All posts by Timothy Nunan

Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller

Comparing the shifting fortunes of Russia and China over the last fifty years, one cannot but be struck by the dramatic reversal in the two countries’ fates. In 1967, the Soviet Union was in the midst of a massive military buildup that would eventually enable it to reach superiority in conventional arms and parity in nuclear arms with the United States. The Prague Spring was a year away, and in spite of earlier interventions in Hungary, socialism in the Eastern Bloc enjoyed prestige among intellectuals in the West. The Soviet economy grew at a respectable five percent annually or so. China, meanwhile, was still reeling from the effects of the Great Leap Forward when, in 1966, Mao Zedong plunged the country into the Cultural Revolution. Millions of people were persecuted, and China’s leadership nearly triggered a war with the USSR following clashes over islands in Northeast Eurasia.

Today, the two countries present quite a different story. True, since Vladimir Putin was named, then elected, President in 2000, Russia’s economy year after year until the global recession of 2008-09. And having prevented the collapse of a Middle Eastern client in Syria, not to mention Russian influence in European and American elections, Putin can present himself as a confident paladin of Russian power in the world. Yet these triumphs were built only upon the ruins of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in December 1991. And Russia today has to deal not only with the United States, but also a rising People’s Republic of China whose economy is nearly an order of magnitude larger than Russia’s. Even on a per-capita-basis, Russians are only approximately 10% wealthier than their Chinese counterparts.

Reviewing this reversal, those contemplating the decline (and subsequent revival) of Russian state power might point to 1989 as the crucial turning point. In the summer of that year, the PRC’s government imposed martial law as student protesters swarmed Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party declared the protests “counter-revolutionary” and launched a massive crackdown that resulted in perhaps thousands of deaths. Communist Party control over China—albeit now promoting “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—remained intact, as it does today.

In Eastern Europe, however, the Soviet General Secretary’s refusal to use Soviet military force to put down mass protests in Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and elsewhere led to the collapse of satellite regimes won at the cost of 26,000,000 lives. And whereas Chinese economic reforms strengthened the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party, soon, in the Soviet Union itself, Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reforms contributed to the centrifugal dissolution of the world’s largest land country into fifteen successor states.

“The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR” (UNC Press, 2016)

Could things have gone differently? Could the Soviets have reformed their economy into something along the lines of the Chinese success story? Could there have been a Soviet Tiananmen Square scenario that would have prevented Boris Yeltsin from coming to power, and thus averted what Vladimir Putin dubs the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”? It’s a huge question—and also one that our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Christopher Miller (the Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale) takes on in his recent book The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR (University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

Using sources in Russian and Chinese and exploiting underutilized Soviet archives, Miller’s work challenges the conventional wisdom about the great Soviet-Chinese counterfactual. Far from ignorant of Deng Xiaoping’s reinvention of Chinese socialism, Mikhail Gorbachev and the advisors around him were well aware of how the Chinese were transforming their economy. While some criticized the Chinese for abandoning socialism altogether, Gorbachev and his team consciously sought to imitiate Chinese reforms throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t for a lack of awareness or effort that would-be Soviet reformers failed to match Deng Xiaoping’s results. Rather, Miller suggests, the answer to the failure of Soviet economic reforms lies in the political economy of interest groups in the late Soviet Union. Indeed, it was precisely because large lobbies in the military, the oil and gas industry, and collective farms refused reforms that a Soviet Tiananmen would have been impossible in content if not in form. Even had the coup planners who briefly seized power from Gorbachev in August 1991, there was no way they could have imposed the austerity measures on Russians that Deng imposed on Chinese, for such cuts would have meant cutting into their own bloated budgets.

In short, Miller’s work offers not only a tight empirical reconstruction of key events in the history of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, but also offers a new vista on the political economy of Russia and China as they emerged from that annus horribilus (for the regimes, if not tens of millions of Europeans) of 1989. In order to discuss some of the issues raised by The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Dr. Miller to discuss his road to writing the book, some of the results of his research, as well as his ongoing research agenda. Continue reading

Chinese Jesus: Discussing German Missionaries’ Journey “From Christ to Confucius” with Albert Wu

Is Christianity in danger of disappearing? Since at least the middle of the twentieth century, Christianity in Europe has often been seen as in decline, with the most recent surveys indicating that scarcely more than half of EU citizens believe in any God at all. Many Christian communities in the Middle East, such as the Assyrians, have been displaced through the US invasion of Iraq, the Syrian Civil War, and the emergence of ISIS. The Eastern Orthodox Church, freed in its Russian incarnation from decades of Communist rule, shows strong signs of growth in Europe. However, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the displacement of Russians means, increasingly, that Orthodoxy’s southern frontiers end thousands of miles further north than they did a century-and-a-half ago.

In fact, Christianity in the world is in no danger of vanishing. The percentage of Christians as a part of world population is nearly the same as it was a century ago. What is changing, however, is the face of Christianity, as both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations see more and more of their congregations be composed of Latin American, African, and Asian populations. Pope Francis is the first Pope from Latin America, while Brazil constitutes the single largest Catholic country. There are almost as many Catholics in Nigeria as there are in Germany. There are perhaps tens million of Chinese affiliated with official state-sponsored Protestant organizations in that country, but the proliferation of unofficial “house churches” means that there could be up to 58 million Protestants and 9 million Catholics living in the People’s Republic of China. This, in turn, would make China the fourth-largest Protestant country after only the USA, Nigeria, and Brazil.

Demographic changes like these are bound to bring about conversations about theology and dogma. To take the example of the Anglican Church, bishops from the “global South” have boycotted conferences on the grounds that North American churches are too lenient on the ordination of homosexual bishops and their blessing of same-sex marriage. Conversely, many theological conservatives who approved of Joseph Ratzinger have expressed concern over the stress that Pope Francis has placed on issues such as global warming, consumerism, and US-Cuba relations (his more traditional views on matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage notwithstanding). As nations whose entry into Christendom is inescapably entangled with European imperialism come to occupy greater prominence, the question of how “North-South” relations will affect Christianity cannot but occupy the attention of Christians and non-Christians alike.

Our latest guest to the Global History Forum, Albert Wu, offers perspectives on these question in his recent book, From Christ to Confucius: German Missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Globalization of Christianity, 1860-1950, published with Yale University Press.

In his book, Wu (an assistant professor at the American University of Paris) explores how German Protestant and Catholic missionaries engaged with China during the late Qing period and during the Republican period. At the heart of the book stands a paradox. At the start of the period in question, German missionaries viewed Chinese Confucianism as backwards and a crucial hindrance to China’s conversion and, more broadly, modernization. Yet by the 1930s and 1940s, German Christians viewed Confucianism as a crucial ally of Christianity in China. They insisted that a synthesis of Confucianism with Christianity constituted not heresy but rather only common sense. Wu’s book explains this paradox of how Germans “struggled to make a religion with universal claims adopt particular forms” and “how a global religion should assume local guise.”

As many Christians on both sides of the North-South (not to mention European Muslims in search of a “European Islam”) debate these questions, Wu’s book provides useful historical perspective. Outgoing Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Wu to discuss From Christ to Confucius as well as Wu’s ongoing research agenda. Continue reading

The Grid and the Territory: Discussing What Comes After the Map with William Rankin

Tools like GPS and Google Maps are so embedded in most people’s lives today that they can hardly seem worth remarking upon. Want to get from “Work” to “Home”? Simply open up the preset path into your smartphone, and the app of your choice will be glad to show you—or rather, a large blue dot—its path through the maze of streets, subway junctions, and bus lines that separate you from home.

Few people, in 2016 at least, would think about using an actual paper map to navigate from A to B. Most of the information about the other parts of your city beyond your path home are simply irrelevant to you at that particular moment, and what matters most is the accuracy of your GPS-reliant device as it guides you and the blue dot home. Not least from the perspective of the directionally challenged, the advent of GPS and similar devices just seems like the latest chapter in a history of ever-improving (because ever more accurate) mapping technologies that allow users to track moving points in space.

But as our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, William Rankin, shows in his recently published book, After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century, such a Whiggish account of modern mapping is itself far from accurate. It may be true that mapping accuracy improved over the course of the twentieth century. But such an obvious statement fails to say anything about the kinds of geographic knowledge that were produced over the same period. It also overlooks the story of how the kinds of tools used to generate said cartographical knowledge changed over the twentieth century.

If we accept the GPS beacons embedded in our smartphones—or guided missiles—as the exponent of “progress,” we risk overlooking how differently (and not just “better”) GPS’s relationship to territory and space is from those of earlier world-mapping technologies. After the Map seeks to provide, then, not just a technical history of different mapping tools over the twentieth century. It provides an analysis of how shifts in tools engendered shifts in what Rankin dubs geo-epistemology: “not just what is known about the earth, but how it is known— and how it is used.”

The story that Rankin, an Assistant Professor of History at Yale University, explores in After the Map (published with the University of Chicago Press) is thus a crucial intervention into more macro debates among historians about the importance of territory and territoriality throughout the twentieth century. It is a story of how printed maps on paper—once the sine qua non of military operations, with some fifty maps printed per British and American soldier during the 1940s—became less and less relevant in the face of new coordinate systems, radionavigation, and ultimately GPS over the course of the century. It is, in short, a story that encourages readers to go from thinking about maps merely as illustrations, or tools of centralizing political authority, to seeing them as a crucial tool through which makers and users were rethinking the meaning of concepts like territory and sovereignty. In order to discuss some of these questions, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently spoke with Rankin about After the Map.

We begin our discussion with a discussion of Rankin’s path to the historical profession. Mapping, he notes, played no special role in his childhood outside of Chicago. When he went to university (to Rice), it was to study engineering and architecture. There, part of his technical education encompassed training in drawing, and when he took a class at Rice on the history of cartography, he was spurred to begin making his own maps. Following graduation, Rankin worked at an architectural firm for approximately a year. This was followed by another stint working at an experimental physics laboratory. “It was only by talking to some of my professors from architectural school,” he explains, “that I began thinking about the history of science.”

This struck Rankin as a novel idea. “I never knew history of science was something you could do, and it was certainly nothing that I had studied in college.” Yet neither architecture nor physics had felt like optimal fits since graduation. Rankin began investigating history graduate programs, but he was accepted to Harvard to pursue graduate studies in both the history of science as well as the history of architecture. “I had been steeped in history while an undergraduate, since I had taken courses on the history of art, the history of architecture, and so on. But it was not until, perhaps, my early twenties that I realized that my style of thinking was historical. This didn’t come out of being exposed to academic history, or being a history major,” says Rankin.

Arriving in Cambridge, MA, Rankin worked with the historian of science Peter Galison. Much of Galison’s own work emphasizes the role of scientific tools and instruments as a kind of thinking unto themselves, and Rankin notes that many of his reflections in the introduction to After the Map bear traces of that influence. But beyond Galison and another advisor, Antoine Picon, Harvard at the time of Rankin’s studies was not a hub for digital history scholarship or the history of cartography, and Harvard had long ago abolished its geography department. Yet being lodged in two departments at once helped him keep his eye on broader questions, encouraged him to engage with critical theory, and opened up spatial history as an interdisciplinary method. And his earlier explorations into mapmaking as a practice between the academy and the public had, in the meantime, blossomed into one of the Web’s most successful cartography sites, Radical Cartography ( Radical Cartography had originally, Rankin notes, been envisioned as a side project—apart from and not integrated into his graduate work—but over time, he gained the confidence that he possessed both the critical tools and cartographic toolkit to make a useful contribution to discussions about the history of mapping.

Bill Rankin, Assistant Professor of the History of Science at Yale University and author of “After the Map”

The path to the dissertation that became After the Map, however, was not so straight as the path charted on a gridded map (of which more soon). His initial dissertation prospectus aspired to write an intellectual history of infrastructure—a term, he notes, whose current meanings only date from the mid-20th century (both in the original French and in English). “I thought that a history of infrastructure would get to questions of engineering and territory, but the more I looked, the more it pointed me to the history of economics.” While Rankin continued to work on mapping through Radical Cartography, he increasingly realized that the infrastructure project was not where he wanted to go. Hence, approximately a year and a half into his ostensible dissertation project, he decided to “pivot 90 degrees” to begin working on the technologies that play a central narrative role in After the Map.

We ask Rankin if he has any generalizable tips to offer to current or future graduate students based on his own research experience. He offers two. One, which isn’t just meant for those working on cartography, is simple: “collect as many maps as you can.” Unlike books, he notes, most university map libraries will only allow users to work with a single map at a time, and maps almost never circulate. But in his experience, just as with books or other textual evidence, his most productive engagement with maps has come when he has been able to work with multiple sources at once. If something looks good, he advises, take a photo—or download it, or scan it—in order to work with it later. The goal should be to amass a large digital collection that’s tailored to your own topic and interests. This can be great for research and writing, and it’s hugely helpful for teaching.

Second, however, Rankin cautions students away from the predetermined assumption that archives contain the key to all knowledge. After the Map does rely on significant forays into archives in France, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, including both state archives and private papers. But for Rankin, the most useful sources he worked with often turned out to be the trade journals of the engineers involved in the three major projects at the core of the book. While one could easily spend months, if not years, scouring the archives of the International Civil Aviation Organization (in Montreal) or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (outside of Washington, D.C.), the point is that top engineers for these institutions published in semi-trade journals when they wanted to announce to the profession that they had accomplished something novel. Understanding that there was not a direct line between difficulty of source access and the usefulness of said sources—however contrary to the legends historians tell about themselves—was a crucial intellectual step to make.

Having explored the intellectual biography behind the writing of the dissertation, we dive into the meat of Rankin’s book itself. One of the core macro-level historical discussions that After the Map seeks to contribute to has to do with how we understand the twentieth century. As the introduction to Rankin’s book explains, one could argue that the twentieth century marked the victory of territorializing processes. The century saw the fragmentation of all of the old colonial empires into territorial nation-states; what’s more, Rankin notes, virtually all of the new post-colonial states that were created were formed along existing administrative boundaries. If capturing and annexing territory had formerly numbered among the core components of European geopolitics, by the end of the twentieth century a number of treaties—such as the 1933 Montevideo Convention, the 1975 Helsinki Accords, and treaties concerning potential German claims to Central Europe—focused instead on preserving existing borders. Not only that, but treaties covering the use of airspace, continental shelves, and Arctic space all stressed the centrality of states’ territoriality.

At the same time, one could just as easily advance an interpretation of the twentieth century centered around globalization and the increased importance of transnational, non-territorial forces. Accounts like those of Charles S. Maier, or that of Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, emphasize the 1970s as a moment in modern history when the geographies of global capitalism began to exert a stronger effect on “regimes of world order” than did states or international organizations. Recent accounts of U.S. foreign policy, too, emphasize the 1970s as a moment when the United States was able to recast itself as a distinctly kind of “post-territorial” empire, able to exert hegemony not through brute force of conquest and annexation but through “nonterritorial hegemony.”

Triumph of the network – or territorial fracturing? A global map of internet connections in 2009 (Telegeography
Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)

How to reconcile these two narratives? For Rankin, part of the answer came through engagement with scholars of critical geography who contested the tension between “network” and “territory” often embedded into sweeping claims about the master theme or trend of the twentieth century. Fewer, however, had engaged with the actual technologies whose histories would have to be integrated into critiques of how territory was reconstituted throughout the century. Rankin’s task then became, in his words, “not just looking at the history of particular devices, but trying to understand a new way of thinking.” Engaging attempts to actually represent and manage territory offered the key to intervene into the debates in both global history and critical geography.

After the Map enters this debate with two related arguments. One is that there was never “any clean dichotomy between the hardening of territory and the debordering of globalization. The very same technologies that were developed to make borders more permeable have also been used to make them more stable and enforceable.” While the twentieth century was, as his case studies show, marked by a turn toward making the globe universally legible through grid-based coordinates and GPS, these projects were advanced by large, powerful states—primarily the United States. Similarly, looking at the projects Rankin examines also dissolves any easy affinities between states and territory and markets and post-territory: as he notes, grids and GPS “were often developed in tandem with private corporations and enthusiastically embraced by a wide range of ‘nonstate’ users, domestic and foreign alike.”

The second intervention of After the Map is more conceptual. While Rankin concedes that the 1970s were replete with important changes, it is problematic to conceive of the decade as the alleged pivot away from an earlier moment imagined as primordially territorial. “From the point of view of geographic knowledge,” Rankin explains, “the major shift of the twentieth century was thus not a transition from national to planetary, but from one worldwide political-geographic framework to another.” The 1940s, he argues, were a crucial turning point in “global” thinking from the point of view of geographic sciences. But the “globality” of this moment is not primarily in contrast to the national, but to the  ideal of the international that was embedded in many prewar mapping projects.

Crucially, however, even long after this turn towards the global, territory remained very important. “Both the national/international space of the early twentieth century and the global/regional space of the late twentieth century were equally territorial,” he explains. While it may be true that the importance of national jurisdictions compared to global networks did decline, Rankin stresses that it is crucial not to mistake national jurisdiction for territory. Systems that monitor the phone traffic and metadata of cell phone users worldwide, for example, may certainly be global in that they monitor activity beyond the boundaries of, for example, the United States of America. But such operations monitoring suspects in Pakistan or Afghanistan are undeniably interested in space and the management and monitoring of territories (even if these territories are conceived of not just as the national jurisdiction of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere). Rather than territory being abolished, Rankin instead sees the twentieth century as marked by the emergence of “new kinds of territories: territories defined as frameworks of points—neither a block of space nor a network of flows—that organized knowledge in new ways and facilitated new kinds of intervention and new kinds of governance.”

Rankin is aware that these might seem like rather abstract claims. In order to make the argument more concrete, After the Map is organized around three large projects that neatly illustrate the turn from an international vision of mapping that reinforced national jurisdiction to what Rankin dubs the “pointillist” logic of GPS, which instead challenged borders of all kinds. In particular, Rankin examines one project in each of the three principle branches of the mapping sciences: the International Map of the World (cartography); Universal Transverse Mercator (geodesy); and GPS (navigation).

The logic of the first of Rankin’s triad of projects, the IMW, may be the most familiar and approachable for non-technical readers. Maps of the world per se were nothing new—think of the age of exploration—but the IMW is best understood, Rankin says, through “the ways geographers themselves saw it in the 1890s.” We ask him to elaborate. “By the 1890s,” Rankin explains, “the Age of Exploration was clearly over, and cartographers saw their sister disciplines like geology and astronomy defining themselves through collaborative projects that would, they thought, serve to finalize their knowledge—for example, having observatories around the world work together on a hugely ambitious multi-decade sky survey.” Entrepreneurial geographers like the University of Vienna professor Albrecht Penck argued that the time for standardized maps of the world, all at the scale of 1:1,000,000 and bounded by lines of latitude and longitude, had come. The idea was to create a base map of geographic knowledge at a more detailed scale than had ever been done—all the while formalizing geography’s status as a real science.

Yet in spite of the lofty academic ambitions of Penck and his colleagues, the international network of cartographers inevitably had to turn to states in order to produce new knowledge. “This wasn’t something that the instigators behind IMW had necessarily sought, or wanted. This wasn’t a story, then, of cartographers hatching a conspiracy to enforce state control.” Immediately prior to World War I, most of the states of the world—not just the US and European empires, but also Japan, China, and most of Central and South America—had been enrolled into this project. But the project, argues Rankin, became authoritative not just in a scientific but also in a political sense, since countries were tasked with mapping their own territories and the surrounding areas (as determined by the standardized sheets of the IMW). “The government of Egypt,” as Rankin puts it, “might not necessarily care about mapping their western border with Italian-controlled Libya, but the internationalizing impulse coming from elsewhere encourages them to do so, lest they lose control over their own mapping.” The IMW, in short, was not a grand plan hatched by states, nor was it a centralized effort by one state or one academic society to map the entire world.

Rather, notes Rankin, “it was about process,” whereby decisions about mapping in Tanganyika or Panipat were subject to international treaties signed in London. Similarly, when private societies like the American Geographical Society or individuals like the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin made excellent maps of territories in Latin America or Central Asia, these maps were forcefully deemed “provisional” within the logic of IMW, since they had not been carried out by their respective governments. Only national governments had the proper authority to carry out the mapping of IMW squares, the logic went, so maps of “their” regions had to be considered provisional until carried out in a politically legitimate way.

Granted, in reality, the hierarchies of world politics of the day were what mattered. These “provisional” maps were often prized for their quality and used to settle international boundary disputes, and little was made of the vast internal territories of “civilized” states like the USA or Australia that had not yet been mapped. “The most pressing need was for the uniform mapping of continents that would not otherwise be mapped. Producing maps of Latin America, Africa, or colonial Asia—or even central Europe—was perhaps illegitimate, but it was also seen as a gracious service to the international community.” The IMW very much reflected this civilizing logic. The pride that American geographers took in assembling their “provisional” sheets of the Amazon spoke more to a belief in the civilizing power of systemic geographic knowledge than the actual needs of anyone in the Amazon itself.

Scramble for (the map) of Africa: IMW’s dvision of responsibilty for maps of Africa. Map by William Rankin, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

By the late 1940s, however, the lofty goals of the IMW were increasingly out of touch with actual mapping practice. Even the idea of a universal map had come to be seen as less than useful, since specialized professional audiences needed maps specific to their uses. And while the colored shading and symbolism of the IMW made it an attractive base map in theory, it didn’t address the new needs of aviation or other tasks requiring precise calculation. Even during the First World War, for example, what artillery divisions operating in the trenches really needed was a way to precisely aim at targets out of their sight. The careful politics of the IMW was simply irrelevant; instead what was crucial was being able to aim weapons at particular angles and knowing that those angles would connect them with the points at which their targets were located. As Rankin notes, the geographic questions that people were asking were gradually shifting. “Instead of trying to say ‘What does the terrain look like?’ it became more, ‘How do I know very precisely the distance between myself and my target?’ This is a kind of full-scale knowledge that you just can’t get through a paper map, or even through latitude and longitude.”

The technology that responded to these needs—and a core pivot in After the Map—was the grid. During the First World War, gunners could not use latitude and longitude coördinates to aim, and even a hypothetically perfect map, if printed on paper, would inevitably warp over time, making it useless (not to say clunky) to use in conjunction with cannons and compasses. Grid systems instead overlay locally bound (not relative to the Equator or Prime Meridian) coordinate systems over relatively small areas, and the projection is adjusted in such a way that the grid can provide very, very high accuracy for calculating angles and distances between any two points. Instead of trying to produce a miniaturized God’s-eye view of the battlefield at some arbitrary scale, grids strove to create a perfect 1:1 index of reality, and the grid—not a representational map—would become the primary space through which soldiers could orient themselves.

One-kilometer artillery grid on a French trench map, Moreuil, 5 Aug 1918.

This shift to grid-like thinking might be confusing to grasp for the uninitiated. Indeed, mentions of a 1:1 scale map might cause readers to think of short stories by authors like Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges, in which fanciful kings and rulers task their cartographers with creating a 1:1 map of their kingdom. The task predictably ends in failure, since any 1:1 representational paper map would simply reproduce the world itself. These stories, notes Rankin, are often cited as if to highlight the hubris of cartography and the failure of representational projects.

“And yet,” Rankin notes, “this is exactly what cartographers were doing by creating grids. Cartographers themselves spoke in these terms – ‘we’re creating a 1:1 map.’” Rankin notes that the real lesson that readers should draw from the Borges tale is a different one: “The key point in the Borges tale is that the 1:1 map is made of paper, and so it takes over the entire world. But thinking of managing space at a scale of 1:1 isn’t such a fanciful venture—it just means thinking in terms of coordinates rather than paper.”

The project of expanding and globalizing grid systems soon became a crucial strategic task. The shape of the earth meant that a grid projection for a chunk of the Western Front might not work if applied to territories deep into Germany. Hence, one crucial task for early grid-makers was to arduously calculate how to calibrate and connect different grid maps with one another. Such secrets were, of course, guarded jealously. Possession of high-precision grid data for an enemy country could make it susceptible to long-distance artillery properly calibrated to connect one grid with another.

By World War II, this problem took on another dimension. In World War I, reminds Rankin, much of the fighting had been concentrated along Germany’s flanks. But coordination of complex naval maneuvers and military aviation operations in World War II could mean coordinating actors everywhere from Dresden to Singapore. Several countries developed patchwork systems to cope, but it was obvious that a unified system would offer great advantages. Immediately after the war, the United States stood alone in possessing both the motivation and the technical means to develop such a system.

The solution the US Army embarked upon was the so-called Universal Transverse Mercator system. UTM divides the globe into sixty north-south grid zones, each using a Transverse Mercator projection so that there is no distortion through the middle north-south axis of a given zone. This solution had the advantage of practicality, but as Rankin notes, UTM marked a decisive shift from the multilateralism of the IMW. According to the IMW’s conception of political space, individual countries (or empires) ought to be responsible for mapping “their” space.

In contrast, the United States spearheaded UTM entirely on its own, even volunteering to perform surveys in Latin America, Asia, and Africa free of charge, before delivering the final system to its allies. The full-scale coordinates, of course, were not declared “provisional,” and national élites found them useful tools for organizing statist development projects. Likewise, the UTM “slices” or “slivers” that were created by the projection were just that—slices of the entire globe, rather than jigsaw-puzzle pieces of an international map. So even through the system was created and maintained by national governments, it was an inherently global system—not an international one. In this sense, argues Rankin, UTM can be seen as a turn toward a transboundary geoepistemic well before any supposed global turn of the 1970s.

The introduction of UTM raised serious questions about nations’ sovereignty, and arguably in ways more primal than did the IMW. It was one thing for the United States and the Soviet Union to possess nuclear weapons and be able to drop them on one another via fleets of bombers. But as both Moscow and Washington developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, being on the grid (via UTM or the Soviet equivalent) meant that being mapped could tie them in to the logic of nuclear war. Observers at the time, including one British colonial official in East Africa, could not but wonder if the nations signing up to be mapped via UTM were entering into a fool’s bargain.

Rankin is, however, skeptical about any straightforward American imperialism or suspicions that the US was strong-arming poorer nations against their will. Rather, UTM is perhaps best seen in terms of mid-century American efforts to create universal systems (albeit technically monopolized by the USA) that other countries would voluntarily sign up for. Countries that allowed UTM to come in, says Rankin, understood the basic questions: “They said, ‘I think we’re going to come out ahead if we have the United States train our people and do this for us.’ There is some real reflection on the tradeoffs, and I don’t think it was an underhanded move. The United States spent tons of money, after all, doing serious work for other countries. And not everyone said yes.”

The Universal Transverse Mercator grid system, shown as if all maps were laid together like an unfolded globe. Author: William Rankin. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

At the same time that grids were expanding for missile targeting, “grids were being technologized,” says Rankin. Perhaps most importantly, during the war both the British RAF and the German Luftwaffe experimented with radionavigation techniques that also relied on the logic of the grid. Many different systems were attempted, but the broad shift is similar to the one Rankin describes for earlier artillery systems. Rather than navigating using a map and the lay of the land beneath them to locate targets, bomber pilots could instead use a full-scale system of electronic coordinates (again, the map a scale of 1:1). Pilots could simply fly to a point in the grid, any time of day, regardless of weather. Although the technology was very different—radio waves and precise time measurement rather than the mathematics of map projections—the conceptual approach was remarkably similar.

Following from these new navigation technologies, the final project examined in After the Map is the now-ubiquitous GPS. In the final chapter of his book, Rankin explains the unlikely rise of GPS within the American military bureaucracy. While various agencies—especially the Navy, the Department of Defense, and the civilian NASA—could agree on the benefits of a universal radionavigation system that would work anywhere in the world, the three actors had different needs. Early attempts at satellite navigation systems were often designed primarily for branch-specific tasks—helping Polaris submarines, for example. Other Navy systems involved ongoing political headaches. In the case of the Omega system, for example, the huge ground transmitters sometimes had to be moved in response to political pressure or instability—from Panama to Trinidad to Liberia—and there was major grassroots pushback in Australia.

GPS, in contrast, emerged out of the Department of Defense, and was altogether more ambitious, both technically and politically. Rankin explains the basic principle:

each orbiting satellite continually broadcasts a signal giving its location and the time when the signal was sent. Since the signal travels at roughly the speed of light, calculating the precise distance between the satellite and a receiver just requires knowing how long the signal took to reach the earth. But because GPS only uses one-way communication, this is only possible if all GPS clocks, on the satellites and in the receiver, are synchronized within only a few nanoseconds, since a time error of just one millisecond would mean a coordinate error of nearly three hundred kilometers.

The solution was to equip each GPS satellite with an atomic clock (accurate to about three seconds over a million years) and to always have at least four satellites in view from any point on earth. Because the clocks in most receivers are not nearly as accurate as those in space, these four satellites are used to solve for four unknown values: three for distance and one to synchronize receiver time with satellite time.

While it’s tempting to marvel at the engineering triumph and take its success as a foregone conclusion, bureaucratic infighting complicated the design of GPS and political buy-in from different institutional actors was not easily won. “The essential dilemma of GPS was that it had the potential to be useful for everyone, but it was required by no one,” explains Rankin. Ultimately, key actors within DOD ensured the program’s survival by advocating a “go for broke” approach: a system that would solve all the problems of all key stakeholders, and also be able to solve problems that did not exist in the mid-1970s (for example, new more precise smart weapons). This was a risky and expensive gamble that was altogether unpopular outside the DOD. The project, for example, was subject to major budget cuts in the early 1980s. Huge sums were being invested into an ideal system, but with few stakeholders particularly interested in its success.

Yet outside shocks kept the process moving. When the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines flight that had veered off course into Soviet airspace—killing a US Congressman on board—President Ronald Reagan vowed greater support for the program. Steps were taken by the early 1990s to use GPS as the standard for international civilian aviation, making it an open-access, dual-use system used by civilian airliners as well as the military. It also allowed for dramatic military successes during the Gulf War. Normally, armies would have struggled to maintain formation while navigating through the featureless deserts of southeastern Iraq. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s armies counted on this fact and expected to engage coalition troops along better-mapped axes running from Kuwait to central Iraq. But GPS-armed US troops were able to sweep through the desert to trap Saddam’s armies and end the war in one blow. The logic of the grid—with all of its implications for weaker states’ sovereignty—was brutal, as GPS allowed users “to replace a local system of (nonexistent) physical landmarks with a new local system of electronic coordinates.”

GPS vs. Taliban: Shindand airfield, Afghanistan, after an American GPS-guided bomb strike, October 2001.

The advent of GPS meant not only a new kind of navigational hegemony for the USA but also, Rankin argues, a new kind of “pointillist” geoepistemic mapped on to the globalism of UTM. When he was looking through his sources, Rankin explains, “I started to look at the first uses people had for GPS. What were they doing, and what did they care about? And what I found wasn’t things like driving directions or tight integration with digital maps. Instead what early users wanted was secure points. They wanted to be able to set a waypoint, and then later get back to their waypoint. Or geologists wanted to put a stable point on an island and track its drift due to plate tectonics over time. Sifting through dozens of journal articles and technical reports, the core theme was the need for stable reference points.”

Points, in other words, had replaced even the grid as the most important optic for processing space. “That’s even what the blue dot on our cell phones is about,” says Rankin. “It locates us as a point, and it allows us to connect ourselves to other points. The stability of points is the crucial thing.” Whereas mid-century aviators would navigate with grid lines printed prominently on their maps, now our GPS-equipped phones simply place us as points, and the grid disappears.

As Rankin concludes in a series of open questions at the end of After the Map, what GPS means for state sovereignty is not yet settled. When states signed up for UTM, they knew they were buying into a US-designed system that could easily be militarized. The only “customizability” of UTM, so to speak, resided in its applicability for national development programs, offshore surveys, and international boundary treaties. On a smaller scale, UTM systems could be “hacked” (colloquially speaking) by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. But the system has remained relatively close to its US military roots.

Whether the story is the same with GPS is less clear. “GPS is useful for normal, everyday activities in ways that UTM just isn’t. When taxi drivers want to move around Bangkok, they use GPS. And I’m not so sure that they’re only participating in a US military project when they do so.” And with increasing use of GPS for civilian aviation, “the US military can’t just turn it off—thousands of people would crash. Much of this has happened against the military’s wishes, and the core point is that GPS really is a hybrid system.” After the Map leaves it an open question whether systems like GPS give greater proportional advantage to “local” uses over the “global” uses of the US military. For example, how do we weigh the bottom-up, GPS-driven countermapping of natural-disaster sites or informal settlements against the precision bombing of air bases during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan? But even as GPS throws into question the importance of national borders today, what remains clear in all cases is the enduring relevance of territory, albeit constituted and engaged in novel ways through the pontillist geoepistemic of GPS.

As our conversation approaches its end, we ask Rankin about the projects he has on his desk now that After the Map has been successfully guided to print. One is a methodological book about mapping at the juncture of digital humanities, spatial history, and visual communication. Ever since he started Radical Cartography, Rankin notes, “I’ve been trying to think conceptually about maps and diagrams and the argumentative work they can do.” In this book, which draws on research he has been collecting for the past several years, Rankin says he hopes to engage a range of questions: “How do we actually do our work spatially? How are we using mapping to advance our arguments? How can we use maps to engage academic and non-academic audiences at the same time?” As anyone who has ever dipped their feet into digital humanities or mapmaking will know, these are far from simple questions. This first project, Rankin notes, has a relatively short time horizon—perhaps a couple of years.

A bigger project altogether is his anticipated second major research project, which Rankin describes as “a spatial history of the environmental sciences.” Rankin notes that too often, histories of environmental thinking are told without any attention to the actual techniques used to generate environmental knowledge. Rankin seeks to correct this by exploring how spatial knowledge is created about the skies, waters, forests, and other parts of the planet defined as “the environment.” “For example,” Rankin explains, “right now I’m interested in spatial modeling and how a hodgepodge of diverse measurements are combined to create a smooth-looking map. Or how satellite measurements are used to create images that look like photographs, but aren’t. When we confront an environmental dataset, what exactly are we seeing? How did this knowledge come into being, and how did it become spatial? What assumptions are embedded within it?”

GPS satellite constellation design, mid-1980s

Beyond simply providing a useful history of these techniques, Rankin hopes to demonstrate the transnational lives of many tools used for the environmental sciences today. He notes that “the article that I’m working on right now starts with South African gold mining in the 1950s, but their techniques are picked up by French engineers in the 1960s and are used in the environmental sciences around the world by the 1980s. There’s also someone in Russia developing similar techniques in meteorology, and his work gets picked up in Jerusalem and is later deployed in all the meteorological systems in the West. Today, these same algorithms are available as one-click solutions everywhere from soil management to global warming.”

Yet more than just making the observation that such techniques were developed transnationally, Rankin’s account will revise embedded clichés about the relationship between ecology and capitalism. “There’s a strong sense that environmental thinking,” says Rankin, “is divorced from capitalism, or opposed to capitalism somehow. But even in just this one case, we see how new kinds of environmental knowledge come directly from mining, and of course weather modeling was heavily supported by the US Navy. I’m still interested in many of the same players—military, commercial, and academic—that readers will encounter in After the Map.”

While research on the second project and a busy teaching schedule stand to occupy a fair chunk of Rankin’s schedule for the next several years, he still finds time to engage with recent work in several fields. When we ask him what he has been reading recently, he notes that much of his recent reading time has been devoted to understanding the legacy of the neo-Marxist geographic theory of the 1970s. “Much excellent spatial history is anchored in the work of Henri LeFebvre and David Harvey,” he notes, “but their approach leaves a lot of questions unasked.” Given how many other branches of academia have moved on from the neo-Marxist intellectual project, Rankin is trying to understand the enduring appeal—and possible responses to—the work of the aforementioned scholars.

Much of this is part of a broader intellectual re-tooling for the his spatial history of the environmental sciences, but beyond that, Rankin notes that he has enjoyed the work of Northwestern University historian (and Global History Forum guest) Daniel Immerwahr. Immerwahr’s first book, which we discussed with him for the Global History Forum, focused on the history of community development as a part of U.S. modernization efforts in the Third World. However, Immerwahr’s ongoing research on the history of the United States’s “hidden” or post-territorial empire is what Rankin has found most generative recently. He also highlights the work of Rachel Rothschild, a former Yale PhD now at New York University, whose work explores the history of transnational acid raid pollution during the Cold War. Both of these projects, like Rankin’s, combine “tight empirical work” with attention to the politics of space and how space was negotiated, whether within the framework of U.S. hegemony or Cold War Europe.

Our conversation with Rankin may not allow us to look at the GPS in our pocket, or its friendly bulging blue dot, in the same way again. The very fact of using GPS may mean that we are all, in some sense, invested in the military infrastructure of the American global project. Unless we all start drawing our own maps, we are likely to be unable, as are most states today, “to claim exclusive authority over the knowledge they rely upon” for our daily spatial existence. But as Rankin’s account shows, there are plenty of ways that individual users can appropriate GPS for their own ends. Further, the very depth and breadth of GPS’s penetration may make it a system where its makers and operators can never simply shut it off, so manifold are its uses. Users, communities, and states can respond by creating new tools or adapting old ones, but only with a historically grounded sense of the geoepistemic stakes of their choices.

Works like Rankin’s represent a crucial intervention for achieving that kind of awareness, and we thank him both for authoring After the Map as well as participating in this installment of the Global History Forum.

Global Interior: A Conversation with Megan Black About the U.S. Interior Department in the American World Order

During the middle of a troop and advising “surge” to Afghanistan following the election of Barack Obama, U.S. Defense Department officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a blockbuster announcement: Afghanistan, formerly best known for its export of opium, was said to be on the brink of becoming the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a rare mineral essential for the production of modern computers and smartphones. American geologists had stumbled onto dusty old Soviet maps of the country produced during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their quality was not terrific, but they hinted at enormous mineral deposits hitherto untapped that could turn Afghanistan from a large net recipient of foreign aid to a state flush with extraction-based revenues, like neighboring Turkmenistan, or Caspian Sea oil and gas giant Azerbaijan. American geologists soon conducted aerial surveys of Afghanistan that allowed them to photograph the interior of the Central Asian state. Thanks to American-made “advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment,” the U.S. had produced “a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface” and “the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.”

The announcement, made in 2010, seemed like good news for the Afghans. But beyond obvious ongoing questions about when (if?) security conditions in Afghanistan will ever permit mining corporations the confidence to make major investments in that country, the episode also raises questions about the role of the United States in th world and the nature of sovereignty in which access to mining data may be just as crucial as political sovereignty over the piece of real estate in which this niobium deposit or that lithium bed might be located. What does political sovereignty mean for a post-2001 Afghan state if its main real hope for self-financing comes from the interface of U.S.-produced data with an international bidding process over which an Afghan people may have only limited say? While the contradictions are perhaps particularly vivid in the case of Afghanistan, the drama of how extractive industries are entangled with the sovereignty of less powerful states and nations—not least Indigenous Peoples—is an ongoing story. Recent events such as the Standing Rock protests make this ever more clear.

Megan Black, author of “The Global Interior” and our latest guest to the Global History Forum

The work of our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Megan Black, makes clear the history behind episodes like these. A Lecturer in History at Harvard University and a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Black studies the United States Department of the Interior as an institutional prism through which to see a new history of U.S. global reach since 1890. Often misunderstood as an obscure branch of the U.S. government, the Department of the Interior, in Black’s account, turns out to be a crucial agent of American power toward the outside world in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Rather than seeing Interior as a mere manager of that which was already “inside” the U.S. polity, she sees it as the crucial actor in a process of “interiorization” whereby resources once external to the American homeland (whether in the North American West or anywhere in the world) were made legible and potentially extractable.

While one might expect Interior’s mission to have ended once the frontier was closed and the American West swelled with settlers, Black’s account shows how Interior reinvented itself as a crucial agent for the discovery and management of “strategic minerals” around the world — first in nearby theaters in the Americas, and later globally. Studying the rise and fall of the Department of the Interior and the logics of “interiorization” it relied upon, then, constitutes not just a lens to understand the nature of American hegemony in the 20th century. It’s also a crucial story for understanding how what it meant to be sovereign changed in light of the discovery of new aerospace, computing, and nuclear technologies, and the complex mineral chains required to maintain them. While our conversation with Black therefore provides a lens into one of the most dynamic historiographical literatures today—namely that of U.S. foreign relations—it also provides a terrific example of what it might mean for scholars of global history to take minerals and mining more seriously as subjects for investigation. Outgoing Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Dr. Black to discuss her research as well as her forthcoming book manuscript, The Global Interior. Continue reading

Postdoctoral Fellowships, Clements Center for National Security, University of Texas Austin

On the job market or in search of a post-doctoral fellowship? Here are several recently published opportunity from the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin:

Clements Center Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin seeks applications from recent PhD recipients for its Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

Consistent with the Clements Center’s mission areas of history, strategy, and statecraft, applicants from all disciplines whose research bears directly on foreign and defense policy, intelligence, or international security are welcome to apply. However, strong preference will be given to applicants with a doctorate in history or whose research has a strong historical component (ancient or modern). Successful applicants will be able to spend the substantial portion of their time working on their own research and writing projects, while taking advantage of the many academic resources available at the University of Texas-Austin. Additionally, Fellows will be required to play an active role in the Clements Center’s programs and activities; any specific responsibilities will be by mutual agreement between the Fellow and the Clements Center leadership. Fellows accepted to the program will be offered a competitive stipend, full use of UT facilities, and office space at the Clements Center. In some cases Fellows will be welcome to teach a course at the University of Texas. Each appointment is for one year, and in exceptional cases may be considered for renewal for a second year.

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Intelligence Studies

The Intelligence Studies Project (ISP) of the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law will grant a postdoctoral fellowship in intelligence studies to a promising young scholar. This unique fellowship is intended to support the next generation of scholars and educators in the field of intelligence.

Applicants from all disciplines whose research bears on national security intelligence are welcome to apply. The successful applicant will be expected to work on research and writing projects of their own design, while taking advantage of the academic resources available at the University of Texas-Austin.  The Fellow will be expected to play an active role in programs and activities organized by the ISP, Clements and Strauss centers.  Any specific responsibilities will be by mutual agreement between the Fellow and the ISP Director. The Fellow accepted for this program will be offered a competitive stipend, full use of UT facilities, and workspace. Depending upon qualifications and interest, the Fellow may have the opportunity to teach a course at UT-Austin. The fellowship appointment is for one year, but in an exceptional case may be renewed for a second year.

Interested? Further information is available here. Please note that applications are due by March 3, 2017 for the former position and March 1, 2017 for the latter position in Intelligence Studies; however, as the announcement notes, applicants receive their doctorate by August 2017 to be eligible for appointment.

Lecturer in Global and Imperial History, University of Exeter

For those on the job market this year, here is an attractive position at the University of Exeter, via their Imperial & Global Forum. The University is seeking a Lecturer in Global and Imperial History. As the call for applications notes:

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 21,000 students from more than 130 different countries and is in the top 1% of universities in the world with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Our research focuses on some of the most fundamental issues facing humankind today.

The post of Lecturer in Global and Imperial History will contribute to extending the research profile of History at Exeter, particularly in areas related or complementary to the transnational history of imperialism, globalization, and decolonization since 1750. This full time post is available from 1st September 2017 to 31st August 2020 in the College Humanities on a fixed term basis.

The successful applicant will hold a PhD or equivalent in global or imperial history area and have an independent, internationally-recognised research programme in an active field of historical research related or complementary to existing Exeter strengths. He/she will be able to demonstrate the following qualities and characteristics;   a strong record in attracting research funding, or demonstrable potential to attract such funding, teamwork skills to work in collaboration with existing group members, an active and supportive approach to inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research that will help to foster interactions and links both within the University and externally, the attitude and ability to engage in continuous professional development, the aptitude to develop familiarity with a variety of strategies to promote and assess learning and enthusiasm for delivering undergraduate programmes.

Interested? You can learn more via this job portal; applications must be submitted by February 15, 2017.

Toynbee Prize Foundation Names Aden Knaap Executive Director

The Toynbee Prize Foundation has elected Aden Knaap, a PhD candidate in History and the Knox Fellow at Harvard University, as the second Executive Director of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, effective June 1, 2017.

Knaap, a native of Australia, received  his BA in History (Hons I) from the University of Sydney in 2014, and an LLB (equivalent to a JD) from Sydney Law School in 2016. Prior to beginning his doctoral education at Harvard, he was a research associate with the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney.

Knaap focuses in his work on international and imperial law, world government and international order, and the League of Nations and the United Nations. The author of several pieces in publications such as the European Journal of International Law, History in the MakingCosmopolites, and Honest History, he is at present working on several projects, including, in his words:

a book project on the history of international adjudication and arbitration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; a second project on conceptions of world federalism among individuals and civil society organizations of the early to mid-twentieth century, exploring questions of sovereignty, territoriality and jurisdiction; and an article on how early Australian internationalists adopted and adapted European ideas of the League of Nations, in a process I term ‘domesticating’ internationalism.’

In assuming the position of Executive Director, Knaap succeeds the Foundation’s first Executive Director, Timothy Nunan, who has held the position since 2014. Under Nunan’s leadership, the Foundation significantly expanded its web presence through the establishment of the Global History Blog and the Global History Forum. Additionally, the Foundation’s site now features contributions from an international team of Editors-at-Large. Nunan, formerly an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, is since 2016 an Assistant Professor and Freigeist Fellow at the Center for Global History at the Freie Universität Berlin.

As the process of transition proceeds this spring, we hope to make further announcements about changes and new features to the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s website.

CFP: Third International Global History Student Conference (Berlin, May 20-21, 2017)

For graduate student readers of the Global History Blog, here’s a recent call for applications for a terrific graduate student-focused conference on global history at the Freie Universität Berlin:

In recent years, global history has become one of the most ambitious and most promising strands of historical research. The approach specifically targets relations, flows, and actors which transcend borders that for a long time had been assumed to be stable and impenetrable. It calls attention to the importance of transnational, trans-regional or trans-local connections and highlights the relevance of postcolonial theory to historiography.

But how can we actually “do global history” in practical terms? What are useful methods and techniques for researching and writing from a global perspective? How can global history complement but also challenge other disciplines; conversely, what critiques and new ideas can other disciplines bring to global history?

We – a group of students in the MA Global History at Humboldt University Berlin and Free University Berlin – would like to invite you to discuss these issues with us at the Global History Student Conference in Berlin by presenting your research projects to fellow students. This year the keynote speaker will be Prof. Michael Goebel, author of Anti-Imperial Metropolis (2015), winner of the AHA Jerry Bentley prize in World History (2016).

The field of global history is not limited to the modern period, and we invite scholars of the early modern, medieval or classical periods to consider submitting their research. Moreover, global history not only challenges geographical borders, it also tends to transcend disciplinary demarcations. Accordingly, we welcome proposals from any academic field that has points of contact with history (e.g. art history, area studies, social sciences, etc). Furthermore, since global history has only been part of the academic landscape for a few years (at least in terms of institutions and study programmes) we are all more or less beginners in this quest for interconnections, entanglements and conjunctures. We also explicitly invite undergraduate students: if you’ve ever written a paper or essay in this field, this is the perfect place to present it! The goal is to exchange experiences and to work together in an open and non-competitive way.

For more on how to submit proposals, read on:

Submit the registration form by the 1st of February 2017.

Upload your 300 word abstract as a PDF file by the 1st of February 2017.

The abstract should be entitled according to the following format: SurnameFirstnameShortTitle.pdf

On acceptance of your paper, please send us a 2000 word summary for us to review by 31st of March 2017.

We will be able to offer some financial support for transport and accommodation to participants coming from outside of Berlin. Please see our website for further details.

Readers curious about the conference should look into the conference’s website, with reviews of past conferences. Better yet, read the conference report posted by TPF Editor-at-Large Fatma Aladag here.

A New Deal for the Nuremberg Trial? Discussing the History of Crimes Against Humanity with Elizabeth Borgwardt

More and more social science research suggests that polities recovering from eras of mass atrocity do best with strategies that are both forward-looking and backward-looking. Forward-looking initiatives may include constitutional revisions, support for non-governmental organizations, and amnesties; backward-looking devices may include summary executions, war crimes trials, or truth commissions. While few would argue that we are in the twilight of impunity, scholars who study the generation and diffusion of norms look to recent settlements in Argentina and Columbia that stress increased accountability for past atrocities. The conviction of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré by a Senegelese court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in early 2016 might be a harbinger of future, more regionally-grounded processes of international justice. Even more recently, the conviction of an ISIS militant for the destruction of ancient documents and religious sites in Mali has suggested an expansion zone for war crimes that would take in cultural destruction.

Critics of liberal internationalism, by contrast, are heralding the death of the human rights idea in light of the recent U.S. presidential election, Brexit, and the resurgence of ethnic nationalism in the West and elsewhere. Atrocity crimes seem to be a growth industry and botched humanitarian interventions are also doing a brisk business. These critics also ask how institutions such as the ICC and the UN tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda could have any legitimacy at all, as they are dominated by Western elites, with judges who are vetted and qualified to preside only after receiving indoctrination at Western law schools, while defendants are inevitably drawn from smaller, weaker countries, some of which are now turning their backs on international institutions in general and the ICC in particular. Law, skeptics say, has been unmasked as really “just politics;” that is, only capable of generating scenarios where illegitimate power expresses itself by means of adulterated law.

Convincing one side or the other of the moral legitimacy of today’s international tribunals may indeed be a rather fruitless exercise. In the meantime, however, it may be helpful to ask a more historically-informed set of questions, such as how some of the foundational ideas in international justice from the 19th century and before came to be institutionalized in the 20th century, or how the very format of trials came to be added to the spectrum of responses to various kinds of atrocities against civilians, or indeed how the idea of what might count as a “crime” in international law came to be debated and refined.

These are the questions at the heart of the research agenda of Elizabeth Borgwardt, an associate professor of history and law at Washington University in St. Louis, and a permanent faculty associate of the Center for American Studies at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Borgwardt also recently served as the Richard and Ann Pozen Visiting Chair in Human Rights at the University of Chicago. Readers will probably best know Borgwardt as the author of the 2005 monograph A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights, published with the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and co-winner of the Merle Curti award for best book in Intellectual History and of the Stuart Bernath Book award for best first book in U.S. foreign relations.

Now considered to be field-defining research in the then-novel specialization of human rights history, Borgwardt examined how the 1941 Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic charter served as a kind of ideological blueprint for many of the young lawyers negotiating the draft charters of various wartime international institutions, notably the 1944 Bretton Woods agreements, the 1945 United Nations charter, and the 1945 Nuremberg charter. She explored how these new institutions were meant to generate a world order that would somehow “advance” human rights and, for the US officials involved, one which would entrench and extend U.S. influence. A major theme of New Deal for the World was also the role of unintended consequences, in that a variety of constituencies seized upon the vague and inspirational rhetoric in the Atlantic Charter and sought to use it for their own ends.

Now, however, Borgwardt is interested in a different set of questions related to human rights politics and ideas: how did “human rights” become a concept that even the most heinous regimes feel that they need to buy into, if only to pay it lip service? Why did ideas about sovereignty and individual accountability articulated in a courtroom in provincial Germany go on to affect larger systems of international justice? The answer to these questions — grounded, in Borgwardt’s case, in her background as both a lawyer and a historian — cannot but interest us in a world that continues to be scarred by human rights violations, both domestic and international.

The Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Executive Director, Timothy Nunan, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Borgwardt during a visit to Harvard University to present an excerpt from her new manuscript, with the working title of The Nuremberg Idea: “Thinking Humanity” in History, Law & Politics, under contract with Alfred A. Knopf. We have reproduced below an edited transcript of that conversation.

Timothy Nunan (TN): Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.

Elizabeth Borgwardt (EB): I was so thrilled to receive your invitation! I had just been reading your wonderful interview with Susan Pedersen, in preparation for reviewing her book on the League of Nations, and was already hoping that some day I’d have the opportunity to be speaking about my new manuscript.

TN: Perhaps we should start with your path to the profession of history. I know that you came to history after a career in law. If you could maybe talk a bit about your path to history. Did you have any initial inclination toward working as a professional historian?

EB: Well, I wasn’t sure I’d be lucky enough to be a professional historian, but maybe as a lawyer or legal scholar with a deep interest in history. My interest in the Nuremberg trials dates back to when I was a law student here [at Harvard]. As a creature of habit, I would always sit in the same place to study. I preferred the more human-scale International Legal Studies library to what I saw as the overblown pretentiousness of the main law library, with its gilt engravings and huge portrait of a fierce-looking Oliver Wendell Holmes. My study spot happened to be opposite the forty-two volumes of the Nuremberg trial transcripts, so that became my procrastination project, just reading through all the volumes.

I also used to hang around in the upstairs stacks, and became obsessed with a typescript version of the dissent of the Indian Justice, Radhabinod Pal, at the 1946-48 Tokyo War Crimes trial; the sheets were just unbound pages in a folder. Hardly anyone had published anything about Pal’s dissent at that time. I could see records of who had signed for it at Harvard, for instance, which was exactly nobody, with no publications specifically on the dissent the card catalogue.

Pal’s contribution to the Tokyo trial was an impassioned diatribe that ran to over a thousand pages in manuscript. And so a study of Pal’s dissent as a kind of early Third World critique of public international law as a hegemonic imperialist club became my third-year paper in law school, working with Detlev Vagts. Pal wrote about the use of atomic weapons was a crime against humanity, for example. I was so preoccupied with this text that my friends began to refer to my paper as “our pal Pal” because he had become part of their lives, too.

I published the paper on Rahadbinod Pal as a law review article during my judicial clerkship, which I served in San Francisco. Soon, though, the opportunity to think more broadly appeared. After I finished the clerkship, I unexpectedly had the opportunity to do some law teaching down the road at Stanford, because they needed someone to fill in as a temporary lecturer. I was hoping that in addition to teaching and practicing law, I would also be able to turn my long Tokyo trial article – “Ideology and International Law: The Dissent of the Indian Justice at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial” – into a book.

But the more I followed up on the issues and problems with the Tokyo War Crimes trial, the more I felt that all roads were leading back to Nuremberg. Almost everyone analyzing the Tokyo trial has highlighted how similar the Tokyo charter was to the earlier Nuremberg charter, for instance. So that became my jumping off point: Why did the Nuremberg charter look that way? Why did the trial’s designers set it up that way, rather than some other way? What did they think they had learned from the failed experience of the war crimes trials in the wake of the First World War?

TN: So, as you were beginning this research process, what were your biggest misconceptions about Nuremberg? What are some common impressions that people have about Nuremberg that turned out not to be correct?

EB: Well, there are a number of mistakes people commonly make about the main 1945-46 Nuremberg trial, such as arguing that the term “genocide” was not used at all, or that there were no witnesses at the main Nuremberg trial, or that the term “crimes against humanity” was an innovation that was created for use at Nuremberg. These are simply factual errors that I still see everywhere.

Then there are what I might call mistakes of emphasis. The main one is portraying the designers and litigators of the main Nuremberg trial as much more farsighted than they actually were. In real time, the Allied prosecutors in particular thought they were running a trial about what they called crimes against peace, that is, waging aggressive war. They thought they were strengthening and extending the Kellogg-Briand Pact [the 1928 Pact of Paris] to definitively outlaw aggression. Crimes against humanity was to them little more than an afterthought. How crimes against humanity came to be the main show over the course of the postwar era is one of the fascinating stories in these archives.

I think it is also fairly common to elide or downplay the importance of the twelve so-called “subsequent” trials held in the same Nuremberg courtroom from 1946 to 1949. These were the later, thematically-organized trials convened by the United States such as the Doctors’ Trial, about involuntary medical experiments, or the Industrialists’ Trials, about the responsibility of corporate directors for human rights abuses such as the use of slave labor. The movie Judgment at Nuremberg was about one of these subsequent U.S. trials, the 1948 Judges’ Trial, for example, not about the main, four-power tribunal. It was also, I believe, William Shatner’s film debut.

TN: Sure. And although there has been a great deal written about Nuremberg, I was struck by your assertion that there are very few treatments of all thirteen trials.

For me what stands out is the chance to examine all thirteen trials as episodes in international intellectual history and how they worked together to reshape important, pre-existing legal concepts. And the role of the Doctor’s Trial, the Industrialists’ Trials, and the other thematic trials at Nuremberg are what makes this a “U.S. in the World” story, in that these later trials were designed and run by U.S. occupation forces, as was the contemporaneous Tokyo Trial. I now see how my analysis has benefitted from analyzing these 1945-49 trials as a group.

This framing reflects my own path to studying the trials. I have been working at the seams where history, law, and IR intersect since I was undergraduate. I earned an M.Phil. in International Relations at Cambridge, really as a fourth-year of undergraduate study. Coming out of law school, I had reverted to that lawyerly perception that it was more professional to find what lawyers would call bright line between “the politics” and “the law” of Nuremberg. I was going to find some definitive way of doing that, with politics meaning, basically, illegitimate approaches that should be discarded, and a realm of law, meaning whatever shards of the trials were legitimate and should be respected.

I cast this approach aside after reading Judith Shklar’s brilliant book, Legalism, where she basically throws this false binary out the window. Her framing had so much intuitive traction for me, where she basically said, “what a stupid question as to whether these trials were “good law” or “just politics.” Surely it’s ALL politics!” She went on to argue that just because an international trial is a political act doesn’t then mean that it’s the same as a Soviet show trial, with Vyshinsky sitting there, but that these trials may be situated on a spectrum of responses to atrocities that could appropriately be more or less politically contested. We can then argue about the quality of the politics. The key question then became was it better to have conducted these trials than not to have conducted them, and how might we argue abut that, rather than was Nuremberg perfect or pure.

This was a much richer and more fruitful debate, to me, than just saying “everything to do with liberal internationalism is terrible,” which was kind of where I was coming out of the Pal article. And on a more wide-ranging level, Shklar’s scholarship showed me how legal history might be seen as a branch of intellectual history, as she had long argued.

TN: It sounds like the Indian dissent, if you like, gave you an externalist platform or language with which to think about this, while the Shklar was this internalist perspective from which to dwell on these issues of liberal internationalism from within that discourse.

EB: Yes, exactly; that’s very incisive. Nuremberg’s critics were vitriolic and legion, both then and now. And one of their most persistent framings tends to be that the trials were “tainted” by politics, and this would accordingly mean that the proceedings could not amount to “real” law. As noted, this was the perspective I once shared. But then I began wrestling with how to continue to critique the many shortcomings of these thirteen trials without dismissing the whole enterprise.

TN: Was this all going through your head as you were doing the PhD?

EB: Well, I was still practicing law at this point, but it was becoming clear that my dream of turning that Tokyo trial article into a book was not going anywhere. While I was still serving as a law lecturer, I made an appointment to speak with the chair of the History Department at Stanford, literally wandered over with my law review article in my hand to meet with David M. Kennedy. And I said, look, I have this dream of writing a book about World War II-era legal history – do you have any kinds of fellowships or visitorships that might help me do this? And when he finished laughing, he basically said, “You’re coming from the Law School and asking me for money? Are you kidding?”

Fortunately for me, Kennedy then suggested that if I were really serious about writing a book, I should consider applying to do a doctorate in history, and Stanford might even be able to waive some of the coursework as I already had a subfield in legal history by virtue of my law degree. Initially, I thought, “Really? Another degree? No thanks!” But the longer I continued in practice, the better this idea seemed. Mostly I was just very lucky that at that time Kennedy was working on what became his Freedom From Fear on the 1930s and 1940s. I became one of the research assistants for that book, and I think perhaps because Kennedy viewed himself as having a World War I and Progressive-era specialization in U.S. history, he was happy to have some people around who were working on World War II.

TN: And I presume that your set of research interests, from working as a research assistant for Freedom From Fear, played into the making of A New Deal for the World?

EB: Well, the interests for me were pre-existing. But I definitely felt as if I had hit the jackpot in being able to work with Kennedy. The truth is, I always thought that Freedom From Fear would have been the best title for my book! And David Kennedy, in common with many of the best advisors, always encouraged me to write the dissertation as a book manuscript, devoid of both legal jargon and historiographical throat-clearing. He would say things like “you have to be able to tell your story without mentioning the name of Jurgen Habermas,” which I always thought was kind of hilarious.

I found I enjoyed writing about documents and their construction. I loved the way the U.S. negotiators of the United Nations Charter, especially, would talk about how they were giving life to an earlier, more general statement of principles, the 1941 Atlantic Charter, negotiated by Roosevelt and Churchill and a handful of their senior staffs before the US had even entered the war. They talked about how the Atlantic Charter was like the American Declaration of Independence and how the UN Charter was more like the US Constitution. I think they really believed this; it was fascinating.

Using a particular document as a jumping-off point for a wider meditation on U.S. foreign policy was a venerable device, just as Felix Gilbert had done with Washington’s Farewell Address, which was a book I was teaching with at the time.

So, at the dissertation stage, Nuremberg became a label for a package of issues, a kind of case study, as one of three charters of institutions that were set up during the war — first the Atlantic Charter, and then its three “progeny” charters in the realms of international political economy, security, and justice – i.e., the Bretton Woods Agreements, the UN Charter, and the Nuremberg Charter.

I thought I was writing a book about institutions. And the late, great Ken Cmiel took me aside at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association and asked, “do you realize that what you are really writing about is human rights”? In the early 2000s there were very few dissertations actually focusing on human rights, but Cmiel encouraged me to join him in developing this subfield.

By way of encouragement to others who may be reading this interview, I should say that I had a fair amount of pushback from publishers at first — my revised manuscript was over 1000 pages, and this in a world where academic publishers are skeptical about publishing dissertations that are 300 pages. They wanted something that was the moral equivalent of 220 typeset pages, and I would explain about the comparative approach, and that each of the three case studies needed room to breathe, room to develop, and eventually I convinced them.

TN: Could you talk a bit about the research process for New Deal for the World and some contrasts with your current project? Now you are including quite a lot of analysis about middle-tier actors, and the role of exile governments like the Poles in London. Looking back on the experience you had with New Deal for the World, what would be your advice for people writing dissertations in the U.S. in the World field?

EB: Well, I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did it! That is, spending lots of time with archives and unpublished sources before you even know what you’re doing. And even trying to write an initial draft with minimal secondary citations. Basically, I wrote my dissertation twice; once almost exclusively with archival sources and then again after I realized that many of my points had already been made in the secondary literature. As a graduate student, I didn’t want to be seen to be overstepping in claiming originality. So if anything, I went overboard with the secondary literature. It was very time-consuming. One reviewer actually said “any time I was looking for a citation, it was there. Every single time.” I think this may be too high a standard to be realistic this time around.

After saying that was a mistake, however, I’ve ended up doing almost the same thing with this project. If you’re in a hurry, again, I think it would be a huge waste of time to adopt this approach. For this chapter [from Nuremberg Idea], I’m interested in how certain intuitions I had about the “crimes against humanity” label played out in the primary sources. Giving shape to these intuitions, however, just came from reading and reading and reading. I could feel a kind of gravitational pull from the sources: the more I read, the more I knew the material I was looking for would be out there based on what else I was reading. And yes, as with the New Deal book, the “middle tier” actors were key, as Paul Kennedy has argued in a military context.

TN: Perhaps a way to frame this in relation to your talk is, you’re framing this around Herbert Claiborne Pell, whom I think is not there on the “Greatest Hits of American diplomacy” …?

EB: . . . And kind of a nut, right? I’m drawn to these individuals, in part to underline that intellectual history is also about people and their stories. There’s a strange kind of hierarchy in our subfield where theory or quantitative analysis is meant to be persuasive, but deep archival work on particular episodes is somehow just sparkly anecdotes. It’s puzzling to me, because these stories, when they are done well, have at least the potential to be suggestive or even emblematic in various kinds of provocative ways, and to supplement more theory-oriented approaches. And of course, one can tell stories with numbers or with theories, as well.

TN: When did Pell appear on your radar, then?

EB: Well, Pell’s story is partly a kind of penance for having excluded him and his organization, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, from New Deal for The World. There, I didn’t really talk about the War Crimes Commission at all; it just seemed to me that Gary Bass and other analysts looking at the early ‘40s were consistently saying, “Look, if few of the actors at Nuremberg or later are thinking in terms of the UNWCC, then why should we?” Subsequently, Dan Plesch published some fascinating work on the UNWCC. So I wondered: could they both be right? Could the UNWCC matter as intellectual history even if there wasn’t a direct line?

TN: As a research strategy, you look at Plesch’s book, and his work in making those files public, and it’s 500,000 files of documentation. And you think, we live in a world in which if you want to write a book whose fulcrum will not be the UNWCC …

EB: Again, not terribly efficient, I know. I had actually read a great deal about the War Crimes Commission before their records were declassified, since they were available in the U.K. although not in the U.S. And this material also struck me as another way to make the case for the value of archival work, in that they do cast a very different light on some of these origin stories about how terms such as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity were used at Nuremberg.

TN: Well, to set this up more for people who will be reading this interview without having been at the seminar, one of the issues that you are engaging with here, and that Pell is engaging with, is this distinction between crimes against humaneness – “Menschlichkeit” – and the other as crimes against humankind –“Menschheit” – the one, a kind of chivalric notion, the other a more modern notion of humanity. Some people might say, “This seems like the reason I dropped out of German class,” but for you it’s emblematic.

EB: Haha! I don’t think it has to be quite so esoteric. I’d say that the larger purpose is to fold in cultural politics with legal analysis, rather than to reify the term “crimes against humanity” and then ransack all of human history in order to find the same label in use at various moments in the past. There’s a split between what we might more modernly call humanitarianism and human rights. And I wasn’t persuaded by what I read in either the social science or the legal literature by how we analyze and historicize that split.

By the way, I don’t think that any international lawyer today would necessarily look at it this way. But scholars in other fields are able to use a wider lens. For example, I recently an e-mail from John Ikenberry – actually, that was kind of a thrill – asking me whether I agreed that in the early 1940s this civilizational rhetoric around the outbreak of World War II was displaced by a new Four Freedoms rhetoric that focused more on developmentalism. Yes – exactly! Crimes against humanity had been “crimes against civilization,” a much more 19th-century vision of civilization. The 1940s displacement was that such atrocity crimes became crimes against what we would now call human rights.

TN: Is that “the Nuremberg Idea,” then?

EB: Yes, although interestingly, it didn’t take place at the main Nuremberg trial. The designers of the first trial struggled with this approach, but they were so preoccupied with prosecuting aggression that crimes against human rights were never anything but a sideshow. Figuring out the place of atrocity crimes was much more a function of the so-called subsequent Nuremberg trials that I mentioned before, the twelve trials at Nuremberg from 1946-49. This is fascinating to me; that it’s a Nuremberg idea, but a different Nuremberg than the one we normally think of.

TN: It’s helpful. Also, it seems that maybe a decade letter, we have ideas of Judeo-Christianity, or the Judeo-Christian heritage as moves away from a kind of ideology of, let’s call it Semitism, where Jews are seen as a distinct limb within the West, to something that’s part of a greater, a greater Western whole.

EB: Sure, that kind of broader shift. There’s this move toward pluralism as an affirmative Allied value, which Wendy Wall has analyzed so well in her Inventing the American Way. You think of something like the wartime buddy movie, where there’s an Italian, an Irishman, and so on in the foxhole. And all of this is set up to counter this vision of the Third Reich, of ethnic homogeneity. But then you see some of our historical actors in say, the US Office of War Information, putting the brakes on when it comes to race, resulting in awkward teachable moments like the film “A Welcome to Britain,” which basically suggests that white servicemen shelve their prejudices for the time being.

TN: This reminds me of a conversation I had with Adam Tooze for the Toynbee Prize Foundation last autumn. A point he really emphasizes in The Deluge is that Wilson was very nervous, at least in his telling, of bringing the US into the war, because of this sense that assimilating these Italians, these Irish, etc., was so urgent. And by the 1940s, now, in your telling, this assimilated Irishman can be presented as an achievement rather than a challenge. Does this embrace of American pluralism look different in the Tokyo Trials? Does this change, do you think, when they are judging non-Europeans?

EB: Well, there’s an even bigger gap between what happens at the Tokyo Trial and US public interest in terms of attentiveness to that trial. I think there is a greater support among the US public, a la John Dower, in terms of wanting just to hang everyone. As draconian as that sounds, if you think of how little debate there was relatively recently about simply assassinating Osama bin Laden versus putting him on trial, it was closer to that kind of atmosphere. Now, obviously, bin Laden was part of an ongoing enterprise, as opposed to the end of World War II in Germany and Japan, where the war was definitively over. But there wasn’t a great deal of scrutiny of the trial device in a Japanese context, more like a collective shrug around the idea that “if MacArthur thinks this will make Japan more governable, then, great.”

TN: Could you talk about the current architecture of the Nuremberg book? Could you describe what the arc of this book will be for us?

EB: Well, as a consumer I was never able to find the one book I really wanted to read about Nuremberg, which would be a treatment about where some of these ideas and concepts came from, or at least different kinds of origin stories — not just Hersch Lauterpacht having Sunday lunch with Robert H. Jackson – and then would take these ideas through the postwar era to see how they would play out.

I had conducted enough research for my first project to see “crimes against humanity” as a late 19th century concept, that there was an important iteration and distillation in the late 19th century, just as Peter Holquist and others have been arguing. And Geoffrey Robinson will probably come and point to an instance in the 15th century, and how Louis XVI was tried for “the crime against humanity” which was tyranny, so I definitely get it that the locution was older.

It was interesting to me that our historical actors in the 1940s rely on the 1899 Hague Conventions as a direct precedent, but they don’t discuss anything earlier, and they don’t even discuss documents coming out of the Armenian Genocide that use the term crimes against humanity, even though some of these papers were British. These New Deal lawyers and others seem to think that they are massaging the Hague concepts from 1899 to help international law “make progress.” It was only the more granular archival research from basically 1942-44 that enabled me to see a shift taking place beyond the legal plane.

TN: And it seems that for the purpose of this chapter, you are coming back to Shklar, in that you are not just the legal brain in the jar, judging about reality, but you’re in this world of people with head colds and bronchitis in London, arguing, messily, about concepts.

EB: Yes, that’s the chapter I’ll be workshopping today. But then there’s the question of how far to take it up chronologically in the book as a whole. Because today crimes against humanity features very prominently in the ICC’s Rome Statute, and Saddam Hussein was tried for crimes against humanity, as was Radovan Karadic. For now it seems as if the UN promulgation of the “Responsibility to Protect” in 2004-5 seems like a reasonable place to stop. One book can’t be about everything!

TN: Indeed, 1880s to 2004.

EB: Not exactly the longue duree, but still quite a big chunk of time, especially as compared to my first book, which focused on 1941 to 1946. Of course not every episode can be as detailed as it in this particular chapter. But there are certainly moments where I zero in. The Eichmann trial is one, for example, when Hannah Arendt argues that there is a mistaken focus on “crimes against the Jewish people” rather than crimes against humanity, and the controversy that flowed from her analysis. Where is the book that puts all thirteen Nuremberg trials together with Eichmann? A book that would cover the Nuremberg story, but take these nineteenth century events seriously, as well as analyzing the postwar unfolding. So I find myself writing the book I always wanted to read myself.

TN: Well, I guess to begin to bring this to a close, someone today might look at the ICC and say, “Why is it that the USA was so vociferous in creating a criminal court at Nuremberg, and today there’s little interest in international criminal law.” So, a very presentist question, but what do you think are the lessons that one can draw from this earlier moment of deep US investment in international criminal legal institutions, versus our present moment of disinvestment?

EB: Yes, at certain junctures we see the U.S. building and reinforcing institutions and norms, and then at other times flaunting them or undermining them. But to me it seems kind of unsurprising that superpowers would try to construe their self-interest in a self-interested way. What does seem surprising is that the U.S. did it at all, and that the gap between what was going on at Nuremberg and what people thought was important, namely the prosecution of aggression, and what was important later, turned out to be so wide. There was a huge gap between what contemporaries thought Nuremberg was about and what we think it’s about now.

TN: As you have been writing this project, are there any inklings of what you would like to work on for future projects?

EB: Yes, definitely! Initially, some folks labeled my work “ambitious,” usually as shorthand for “where does a graduate student get off thinking she can write about these big, sweeping topics?” Believe me, “ambitious” in that context was not a compliment. Now, I have young scholars come up to me who say, wow, it’s so great that you work on these huge projects; it encouraged me to cast my net more widely. Look at these superstar scholars like Adam Tooze —how can you write a single book about World War I? It’s clearly possible, and it’s important, I think, especially post-tenure, to have a project with a big chronological and analytical sweep, and for me that’s Nuremberg Idea.

For the next project, it will definitely be something more bounded, a short monograph about corporate responsibility for human rights abuses, with a focus on the 1980s, from which I’ve already started publishing articles. I have a number of projects underway post-Nuremberg Idea and they are all much more bounded! I have a co-edited volume on Grand Strategy, with Andrew Preston and Christopher Nichols, and an article on sovereignty which focuses on the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. Also a collection of human rights essays with Penn Press, because so many of them have been published in law reviews or edited volumes, and are somewhat difficult to find.

The corporate human rights abuse project is really exciting terrain for me – a number of the earliest arguments about group versus individual responsibility are being made at Nuremberg, actually, at the Nuremberg Industrialists’ Trials. There’s a great deal I could do with the industrialists’ trials on their own, to say nothing of their postwar legacies, which in the U.S. case is the transformation of the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The idea sometimes shocks people, where with Exxon in Indonesia, or Chevron in Nigeria, in certain circumstances you can have foreigners suing U.S. companies in federal court for human rights violations. This kind of transnational litigation has not yet been properly historicized. I think this is the case because historians think it will be too technical, and then lawyers don’t care about analyzing it historically, so very few scholars look at the Alien Tort Claims Act outside of a given contemporary controversy.

TN: This reminds me of the work of Toynbee interviewee Daniel Immerwahr, who writes about these debates around the group, the corporation, if you like, as a scale of human sociability.

EB: I admire his work very much. I also like the work of [the Princeton philosopher] Philip Pettit, too, on how groups make decisions.

TN: What books have you been reading recently with an international or global bent that have really stuck with you?

EB: Well, certainly Susan Pedersen’s book, which I reviewed for the Journal of American History. I am also a huge fan of Isabel Hull’s work, particularly her most recent book, A Scrap of Paper, on World I era public international law. I love their richly archival treatment of legal issues and of the history of international relations. That’s more of a niche area than you might think, at least outside of the U.K. You have figures like Isaiah Berlin in the British tradition, but today I don’t think that even Berlin or Hannah Arendt could get a job in a U.S. political science department today. There are exceptions – Ira Katznelson, John Ikenberry, and Michael Barnett on humanitarianism. I am a huge fan of political scientists and legal scholars who use archives, as well as historians who cross over into political or legal theory.

This is an exciting moment where History Departments are explaining to the wider academy that Global History or International Intellectual History is actually something different than what used to be called “Area Studies.” You have excellent books in this category that just don’t get enough attention, such as Anne Kornhauser’s Debating the American State, Benjamin CoatesLegalist Empire, and Stephen Porter’s Benevolent Empire.

I’m also interested in work that is experimenting with other, less academic approaches, such as Philippe SandsEast-West Street, which combines biography and family memoir, and which I’m reviewing now for Boston Review. And I’m reading some classic works of Grand Strategy, to help conceptualize how that field might expand into areas such as international public health, women’s roles in development, and human rights.

It should hardly surprise readers from the above that Borgwardt’s visit later the same afternoon to the Harvard International and Global History Seminar, led by Professors Erez Manela and Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee David Armitage, attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd. Like us, many of the attendees were interested to discuss with Borgwardt how she intends to reconcile the granular detail that her archival finds allow her to provide on figures like Herbert Pell and Adolph Berle with the broad chronological scope of her intellectual biography of “the Nuremberg Idea.” Likewise, there remains open the question of how one can actually track the traffic in ideas between the European governments-in-exile in London and figures like Berle, Lauterpacht, and Robert Jackson.

Borgwardt noted that foreign language skills were helping her to better document the transnational intellectual history of “crimes against humanity,” and that U.S. in the World as a subfield can only be strengthened by additional multilingual, multiarchival scholarship and transdisciplinary inquiry. She noted that there is exciting work in progress by Francine Hirsch about how the Soviets understood and contributed to public international law that will also shed a different light on the proceedings.

As Borgwardt’s achievement in A New Deal for the World has shown, there are few scholars of international history better able to weave together meaty archival work and abstract legal theory and combine it with compelling analysis in an engaging narrative. We thank Professor Borgwardt for agreeing to be interviewed on her research agenda, and we know that we are not alone in following The Nuremberg Idea as it approaches print.

The 2017 Toynbee Prize Lecture – “Arnold Toynbee and the Problems of Today”

Did you miss the Toynbee Prize Lecture at this year’s American Historical Association Annual Meeting? Or did our recap of Jürgen Osterhammel’s Prize Lecture leave you curious to see the full address?

Thanks to the generosity of Professor Osterhammel, we are able to make available the full text of the 2017 Toynbee Prize Lecture, “Arnold Toynbee and the Problems of Today.” Additionally, readers may also read Toynbee Prize Foundation President Dominic Sachsenmaier‘s introductory remarks for Professor Osterhammel’s Lecture:

Readers interested in past Toynbee Prize Lectures may also wish to view Dipesh Chakrabarty’s 2015 Prize Lecture, also held at the AHA Annual Meeting.