De-Segregating International Relations: A Conversation with Robert Vitalis on “White World Order, Black Power Politics”

If you’ve been following the news about race-related campus protests this academic year, it can sometimes be hard to keep them straight. In the autumn, students at Yale’s Silliman College demanded the removal of a College Master following his wife’s e-mail to students encouraging students to use their own judgment when it came to potentially insensitive Halloween costumes, rather than following guidelines issued by Yale administrators. In the winter, students at Oberlin College, a liberal arts college in Ohio, issued a sweeping manifesto to the President demanding significant investment in African and African-American Studies as well as the appointment of more black faculty members. And this spring, students at Princeton University occupied the President’s office to demand the removal of former U.S. (and Princeton University) President Woodrow Wilson’s name from the university’s public policy school. Those demands led to the removal of a “celebratory” mural from the wall of a residential college also named after Wilson, but visitors to the New Jersey campus will still find themselves walking by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

These debates about how American universities today deal with race – whether they should scrub buildings of the names of white supremacists, or invest more in programs in African-American Studies and professionalization programs for faculty of color – are unlikely to end anytime soon. However, as the work of our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Robert Vitalis (University of Pennsylvania), suggests, the very structure of these debates may obscure an important history in the making of universities and the structure of academic knowledge today. While coming to terms with the racist legacy of individual Presidents or college donors may be a necessary task, as Vitalis shows in his new book, White World Order, Black Power Politics. In it, he shows that race was actually quite core to many disciplines, but especially international relations of the kind taught at the Wilson School and sister institutions in the United States long before African-American protest movements challenged existing structures of power.

Robert Vitalis "White World Order, Black Power Politics" (Cornell UP, 2015), the book at the center of our conversation with Professor Robert Vitalis
Robert Vitalis “White World Order, Black Power Politics” (Cornell UP, 2015), the book at the center of our conversation with Professor Robert Vitalis

To put Vitalis’ argument most provocatively, for many decades, the “international” in “international relations” was synonymous with “interracial.” And while many individual scholars of international relations, and other disciplines, held racist views, this obscures the larger point that the discipline of international relations itself was itself centrally concerned with race relations – meaning, how to manage the relationship of the supposedly superior white race around the world with “Negros” everywhere from the tropics of African to the alleys of Harlem. Textbooks on “international relations” discussed colonial policy in the same chapter as debates about mulattos and the anatomy of black prisoners. In other words, debates over whether or not to retain or remove the name of a Woodrow Wilson from a school of public policy barely begin to get at what a critique of academic disciplines informed by race would look like. Even if temples of learning named after Wilson and John Calhoun are eventually renamed, the curricula taught within them remains awaiting serious scrutiny of its racially entangled past.

It might sound like a big case to make–especially for those whose memories of International Relations 101 classes are marked more by moments of dozing off in between the Melian Dialogue of Thucydides and Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War. But by and large, Vitalis succeeds at his task. To find out why, the Executive Director of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, Dr. Timothy Nunan, recently sat down with Vitalis to discuss his road to writing the book, the book itself, and his journey as a political scientist into the worlds of intellectual history and African-American history. Continue reading

How Did Water Connect the World? An Interview with David Igler on Pacific and Environmental History

The Pacific is an area largely understudied by historians, yet it is “an ocean covering more than a third of the Earth’s surface” and has “over 25,000 islands”, to borrow the words of the late Australian historian Greg Dening.  In the past thirty years or so, a growing number of historians have shifted their attention to the Pacific.  This includes such well-known scholars as Greg Dening, Anne Salmond, Gregory T. Cushman and Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee David Armitage.

Our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Professor David Igler, numbers among the dozens of scholars who believe that the importance of Pacific Ocean and significance of environmental history.  David Bruce Igler is a historian of the American West , President of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and Professor of History and currently Chair of History Department at the University of California, Irvine.

Professor Igler, a graduate of UC Berkeley, began his academic career as a U.S. historian specializing in the American West and environmental history.  After publishing his book Industrial Cowboys: Miller and Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850-1920, he decided to explore the waterscape and regions west of the West, namely, the Pacific Ocean.  This research has consumed him for the past decade.  The product is, The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

The prize-winning monograph draws on hundreds of documented voyages, some painstakingly recorded by participants, some only known by their archeological remains or indigenous memory.  This leads to a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following the initial contact period, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.   Do industrial development and environmental transformation often happened in the same time?  What makes Professor Igler shift from American history to Pacific history?   Can humans have a dialogue with the Ocean? Professor Igler and Tiger Li, Editor-at-Large for the Toynbee Prize Foundation, discuss these questions in the following interview.

Professor David Igler, professor of history at UC Irvine and author of "The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush."
Professor David Igler, professor of history at UC Irvine and author of “The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.”

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Global History as Past and Future: A Conversation with Sebastian Conrad on “What Is Global History?”

It’s a common question that teachers of global history face. We belong to one of the most quickly-moving, contested, and changing subfields within the historical profession, and the travel schedules on many of our dockets—Istanbul one week, Tokyo the next—make our colleagues who slave away in the same provincial state archive blush. The years spent learning foreign languages begin to pay off, as one can not only read the newspaper but also foreign colleagues’ peer review comments on an article scheduled for publication in this or that journal. Life, it seems, is good.

But when it comes time to teach global history as a field, one hesitates. For audiences of graduate students, of course, it’s possible to follow the tactic of assigning a pile of monographs bringing global history perspectives to different regions of the planet: China the one week, the Gambia the next. But how to put it all together into one common language that speaks to the Americanists and the East Asianists in one seminar? Worse yet: how to teach this all to undergraduate audiences for whom the monograph approach would incite revolt?

Sebastian Conrad's "What Is Global History" (Princeton University Press, 2016), the subject of this latest installment of the Global History Forum
Sebastian Conrad’s “What Is Global History” (Princeton University Press, 2016), the subject of this latest installment of the Global History Forum

Fortunately, as we’ve noted in earlier installments of the Global History Forum, scholars of global history who formerly had to throw their hands up in response to this dilemma increasingly have at their disposal an array of good introductory works to the field. One might only think of the work of Diego Olstein, for a recent work in just this niche in English, or, for German-speaking audiences, a 2011 book that fills the same need by Austrian economic historian (and former TPF interviewee) Andrea Komlosy. At the field grows and becomes more sophisticated, though, so, too, are the options for introductory texts expanding. One of such works constitutes the focus of this installment of the Global History Forum, namely the aptly-titled What Is Global History? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016) by Professor Sebastian Conrad, the Chair in Modern History at the Free University of Berlin.

Billed as a “problem-oriented” approach to global history that provides much-needed criticism and pauses alongside enthusiasm, Conrad’s What Is Global History? appears at just the right time for a field in much need of explaining itself to students—and to critically interrogating its own limits. Recently, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan had the chance to speak with Professor Conrad to discuss his recent book and what he sees as the biggest challenges facing the field as it matures and grows in years ahead. Continue reading

The Emancipators: A Conversation with Amalia Ribi Forclaz on The Politics of Anti-Slavery Movements and European International History

When did slavery end? For American or British readers of the Global History Forum, the answer to this question, at least answered within the framework of their respective countries, is easy. Human chattel slavery ended in the United States, we are told, in 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, while the more enlightened British abolished slavery within the British Empire in 1833.

Yet globally, the phenomenon of chattel slavery (humans-as-property) and related forms of exploitation, like sex trafficking or the trafficking of children of course persisted long after slavery was abolished in Britain and the United States. Slavery is today illegal in every country in the world, but modern anti-slavery organizations reckon that there are still at least 10 to 30 million people in the world who are owned by other humans, to say nothing of much larger numbers of persons de facto enslaved through some form of debt bondage (itself legally abolished in much of the world, but still present). We may regard slavery through black and white images of plantation labor, in short, but slavery remains a big business today, with estimated global activity amounting to $35 billion, more wealth than half of all countries existent today.

Slavery must end—try finding someone who disagrees with this. But as Amalia Ribi Forclaz shows in her new book, Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Anti-Slavery Activism 1880-1940, the distance between ambition and reality, not to mention the thorny political questions that the move to eliminate slavery everywhere in the planet raises, is not new. As Ribi shows in her book, late 19th and early 20th century activists were united, too, on the need to eliminate slavery in the world, especially in the African continent for which so many Europeans were scrambling at the time. By the 1920s and 1930s, the campaign against slavery in Africa brought together Catholics and Protestants, Britons and Italians, liberals and fascists, and many others, and found serious institutional backing both through the League of Nations and European states committed to the cause.

Amalia Ribi's Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Anti-Slavery Activism, 1880-1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
Amalia Ribi’s Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Anti-Slavery Activism, 1880-1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

By the late 1930s, however, the international movement had fractured over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia—remembered in retrospect as a breakdown of the League’s collective security function, but justified by both Italian Duce Benito Mussolini and many an anti-slavery activist in terms of eliminating slavery in that independent African kingdom. The dream of a world without slaves captured the imagination of many, but, as Ribi shows, it raised intractable questions about the place of European humanitarian action in a world that would be not only post-slavery, but also post-colonial.

We were pleased to connect with Ribi, who is an Assistant Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, over the phone recently to discuss her new book, its lessons, and its relevance to a world in which slavery remains—as an economic phenomenon and moral outrage, if not to the same mobilizing extent it did during the years that Ribi’s research focuses on. How did this waxing and waning take place, and what might it tell us about the history of humanitarianism? These and other questions were on our mind as we spoke with Amalia for this installment of the Global History Forum. Continue reading

Putting the Margin in the Center: Discussing Transnational and Australian History with Professor Fiona Paisley

Fiona Paisley was born in Scotland, but she received her university training in Australia. Based in Brisbane, Australia, she is currently a Professor in the History Program at Griffith University. Our latest guest to the Global History Forum, Fiona Paisley, specializes in international history. Her work is about internationalism, settler colonialism, gender and race in the first half of the twentieth century, from an Australian perspective. Professor Paisley won a Magarey Medal for her biography of Anthony Martin Fernando, an Aboriginal protestor who lived for the second half of his life outside of Australia. The book is called The Lone Protestor: AM Fernando in Australia and London. Professor Paisley and Tiger Li, an Editor-at-Large at the Toynbee Prize Foundation, discuss that book in the second half of our interview.

Tiger Li (TL): Professor Paisley, when did you get interested in history?

Fiona Paisley (FP): Looking back gives me the opportunity to think about why I was interested in history from childhood. I spent my first school years in England, and I do remember as a child feeling that history was all around me. Coming to Australia made me realise that “deep time history” is everywhere about us as well, even if the traces are harder to see. The relationship between the distant and more recent pasts of occupation dawned slowly for me as a young adolescent in a settler society like Australia. By the time I was working on my PhD, I started to see more clearly the connections between British colonialism and settler societies and I used my interest in history to try to understand better what it means to be a settler colonial and thus implicated in that ongoing process.

Professor Fiona Paisley (Griffith University), our latest guest to the Global History Forum
Professor Fiona Paisley (Griffith University), our latest guest to the Global History Forum

TL: Did you have a transnational perspective from a very young age?

FP: For a long time, global or imperial history  positioned Australia at the margins. Transnational history has allowed us to put the margin into the centre. Being new to Australia as a young person gave me an outsider’s perspective;  I found that studying transnational or world history from Australian perspective is a good way to reframe my approach to global history. Moreover, thinking about perspective and location  through your own biography can help reveal connections between places and times otherwise overlooked, veiled, or forgotten. I guess it can be helpful if you move around a lot as you grow up. You feel you are not so much a member of one particular nation or national story but find yourself affiliated with many different places.

TL: I think it is something that I really understand, because I do not feel I belong to anywhere, either. I sometimes feel I am a global citizen. Maybe you can belong to more than one place.

FP: There are many ways to reframe what we mean by history through the transnational approach. On the other hand, simply moving around is not in itself an enlightening experience. In the end, you have to take responsibilities for where you are. And for the historian, that means working in the archives. Continue reading

City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel

Paris, nous t’aimons! For centuries, foreigners have come to Paris with the expectation of reinventing themselves, finding inspiration on the Left Bank, or simply being bowled over by what was–once if not now–the European cultural capital par excellence. For decades after American writer Ernest Hemingway spent a much-mythologized few years in the French capital, wannabe writers would frequently waste a few years moving from café to café along the Seine in hopes of making their prose more like that of Hemingway’s, or indeed other writers from the Lost Generation. Today, as a burgeoning East Asian middle class seeks to explore the City of Lights, the institution of the stay in Paris has taken on new dimensions, as Japanese and Chinese tourists reportedly suffer from “Paris Syndrome,” whereby an exaggerated, romanticized view of the French metropole quickly gives way to the reality of cigarette butts, push Parisiens on the Metro, and–in lieu of Maxim’s–the encroachment of le Big Mac onto the French diet, if not also waistline.

Michael Goebel's "Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism"
Michael Goebel’s “Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism”

Paris, in short, defiantly challenges the stereotypes that both travelers East and West so readily project upon it. But as the work of Michael Goebel, Professor of Global and Latin American History at the Freie Universität Berlin and the latest guest to the Global History Forum, shows, scraping off the romantic stereotypes attached like barnacles to the banks of the Seine might make not only for a more realistic engagement with what remains a great city, but also with the history of the emergence of the “Third World.” For as Goebel shows in his new book, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism, Paris has long played host to a rather different cast of characters than the romantic writers of the 1920s, or the stick-figure models imagined to inhabit the city by so many Asian tourists. More compellingly, during the 1920s and 1930s, Paris played host to an astounding array of intellectuals who would go on to lead national liberation and Communist movements around the Global South in the decades to come. Some of them, like Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, are familiar to almost everyone; others, like George Padmore, César Vallejo, and Messali Hadj, perhaps less so, even if they, too, played a fundamental role in the making of African, Peruvian, and Algerian history. During the interwar years, Goebel shows in his tightly argued book, published by the Global and International History Series of Cambridge University Press this fall, Paris became a crucial incubator for different models of anti-colonial confrontation that would reshape the world in decades to come.

Recently, Goebel made a visit to Harvard University to present his work at the Harvard International and Global History Seminar. Before the talk, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director (and fellow author in the International and Global History Series that Anti-Imperial Metropolis appears in) Timothy Nunan sat down with him to discuss the making of the book and his future plans as he seeks to integrate not only the history of metropole and colony, but also–as we find out in the conversation–of social and intellectual history. Continue reading

Chinese, Christian, Global: Discussing Chinese Popular Histories with Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye

The Republican Period (1911-1949) was an extremely important period for modern China. During this time, China was often politically divided, while there was no strong central government. Meanwhile, however, people in China enjoyed relative cultural, social, and religious freedom. Some people became Communists, while others converted into Christianity. Although China was generally seen as a weak and poor country by people in the West in the first half of twentieth century, some ordinary Chinese  people grew increasingly aware of China’s position in the world. Among them, Chinese Christians played important roles as they could act as bridges between people in China and the outside world. Chinese Christians became more aware of the global situation, since they often enjoyed international networks.

Scholars often study Chinese church leaders, and their institutional structure, but we know little about Chinese Christians’ life experience at an everyday level. That’s where the research of our latest featured scholar on the Global History Forum comes in. Based at the University of Auckland, Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye seeks to enhance our understanding of social and cultural histories of China by studying Chinese ordinary people and in particular Chinese Christians in the first half of the twentieth century. Her research suggests that many Chinese Christians were increasingly aware of the global affairs and China’s position in the world during this early twentieth century conjuncture. How, then, did Chinese converts view the place of the Chinese nation in the world? How did they perceive events like the Great War? Like the partial disintegration of European empires following that conflict? And how were the egalitarian ideals of Christianity reconcilable with a world that still spoke the language of “yellow perils” and which often limited the circulation of Chinese into the “white man’s world” of European, North American, and Oceanian spaces?

Dr. Melissa Inouye, our guest to this latest installment of the Global History Forum
Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, our guest to this latest installment of the Global History Forum

These are some of the questions that Toynbee Prize Foundation Editor-at-Large Tiger Li discusses with Inouye in the interview that follows. In it, he discusses Inouye’s initial road from her upbringing in Costa Mesa, California to her undergraduate education at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as her graduate studies at Harvard University, where she completed her dissertation in 2011, writing about the history of the True Jesus Church and the history of charismatic Christian modes in China in the twentieth century. You might not be familiar with the True Jesus Church, but as one of the largest Christian denominations in the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan today (1.5 million members), it merits attention both as a matter of current affairs and intellectual history. Inspired by Pentecostalism, the True Jesus Church is also of interest for scholars of Christianity insofar as it forms the largest branch of Oneness Pentecostalism in the world. (In contrast to mainstream Christian doctrine, which stresses the trinitarian nature of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit, churches like the True Jesus Church stress the indivisible nature of God and the idea that Jesus Christ is the sole manifestation of God’s personhood.) Lest we move too far away from history to theology, however, let us jump into the conversation between Inouye and Li to learn how this movement fits into an emerging wave of scholarship on China in the world and transnational religious movements.

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From Swadeshi to GDP: Discussing India’s Paths to Development With Corinna Unger

India, or so the geopolitical soothsayers tell us these days, is on the rise. Soon to be the world’s most populous country, since liberalization in the early 1990s, the South Asian giant has seen rates of economic growth that approach China’s. And while regional frozen conflicts like Kashmir, internal guerilla movements, and the decades-long rivalry with nuclear Pakistan do not leave New Delhi with a no-problems neighborhood, India has mostly managed to avoid troubling its neighbors too much. With an aggressively re-assured nationalist Prime Minister in Narendra Modi and with aspirations of, someday, becoming a upper-income country, seeming less far fetched than in a long time, India appears to have escaped the centuries-long reputation of being a place of hunger and famine.

For those days are not far removed. As scholars have shown, not only was the late British period marked by deadly combinations of market forces and climatic event that devastated Indian farmers; as late as 1943, the Bengal Famine wiped out three million people in eastern India. After independence from the British in 1947, independent India’s leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru made it a point to turn the agrarian nation into an industrial country, turning to outside powers like the United States, the Soviet Union, West Germany, and others, to build turnkey steel plants. At the same time, as we have seen in early Toynbee Prize Foundation interviews, agriculture and the transformation of Indian communities formed a crucial arena of developmental politicking, too. India had global significance, too, for not only was it seen as a crucial “swing player” in a Cold War world seen as threatened by a massive Communist Bloc; more than that, the sheer size and scale of the place made it a gigantic laboratory for various models of economic development often first pioneered in the Global North.

Corinna Unger’s “Entwicklungspfade in Indien. Eine internationale Geschichte, 1947-1980”, the focus of this installment of the Global History Forum.  Pictured on the cover of the book is a road-building project in the Punjab in 1958.

Still, as Cold War diplomatic archives have opened their doors only recently–and as historians have also only relatively recently recognized the quest for socioeconomic development as a legitimate object of study–our knowledge of how undeveloped nations became “developed,” or “developed” themselves remains clouded. Until, that is, a book like Corinna Unger’s Entwicklungspfade in Indien. Eine internationale Geschichte (Developmental Paths in India: An International History) appears. In her book, published this year with the Wallstein Verlag, Unger, a Professor of History at the Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, explores India’s engagement of foreign expertise (especially that of the United States and West Germany) from 1947 to 1980.

More than diving further chronologically into the history of development than many works, Unger’s work sets itself apart from much of the historiography by showing how many macro-narratives of development, like the Green Revolution or the perception of urban slums as spaces of rural-to-urban economic transition, emerged during the years after the romance of steel plants and hydroelectric dams lost its luster. Based on exhaustive research across multiple continents, Unger’s work sheds a light into the international history of development–and into the biography of an Indian state and economy that now looks, less nervously in the past but still not without anxiety, towards “growth,” “modernization,” and “development” as key markers of the nation’s progress. We had the chance recently to sit down with Professor Unger to discuss some of the themes in her recent work–and how she came to it in the first place. Continue reading

Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on the League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire

Travel to the shores of Lake Geneva, disembark from your ferry or catamaran onto the narrow streets of bourgeois Geneva, and take one of the Swiss city’s speedy trams up the hill to your north, and you won’t be able to miss it: there, at the end of one of the tram lines, sits the massive compound of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), housed in the majestic Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations), one of the largest buildings in Europe. Fluttering in front of it (next to the gate for UN employees passing into the complex) are the 193 flags of all members of the United Nations, from founding members like the United States, Great Britain, or France, to newer member-states like South Sudan or Kosovo–all flying at equal heights and equally spaced out along four grand rows.

And yet this current arrangement of things in Geneva–and international order writ large–is quite new. The Palais des Nations, today home to meetings for UN organizations, was originally built as the headquarters for the now-defunct League of Nations, the interwar system of international governance that today (where it is remembered) is probably most associated with failing to keep the peace of Versailles and not having the United States of America as a member. Had one flown the flags of the nation-states of the day in front of the Palais following its opening, however, the number of flags would have been much, much smaller, with Africa and Asia barely represented. And as the maps that hang in the elegant Reading Room of the League’s Archives (themselves in a wing of the Palais) remind us, most of the world’s population then who was not Chinese lived not in nation-states, but in empires–in the British and French Empires, to be specific.

During our brief stroll around Geneva and the Palais des Nations, in short, we find traces of two very different international systems of statehood–empires and nation-states–that nonetheless intersect at this particular piece of very pricey real estate above the waves of Lake Geneva. But how could one tell this story in a more specific way? What was the processual glue between the world of empires that the League of Nations belonged to, and the world of normative statehood, political decolonization, and nation-states that we inhabit today? More than that, to what extent was the League of Nations not only captive to, or affected by these shifts in international order, but actually facilitative of those shifts themselves?

The cover of Susan Pedersen's new book, "The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire"
The cover of Susan Pedersen’s new book, “The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire”

These are just some of the questions treated in Susan Pedersen‘s recent book, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). In it, Pedersen, the James B. Shenton Professor of the Core Curriculum at Columbia University, explores the history of the League of Nation’s Permanent Mandates Commission, the body assigned to oversee and monitor territories from Burundi to Baghdad and from Tanganyika to Togo.

While most readers’ perceptions of the League of Nations may still center around the presumptive “failure” of that international organization to prevent war in Europe, Pedersen takes a different tack in The Guardians, focusing on the League of Nations mandates system and its effects on international order during the interwar period. As she shows, following the First World War, new international norms of Wilsonian self-determination–and the Bolsheviks’ critique of capitalist war–made it difficult for the victorious British and French Empires simply to swallow territories like ex-Ottoman Iraq, Syria or Palestine, or ex-German territories in Africa or Oceania. Given “the strenuous conditions of the modern world,” as Article 22 of the League of Nations’ Covenant explained, less developed peoples needed tutelage from the more advanced European powers. Captured German or Ottoman territories would have to be governed according to international and humanitarian norms: managed by the powers that were occupying them at the end of the War, but subject to international oversight in the form of a Permanent Mandates Commission in Geneva (itself staffed mostly by white men from imperialist powers).Mandated territories could be treated as provisionally independent nations (Class A–the Middle Eastern territories), in need of more tutelage but not to be administered as part of the Mandating Powers’ colonial territories (Class B–German Africa, other than South West Africa), and territories “best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory” (Class C–South West Africa, plus postcolonial Oceania).

Yet the question of what, exactly the difference was between a mandated territory and a colony would haunt the system throughout the interwar period. If the Mandates were explicitly something other than colonies, when, exactly, would they be ready for independent statehood, or at the very least open to international competition for goods and services? As the British and French violently suppressed revolts in the Middle East, and the South Africans treated South West Africa more or less like a colony, the legitimacy of the system grew shakier. And when Germany was admitted into the League of Nations in 1926, Berlin joined a chorus of protestors and petitioners from around the world who claimed self-government as preferable to trusteeship. In some cases, like that of Iraq, the Mandating Powers found that the “internationalization” of their administration of these post-colonial territories so burdensome that declaring them fit for statehood (as happened to Iraq in 1932) and “merely” contenting oneself with economic and military hegemony over a pliant client state was preferable to facing nagging charges in Geneva.

Decolonization avant la lettre it was not: the French and British Empires remained in control of their colonial holdings, and the entrance of states like Iraq into the League of Nations on British terms was an affair quite different from the mass entry of former British and French colonies into the UN’s General Assembly decades later. But the mandates system–designed as an alternative to cutthroat imperialistic competition and expansion–had ironically opened up new concepts of normative statehood that would take on a life of their own. A system originally designed to help colonial empire collaborate over the spoils of war became the site of new kinds of claims for government after empire. Replete with both conservative defenders of norms of civilization and tutelage, like Frederick Lugard, and the thousands of petitioners from Samoa to Palestine who sought to claim some version of self-government for themselves, The Guardians presents not only a rich tableau of the new kinds of international actors that sprung up during the interwar years; more than that, it uncovers a hitherto-hidden story of the battle over international norms about sovereignty and statehood that continue, from South Sudan to Kosovo to Ukraine, to play a fundamental role in international politics today.

The Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Executive Director, Timothy Nunan, was fortunate to have the chance to sit down with Professor Pedersen during a very hot summer day in Berlin and to discuss her path to writing The Guardians, some of the key findings of her work, and her intellectual plans for the near future.

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A Global History Primer: Discussing “Thinking History Globally” with Diego Olstein

As you read this post in the summer of 2015, the discipline of history is decades into a global turn. Rare is the historian whose work does not aim, or at least claim, to transcend boundaries national, regional, or linguistic. The days of “methodological nationalism” appear to be behind us, then, but the specifics of how we do what comes next are not always clear. True, a booming literature guides us through the ins and outs of different approaches: world, global, trans-national histories; histories of familiar nationally-defined units as a “nation among nations,” or histories that go beyond the chronological boundaries within which nations or linguistic communities have historically existed. But where is the professional historian–or, more commonly, the student–to go if she wants to grasp the full “menu”of possibilities that the global turn brings to historians as a whole? Until recently, teachers had few such resources.

“Thinking History Globally,” the most recent book by recent TPF Global History Forum guest Diego Olstein (University of Pittsburgh)

Until recently, that is, thanks to a welcome recent book by the University of Pittsburgh’s Diego Olstein, an Associate Professor in the Department since 2011 and the author of Thinking History Globally, published this spring by Palgrave MacMillan. In the book, Olstein, a specialist on medieval Spain and world history, outlines the many ways in which historians today compare, connect, conceptualize and contextualize their subjects beyond pre-existing boundaries of national communities, linguistic boundaries, or pre-defined regions. No mere encyclopedia of global history approaches–Olstein limits his bestiary to twelve kinds–Thinking History Globally also provides readers with applied examples of how these approaches and cognitive patterns might actually be applied to different subjects. More than an entertaining read, the book is thus of great use for the professor or TA confronted with the question of, for example, what it actually means to write the First World War “in a global context.”

No mere bookworm, however, Olstein and his journey to the field at all remind us of the ways in which historians’ lives and careers today are themselves the product of global networks and the trans-national receptions of historical experiences. In Olstein’s case in particular, this means a journey through the worlds of the Jewish diaspora in authoritarian Argentina, the intellectual horizons offered by Israeli academia, the experiences of researching medieval Spain, and, finally, Olstein’s current home, Pittsburgh. Let us follow Olstein’s own global intellectual journey before diving into his most useful recent work, Thinking History Globally. Continue reading