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What We’re Reading This Week

Rodrigo Moya, Dust Storm, Mexico City 1958. Courtesy of Archivo Fotográfico Rodrigo Moya

FATMA ALADAG

Matthew Vitz, An Unlikely Environmentalism: Mexico City’s Urban Ecological Thought in the Age of Development, Global Urban History.

Faisal Devji, Will Saudi Arabia Cease to Be the Center of Islam?, The New York Times.

Michael Kwet, Break the Hold of Digital Colonialism, Mail & Guardian.

Helena Rosenblatt, What We Talk About When We Talk About Liberalism, Boston Review.

DEXTER GOVAN

Paul McGrade, Ireland Has Come Too Far to Be Dragged Back in Time by Brexit, The Guardian.

Ian Hislop, From Satirical Coins to Subversive Salt-Shakers: A History of Political Protect Through Objects, New Statesman.

Sasha Lilley, A Thousand Days of Democracy, Jacobin.

Gideo Rachman, America, China and the Route to All-Out Trade War, FT.

BOYD VAN DIJK

Matt Apuzzo & Marlise Simons, US Attack on ICC Is Seen as Bolstering World’s Despots, New York Times.

Brandon Terry & Others, Forum MLK Now, Boston Review.

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, The Inequality Industry, The Nation.

Frank Pasquale, All Too Humanitarian, Commonweal.…

Troubling the Empire: An Interview with Antoinette Burton

Prof. Antoinette Burton, Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, UIUC

The British Empire, in its various guises, remains a rich historiographical field. Over the course of the past forty years, imperial history has undergone a series of changes stemming from the cultural turn, postmodernism, and postcolonial studies. A central element of this has been to break away from the male-dominated approaches to the ‘Official Mind’, and incorporating gender, race, and class into our understanding of Empire. Professor Antoinette Burton of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been at the forefront of this change, as part of a wider group of scholars breaking down the insular boundaries of the field. Prof. Burton is a historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain and its empire, with a specialty in colonial India and an ongoing interest in Australasia and Africa. She has written on topics ranging from feminism and colonialism to the relationship of empire to the nation and the world.

Throughout her career, Antoinette Burton has drawn our attention to the place of women in imperial movements in Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture 1865-1915 (UNC Press, 1994), the experiences of non-white subjects moving across the empire in At the Heart of Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (University of California Press, 1998), and the perpetual weakness of the empire itself in The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism (Oxford UP, 2015). These works, as well as her extensive list of further publications, have allowed us to understand the metropole and empire as co-constitutive, with bodies and ideas crossing imperial boundaries and breaking down previously held assumptions of insularity. Revealing the voices of marginalized groups has also stimulated a wide array of research into localized perceptions of empire.

In this interview, Burton discusses the origins of her interest in gender and the British Empire, and her transition to broader questions of British imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We also spoke about the pitfalls of studying the Empire in the current era of revisionism and imperial nostalgia, and how we as historians can combat the challenges raised by the amnesia surrounding colonial actions. Finally, we talked about how both collaborative projects and the field of World History can enrich our understanding of the British Empire, as well as the benefits of these approaches to early career researchers.

James Parker

Conference Report: Global History Student Conference (Istanbul Sehir University, June 22-24, 2018)

Academic trends can encourage collaboration among scholars from different parts of the world. A good example of this was the student conference on global history held in Istanbul last month, attended by students from 21 different universities. The fact the conference took place in Istanbul seemed particularly appropriate in the context of global history. Indeed, the city of Istanbul has long been a multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious place, especially during the long periods when it was the capital of empires. The conference was organized by undergraduate students from Istanbul Sehir University on behalf of the History Department: Fatma Aladağ, Beria Kafalı, Muhammet Mazı, Elif Can, Aişegül Akkoyun, Büşranur Bekman, Halime Karayel, Feyza İkiz, Elif Altın, Fatmanur Özdemir, Hande Tuzlakoğlu, Müberra Kapusuz, Hande Betül Ünal, and Neyyire Erdoğan.

Populism in History: An Interview with Federico Finchelstein

Federico Finchelstein, Del Fascismo al Populismo en la Historia (Taurus) and From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

Academics and commentators across the world have diagnosed what seems to them a global crisis of liberal-democracy. Many of them have focused in on populism, forming what some have called a ‘populism industry’. Feeding a confused and worried public’s desire for a prognosis, they have crafted definitions of populism that can explain and connect the seemingly new tide of right-wing politics in many very different contexts around the world.

Federico Finchelstein, Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, argues that to understand our contemporary political predicament, we should instead start by contextualizing it by studying the actual historical experiences of populism within the long-term patterns of challenges to democracy. This, he insists, is preferable to theorizing perfect definitions of populism. Starting in 1945 in Latin America, where fascistic sentiments were reformulated for a post-war era and then brought into power through democratically elected governments, Finchelstein takes us around the world to see both patterns and divergences as this specific form of anti-democratic sentiment, populism, is expressed in various political contexts.

His book, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017) provides the reader with an understanding of many of the most important theories of populism and how these theories stack up in the face of the ‘messiness’ of the global historical record. This hybrid intellectual-political history demonstrates how fascism and populism are connected but not the same, and why this matters for understanding the world today. In doing so, Finchelstein shows why we cannot afford not to have historians engage in contemporary political conversations.

Collin Bernard

Negotiating Maritime Power in Early Modern East Asia: An Interview with Adam Clulow

Adam Clulow. Source: Adam Clulow.

The Dutch in Japan have often been represented as a pragmatic company of merchants that prioritized the quiet progress of commerce over everything else. Not quite, says Adam Clulow, Associate Professor of history at Monash University and author of the acclaimed monograph The Company and the Shogun (Columbia University Press, 2013).

Clulow’s work on the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and its role in the turbulent political environment of East Asia challenges standard views of power relations in the diplomatic encounter between early modern Europe and East Asia. Looking at conflict and negotiation between a European overseas enterprise and a powerful military government in Japan, Clulow questions analytical categories such as state and company, piracy and privateering, diplomacy and violence. The VOC, he shows, was a master shapeshifter, altering its appearance whenever it needed to. When it came to Tokugawa Japan, the Company was in fact relatively small and weak. Clulow’s work challenges widespread notions about early modern relationships between Europe and East Asia, and the evolution of modern state institutions.

Jonas Rüegg (Harvard University)…

‘Doubt Everything’: An Interview on the State of Marxist History with Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs, Part I

Ewan Gibbs (left) and Vijay Prashad (right). Source: Authors

This is the first of a two-part interview with Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs on the state of Marxist history today. The second part, on the role of the Marxist historian and the challenge of post-modernism, will be published next week.

When I planned it initially, this interview was designed to highlight the differences of thought between two Marxist historians, each focused on radically different parts of the world, with one more experienced colleague and one exciting prospect for the future. In effect, I sought to highlight how differences in circumstance might lead to diverging interpretations of theory.

What struck me as I compiled and edited this interview, however, was not divergence, but harmony. Of course, there are differing opinions in the interview which follows, but two shared and salient themes emerge. The first is the desire among Marxist historians to constantly expand our horizons, incorporating new techniques and ideas to strengthen our analysis. The second is more cautionary. It is a profound scepticism of the elimination of meta-narratives from history. While specialisation brings welcome depth to our discipline, it must not do so at the expense of the broader picture.

I am extremely grateful to both Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs for devoting their time to this interview. It was conducted by email over a number of months and their stimulating dialogue challenged many of the presumptions I had when commencing the project. I hope that readers will enjoy the interview and reflect on what it might teach us, not just as Marxists, but as historians more generally. I hope more broadly that readers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation website who may not consider themselves Marxists are able to identify with the themes of this interview: the importance of embracing new methods and ideas; the salience of global histories; the need to challenge institutional assumptions within our discipline.

Vijay Prashad is the Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He is the author of twenty-five books and the editor of twenty others. His most recent book is Red Star Over the Third World, a study of the impact of the 1917 October Revolution on the anti-colonial movements and on the post-colonial states. He writes regularly for Frontline and The Hindu (India), BirGün (Turkey) and Alternet (USA).

Ewan Gibbs lectures in sociology and social policy at the University of the West of Scotland. He was awarded a PhD in 2016 for a study of deindustrialization in the Scottish coalfields. Ewan has published on the moral economy of Scottish colliery closures,  the poll tax non-payment movement, policy-making and the idea of a Scottish ‘industrial nation’, and on the intellectual origins of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism.

Dexter Govan (University of Cambridge)

Conference Report: Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present (University College London, 16-17 February 2018).

On the 16th and 17th of February 2018, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London (UCL) hosted an international workshop on “Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present”. Organized by Dr. Philippa Hetherington (UCL) with the generous support of the British Academy for Arts and Sciences and Pushkin House, the workshop was dedicated to the history of legal issues in Russia from the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation. The workshop lasted for two days and consisted of 6 panels and a total of 14 speakers. It united historians with legal scholars, which provided a rich basis for discussions of issues of legality at various points in Russian history.

CFP: Protest and Dissent: An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference (Vienna, December 1-2, 2018)

Protest and dissent: an inclusive interdisciplinary conference Saturday 1st December 2018 – Sunday 2nd December 2018 Vienna, Austria The 21st century has seen a resurgence in protest movements and political dissent around the world. Some of these have been multi-national – for example Occupy, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – whereas others have had more…