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The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman

Among the crimes cartographical and otherwise perpetrated by the Mercator projection, the Cold War projection of an Asia dominated by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China numbers among the most egregious. Famous for inflating land areas the further away they were from the Equator, when applied to the world of the early 1950s, the map projection made it seem as if the Communist world was monolithic. The greater part of Asia was covered with red ink, while the freedom-loving (and less cartographically distorted) blue fields of the earth shrunk before the grim crimson blob stretching from Berlin to Vietnam.

Of course, the “Communist world” was never as unified and cohesive as the mapmakers suggested. While the Soviet vision of proletarian workers unifying to overthrow capitalist oppressors and the Maoist vision of peasant armies challenging imperialists from from Hanoi to Havana seemed to march in lockstep to Cold Warriors, by the early 1960s, the two socialist powers came to irreconcilable differences. Soviet advisers were expelled from Beijing as Chinese leaders castigated the Soviets for making peace with the imperialist Americans; Soviet leaders denounced Mao as a revisionist and a nationalist.

But the Sino-Soviet Split, as it is called in English and Russian (“Sino-Soviet Hostility” in Chinese – zhōng sū jiāo’è), had ramifications that went far beyond the oceans of red dye spilled by the Mercator projections. As country after country “the Third World” gained independence, the Soviets and the Chinese were among the few major powers that offered compelling developmental – and historical narratives – to fledgling nations. But what would the meaning of Revolution be in a decolonizing world? Was Revolution really about anti-capitalism, as the Soviets argued? Or was the real essence of Revolution opposition to empire, as their Chinese rivals put forward? How did the Chinese challenge affect the Soviet outreach to the Third World, and vice-versa? And what was the effect of the Sino-Soviet Split on the intellectual repertoire of a global Left?

Jeremy Friedman, whose work forms the basis of this latest installment of the Global History Forum. Image courtesy of Yale University Office of Public Affairs and Communications
Jeremy Friedman, whose work forms the basis of this latest installment of the Global History Forum. Image courtesy of Yale University Office of Public Affairs and Communications

These are among just some of the questions at the heart of the work of Dr. Jeremy Friedman, our guest in this latest installment of the Global History Forum. Friedman, the Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale University, is the author of the forthcoming Shadow Cold War, scheduled to appear with the University of North Carolina Press next year, in 2015. Global History Forum spoke with Jeremy recently to discuss his intellectual journey thus far, the book, and a forthcoming project on the history of the Third World.

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New Atlas of Global History Institutions

Followers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation will recall that we unveiled this current version of our website this autumn after extensive revision and collaboration with the fantastic staff at George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Along with that re-design has come new features, like our periodical Interviews with Global Historians.

As we continue to expand the site’s functionality, we’re happy to announce a new page–an “atlas” of global history institutions that you can either find here or via the drop-down menu under “Participate,” in the top-right hand corner of your browser window.

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“Development and Underdevelopment in Postwar Europe” (Columbia University) Conference Report

It’s no secret that one of the most booming sub-disciplines in international and global history today is the history of development–the interaction of the rich world with the poor world before (but especially after) empire, in the hopes that poor societies could be “developed” into something better. Works like Michael Latham’s Modernization as Ideology, Nick Cullather’s The Hungry World, and Matthew Connelley’s Fatal Misconception have explored aspects of this story from the lens of U.S. foreign policy, food aid, and population control, respectively, and works on development from non-American perspectives (the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia) or new themes, like smallpox control, seem to be sprouting up every day.

A recent conference hosted by the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University and organized by Professors Michele Alacevich (Loyola), Sandrine Kott (Geneva), and Mark Mazower (Columbia) sought to shake up the conversation surrounding development. Here follows a short round-up of the conference–summaries of the eight or so papers presented, plus the keynote address delivered by historian Adam Tooze, soon to be a guest himself on the Global History Forum.

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"The Good Neighbor Who Calls Every Day ..." An early advertisement for Pan-Am. Courtesy of Ad*Access Online Project, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck

Scan through recent headlines, and it will quickly become clear how much modern societies and international politics revolve around the airplane. During the ongoing Ebola crisis, national health authorities–even those for countries whose flag carriers didn’t run direct flights to West Africa–have panicked over the possibility of a rogue infected passenger contemning whole countries during a fluke layover. Meanwhile, the American military continues to conduct its counter-terrorism policy in Central Asia and the Middle East in large part through strikes from drones. Try boarding an airplane bound to the United States with stamps from countries in those regions in your passport, and it’s likely that your ticket will be stamped with a mysterious “SSSS”–a sign that you’ve been singled out as a security risk, a putative airborne threat that has to be scanned before even boarding a flight from, say, Frankfurt to the United States. Whether governments today think about protecting the nation at home (as with Ebola) or abroad (air strikes as foreign policy), it’s clear that our notions of security have become linked with a logic of the air that goes beyond the boundaries of the nation-state.

It all seems like a far cry from the supposed heyday of air travel–glamorous flight attendants, supersonic travel, and the possibility of a seamlessly connected world that a look at the departures board from a major airport today can still awaken. But even if the structures of airspace in the early 21st century invoke more pessimism than inspiration, it bears asking how things got so bad in the first place. It demands, in short, history. Visions of what how travel through the skies could be–and the relationship of states and empires to the air–have a deep history that demands scrutinizing. Indeed, with airline alliances touting themselves as “One World,” it’s especially worthwhile for scholars interested in global history to do that kind of work.

Fortunately, our latest interviewee for the Global History Forum, Jenifer Van Vleck, explains much of this back story in her recent Empire of the Air: Aviation and the American Ascendancy, published recently by Harvard University Press. Van Vleck, an Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, devoted years to scouring through the archives of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) and numerous government and Presidential Archives to tell the story of a corporation–and an industry–that reveals much about the shape of American corporate globalism and American empire. The Global History Forum was delighted to sit down with her this summer to discuss her intellectual journey, Empire of the Air, and her upcoming work in the history of technology and American foreign relations.

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Harvard Magazine Article Explores Global History Today

Followers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s activities will be interested to know that there’s an excellent in-depth feature article in Harvard Magazine–an independent journal founded by Crimson alumni–covering the state of global history today, at least through the lens of activities in Cambridge.

The piece covers the work of several global historians today: Sven Beckert and Charles S. Maier, co-directors of the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard; Julia McClure, a historian of the early modern Atlantic space who was a post-doc at Harvard last year before beginning a new post-doctoral position at the European University Institute in Italy this year; Harvard professor Michael McCormick, a historian of the Middle Ages whose work has incorporated perspectives from soil science and epidemiology; and Sengalese historian Omar Gueye, professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

“Historians increasingly recognize that trying to understand the past solely within the confines of national boundaries misses much of the story,” explains the piece.

Perhaps the integration of today’s world has fostered a renewed appreciation for global connections in the past. Historians now see that the same patterns—colonialism, or the rise of small elites controlling vast resources—emerge across cultures worldwide through time, and they are trying to explain why. “If there is one big meta-trend within history, it is this turn toward the global,” says [Sven Beckert]. “History looks very different if you don’t take a particular nation-state as the starting point of all your investigations.

Congratulations to the historians whose work is featured in the article!

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Call for Applications: Global Humanitarianism Research Academy

We’re pleased to re-post a recent call for applications from the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA), a wonderful opportunity for both PhDs and early post-docs working on the history of humanitarianism to get together for two weeks in Mainz (Germany) and Geneva to share their work and discuss research agendas and publishing strategies. The GHRA, reads the call,

combines academic sessions at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and the Imperial and Global History Centre at the University of Exeter with archival sessions at the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianisminternational humanitarian lawpeace 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.”

The initiative is supported by the University of Exeter, the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz, the Deutsches Historisches Institut London, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Ten days of intense discussions and fellowship-supported archival work, taking place from July 13-July 24: it doesn’t get much better than this. (Those unable to fit in this year’s program into their schedule may wish to note that next year’s session will be hosted by Exeter, in the UK.)

Applicants are requested to send a cover letter, a draft article, a statement of their research project, a CV, and two letters of recommendation to ghra@ieg-mainz.de no later than December 31, 2014. More information is available via the full call for papers, available here.

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Globalizing Time, Globalizing Capital: A Conversation with Vanessa Ogle

It’s a familiar routine for scholars of global history. Having squeezed in a visit to an archive during a spring break or stretch of summer vacation, you get off the airplane in a foreign land, stretch your legs, and feel, in spite of the local caffeine injection, tired. You set your watch, several hours ahead if coming from the United States and several hours back if coming to Europe and try to make the best of the first day on foreign soil.

Soon, however, jet lag sets in. You either fall asleep in your dinner or wake up hours before the local bakers do. Exhausted, you read tips on how to beat the exhaustion, where you learn that the body needs an equivalent number of days to time zones crossed to beat off the exhaustion. The scholar coming from California to Moscow, for example, has eleven days of misery to endure before he or she is fully up to date with local time. You remain grateful for the chance to pursue your research, but, counting the time zones, groan at the routine.

It’s a familiar routine for many, indeed, but not as old as one might think. Until the late 19th century, as University of Pennsylvania professor and global historian Vanessa Ogle shows in her work, efforts towards a global standardization of time ranged from negligible to chaotic. The standardization of time that we have today, and the divisions that we use–Central European Time from Madrid to Montenegro, Greenwich Mean Time, and scientifically controlled Coordinated Universal Time to keep time zones themselves punctual–are all relatively recent inventions.

Unpacking this story, and seeing how contentious the seemingly most universal thing in the world–time–could be are great themes for global history. That’s why the Global History Forum was excited to sit down to interview Ogle, who is close to publishing her findings on the history of time standardization and well underway on a second project on the global history of “archipelago capitalism.” Speaking over coffee, we discussed her journey to global history, her first project, and her current work.

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Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee Publishes “The History Manifesto”

Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee David Armitage (Harvard University) has recently authored a short tract with fellow historian of Britain Jo Guildi (Brown),  provocatively titled The History Manifesto. “How should historians speak truth to power–and why does it matter?” ask the authors.

Why is five hundred years better than five months or five years as a planning horizon? And why is history – especially long-term history – so essential to understanding the multiple pasts which gave rise to our conflicted present? The History Manifesto is a call to arms to historians and everyone interested in the role of history in contemporary society.

Armitage and Guildi go on to “identify a recent shift back to longer-term narratives, following many decades of increasing specialization, which they argue is vital for the future of historical scholarship and how it is communicated.” A changing of temporal horizons, they urge, is crucial, if historians hope to address big themes like global warming, public health, or development–themes that are all especially amenable to a global history approach.

Interested readers can read the open-access manifesto or join the debate at the book’s website here.

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Conquering Peace: Exploring European History with Stella Ghervas

One century after the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo plunged the Continent into war, Europe in 2014 offers observers few chances to catch their breath. The recent annexation of the Crimea by the Kremlin, followed by suspension of that country from the G8 and from the Council of Europe, brought relations with Russia to a new low point. With European leaders calling for more sanctions against Moscow and the Kremlin having declared a ban on European agricultural imports, Russia’s post-Soviet trajectory seems to have taken a decidedly anti-Western turn.

As pundits race to search for historical parallels–the Crimean War, the Sudetenland Crisis, even the rise of the Ottoman Empire–it’s especially important for professional historians with an understanding of peace and the European political system, to share their findings with the public. The tortuous ways by which a warren of quarrelsome princedoms, duchies, and empires became a European Union by the late 20th century–a haven of peace and cooperation in a world too often scarred by conflict–demands explanation. It is also essential for the Europeans themselves to better understand how peace was accomplished, if they wish to better perceive the risks and opportunities that lie ahead with the Ukrainian crisis.

That’s why we at the Global History Forum were delighted to sit down with Stella Ghervas, an expert of European history who is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies. Ghervas, who organized a major conference on the Congress of Vienna at Harvard in last April (and who is giving several papers on the topic this autumn), graciously took the time out to discuss how she came to write a book on post-Napoleonic Europe, as well as her current book project on the history of peace and peacemaking over the longue durée. Speaking with her this spring, the Global History Forum managed to cover several topics, from her personal journey to history, to her forthcoming projects.

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Excavating “The Last Empire”: Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

Serhii Plokhii's latest book, "The Last Empire"
Serhii Plokhii’s latest book, “The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union”

Based on research in archives in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States interviews with high-level officials, The Last Empire explores the decisions taken in Moscow, Washington, and various Soviet republics between 1989 and 1992 that led to the dissolution of the Soviet experiment. Standing at the center of his story are tensions between Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachëv and élites in the Ukrainian SSR. Already weakened by pressure from Russian President Boris Yeltsin and an abortive coup, Gorbachëv and his visions for a revitalized Soviet confederation were doomed by the decisive results of a December 1991 Ukrainian referendum in favor of independence.

The account of The Last Empire, published by Basic Books this May, might surprise to American readers, many of whom are led to believe that it was decisive action by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But as Plokhii shows through exhaustive research–and interviews with important figures like Brent Scowcroft–the Soviet collapse arose far more due to internal Union dynamics than American foreign policy.

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