trip to the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire, to find out more about Thomas Howard, the third Earl of Effingham (1746-1791). In this post, Julia Leikin recounts the surprising results of the trip.

Howard is, on the surface, an elusive figure. Despite his military and political stature, and a wide range of eccentricities, Howard did not leave behind a substantial archive for historians to exploit. He does have a short entry on Wikipedia, but there is no biography nor even an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to document his military career, his support of the American colonies in the American Revolution, and his short-lived governorship of Jamaica. Neither is he named among Eton College’s notable alumni.

But Thomas Howard is one of the notable figures who appears in my and Prof Smilianskaia’s forthcoming annotated translation of Rear-Admiral John Elphinstone’s Russian Faith, Honour & Courage Displayed in a Faithful Narrative of the Russian Expedition by Sea in the Years 1769 & 1770. Elphinstone offers a rare, first-hand account of the Russian voyage around the continent of Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean and offers a new perspective of his skirmishes with Ottoman forces, including the famous Battle of Çeşme (1770), alongside caustic descriptions of its participants. (This characterization does not extend to Thomas Howard, for whom Elphinstone was full of admiration.) Continue reading “Seeking Thomas Howard in Rotherham: local groundings for a global life”

“Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides

This is the newest post kicking off the 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, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Toby Harper
Arizona State University

During the day in the mid-2000s I took classes in imperial history. On Friday and Saturday nights I descended to the basement of the student center at the University of Auckland to take part in an intense, desperate, and sometimes violent feud with five friends over control of the planet of Arrakis through Avalon Hill’s legendary strategy board game, Dune.

The board game was released in 1979, the same year as Edward Said’s Orientalism. These sessions extended long into the night (the game can take ten hours to complete) and both tested and forged friendships as we schemed with, tricked, and betrayed each other. At the time, I didn’t consider any connection between my history classes (or even discussions about Said with the same friends) and these nocturnal contests. In hindsight, though, the source material for the game, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, built on nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial fantasies of knowledge, control, and power.[1]

On the surface, the novel Dune fulfills a popular imperialist fantasy by granting its main character mastery over native “others” whose superstition and history makes them comprehensible and exploitable. However, it is also a book of schemes, assassination, betrayal, hidden motives, and unexpected consequences. Like the novel’s main antagonists, this fantasy ends stabbed and poisoned on the floor of a broken palace. In certain ways, Herbert’s embrace and subversion of orientalist tropes around knowledge even anticipated modern critiques of empire. Continue reading ““Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides”