Revolution in Context: An Interview with Justin du Rivage

Revolution Against Empire featuring detail from “The Anti-Stamp-Act” (Yale University Press)

The American Revolution is the keystone of the US national story and so its origins have garnered much attention from American historians. But to what extent were the Revolution’s causes imperial, transnational, or even global in nature? Justin du Rivage’s new book Revolution Against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence (Yale University Press, 2017) makes a powerful argument that competing ideologies of sovereignty developed on both sides of the Atlantic. In this wider context, it becomes clear that 1776 did not erupt from a divide between “British” and “American”, but from the clash between establishment, authoritarian, and radical ideologies of governance and reform.

Author Justin du Rivage (Justin du Rivage)

Justin du Rivage received his PhD from Yale. He previously taught American history at Stanford and currently works as a consultant. We recently spoke with Dr. du Rivage from his London home about the book, crossing historiographical boundaries, and his thoughts on moving between academia and the private sector.

Elizabeth C. Libero

Writing Global Ecological History ‘From Below’: An Interview with Gregory Cushman

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Greg Cushman, Associate Professor of International Environmental History, University of Kansas.  Photo: Brian Hamilton 

To further our understanding of the development of industrial capitalism over the past two centuries Greg Cushman claims, we need to write histories ‘from below,’ in two senses: first, we need to write histories that consider not just those who ‘invented the steam engine’, but those which trace the origins of the steam engine’s parts (material and intellectual) wherever across the globe that leads us – often far beyond the ‘Global North’. Second, we need to investigate our planetary history below the earth’s surface. Lithospheric history Cushman calls it. That entails researching the history of rock and mineral extraction from the lithosphere and tracking the movement, use, transformation and impact of those materials upon humanity and the earth’s environment over millennia. He also claims that it entails taking elemental history seriously, that is, historicising the relationship between humankind’s understanding of the extraction and application of a chemical element or compound upon the earth’s environment. These trajectories are big and bold and they challenge forms of disciplinary knowledge historians presume they should master, but they’re exactly the type of interdisciplinary lines of enquiry that Cushman has been pursuing since his days as a doctoral student at the University of Texas, Austin.

Protectionism and Empire: An Interview with Marc-William Palen

‘Free Trade England Wants the Earth.’ Pro-Republican Judge magazine depicts US protectionism shielding the country from the British free trade spider’s grasp, 27 Oct. 1888. Source: he ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

The last twenty-four months have witnessed world-wide dissent against the current regime of trade liberalisation. The United States disengaged from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Britons renounced the EU, and in Tokyo, Sydney, Lima, and other cities across the Pacific Rim thousands protested a potential transpacific trade partnership. While the popularity of protectionism is not unexpected, its recent embrace by political elites everywhere is more surprising. This is particularly true of the United States, which one president ago was still steering the global economy towards freer trade.

In The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Marc-William Palen traces the roots of this debate to the United States in the 1840s. There began a political and ideological battle between Victorian free trade cosmopolitanism and economic nationalism which lasted the remainder of the century and beyond. Talks about tariffs dominated American political life. Through them, Palen is able to tell a much broader story. The Republican and Democratic parties were transformed in the process. Debates about trade influenced the character of American imperial and commercial expansion, as well as the contours of the Anglo-American struggle for empire and globalisation. Palen’s argument that economic nationalism dominated the period also forces us to rethink received notions of the US Gilded Age, which is usually portrayed as an era dominated by laissez-faire and free trade.

We recently met with Marc-William Palen in Bristol, where he resides. He discussed nineteenth century American political thought, the political economy of Anglo-American globalisation and empire in the Victorian Era, and his future research plans. Dr Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade is his first book. You can follow him via Twitter: @MWPalen.

Martin Crevier

Reintegrating Apartheid into Post-War Global History: An Interview with Jamie Miller

John Vorster meets with President Hastings Banda during his state visit to Malawi in 1970. Source: Jamie Miller, An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and its Search for Survival (OUP, 2016).

In 1975, South African Prime Minister John Vorster met with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda at Victoria Falls. The purpose of the meeting? To end white rule in Rhodesia.

This is not how we usually picture apartheid South Africa. But it sits at the heart of the story told by Jamie Miller in An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and its Search for Survival (OUP, 2016). During an interview that lasted several hours, Miller spoke of the importance of taking self-conceptions of apartheid seriously, of historicizing decolonization in all its messy contradictions, and of the role of anticommunism in this history. He also elaborated on the process of writing the book: on his experiences interviewing former apartheid leaders and the ethics of entering the apartheid worldview.

Jamie Miller is a  Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a masters and doctorate from the University of Cambridge and has previously been a Fox Predoctoral International Fellow at Yale University, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. An African Volk is his first book.

Aden Knaap

Hesitant Hegemony for China and the US? An Interview with Lixin Wang

Speculation is mounting that the United States, with Donald Trump cast in the role of president, will step back from the world stage, and China will increasingly lead. But what would China face if it decided to assume international leadership and advance its own ideas and agendas for global order? Drawing lessons from the American…

Time and Space in the History of Globalism: An Interview with Or Rosenboim

Or Rosenboim, Lecturer in Modern History at City, University of London

In December 1945, a group of intellectuals and academics met in Chicago to devise a world constitution. Just a few months earlier, the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the words of the group’s convenor, global control over nuclear weaponry was imperative to prevent “world suicide.” Over the course of the next two years, the group met monthly to hash out a plan for world government. But when the results of their deliberations were published as a world constitution in 1948, it was greeted mostly with skepticism and derision. Since the project had begun in 1945, the world had moved on—the bipolarity of the early Cold War had narrowed the possibilities for world cooperation and a whole new set of international institutions (most notably, the United Nations) had been created.

And yet, as Or Rosenboim makes clear in her new book, The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939–1950 (Princeton University Press, 2017), the Chicago world constitutionalists remain relevant to how we talk about global governance today. What’s more, they represent one episode in a crowded history of conceptions of world order in the 1940s.

The 1970s in Arab-American Perspective: An Interview with Salim Yaqub

Richard Nixon and Anwar Sadat ride past cheering crowds in Alexandria, Egypt, June 1974. Provided by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

In recent months, a young and charismatic Arab-American doctor running for governor of Michigan has stirred up US politics. The son of Arab immigrants in the United States, Abdul El-Sayed is part of the latest generation of Arab-Americans. El-Sayed and people like him suggest a significant sociological transformation taking place within the Arab-American community. Their political activism can be seen as a generational leap beyond the activism of their fathers and grandfathers.

How to Start an Empire: An Interview with Steven Press

Dr. Steven Press

Open a world map. Chances are it carves the world into a multi-colored jigsaw of national territories.  We’re used to thinking of the contemporary international order as composed of regular nation-states. But what happens if we imagine a different map—one made up of irregular, overlapping, and contested claims, not just to territories, but to languages and peoples as well? A cartography of international disorder would emerge.

For starters, the large landmass conventionally thought of as Australia would be overlaid with the black, yellow, and red flag of the Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG). The APG claims Aborigines never ceded sovereignty over Australia; that they “are and always have been a sovereign people.” The APG has enacted Aboriginal sovereignty by issuing birth certificates and Aboriginal passports (which have been accepted in Libya, Norway, Switzerland, and the Mohawk nation), and sending diplomatic delegations overseas. Just off the coast of Australia, a small set of mostly uninhabited islands and reefs would feature the rainbow coloring of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands. In 2004, the Kingdom’s soon-to-be Emperor, Dale Parker Anderson, raised the rainbow flag on one of the islands, claiming them “as homeland for the gay and lesbian peoples of the world.” The Kingdom has adopted the rainbow pride flag as its official ensign, the Euro as its official currency, and issued its own stamps. And what about the territory beyond Earth? Zoom out and you would see the proposed Space Kingdom of Asgardia. Its Head of Nation, Russian-Azerbaijani scientist and businessman Igor Ashurbeyli, plans to create a new nation in outer space, with orbiting satellites serving as the space nation’s initial capital.

We might be tempted to dismiss these claims to sovereignty as oddities of the contemporary world. Not so, according to Steven Press’ new book, Rogue Empires: Contracts and Conmen in Europe’s Scramble for Africa (Harvard University Press, 2017). In Rogue Empires, Press offers a pre-history to these claims to sovereignty, taking his readers back to a time in the mid-nineteenth century when empires across South Asia and Africa were started and governed by companies and adventurers. Many of these individuals were what Press deems “disreputable types”: men like James Brooke, a British East India Company veteran who, by agreement with the Sultan of Brunei, became rajah of Sarawak on the island of Borneo in 1841. In Press’ telling, the ventures of private actors like Brooke culminated in the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, where Belgium’s King Leopold and the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck extended the imprimatur of European legitimacy to these “rogue empires.” The European powers would later rely on these private entities as precedents for establishing and extending colonies in Niger, South Africa, the Congo, Namibia, Cameroon, and beyond.

A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi

Dr. Seema Alavi

People tend to assume the origins of contemporary events, alliances and disagreements belong to the recent if not the immediate past. Recent news articles highlight with surprise the Arabicization of Islamic practice in South Asia – most prominently with respect to the murder of several bloggers in Bangladesh. But India has a long history of intellectual contact with the Arab world. The Madrasa Saulatia in Mecca was set up by an Indian Muslim Rahmatullah Kairanwi – a key protagonist in Seema Alavi’s book Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire (2015) – as a “centre for embracive reformist Islam with a strong Indic tradition.” It remains a major scholarly hub, retaining intellectual contact with Sunni Muslim seminaries all over the world. It’s own orientation now can be described as a purist intellectual tradition of Islam. For example, it receives patronage “from the Abd-al Wahab impacted Saudi ruling house,” even as – Alavi is quick to remind us of this – its scholarly tradition stands in stark contrast to the violence that is often perpetrated in the name of Wahabi Islam. In this respect, Alavi’s book Muslim Cosmopolitanism is a fundamentally revisionist text that works through the category of the individual and of the nation. She draws out the history of how a modern vision of Islamic universal selfhood was articulated in the mid-nineteenth century: the processes that connected Indic reformist strands in Islam with Hamidian notions of modernity centred on jurisprudence. In her account, cities such as Cairo thus appear as more than just a site that elucidated anti-British nationalism. Importantly, the book foregrounds how modern histories of South Asia limit key protagonists in this larger global story to the territorial bounds of modern India, even as the records of imperial Britain show how they negotiated trans-imperial identities across South Asia and the Ottoman empire.…

Acts of Faith: Talking Religion, Law, and Empire with Dr. Anna Su

Dr. Anna Su

Religious freedom is back in the news. Just last week, the State Department released its report on religious freedom for 2017. Speaking at its unveiling, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged solidarity with a diverse group of persecuted religious groups: Iranian Baha’is and Christians, Chinese Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, Pakistani Ahmadiyya Muslims, Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims, and Turkish non-Sunni Muslims, among others. Government officials did not miss the opportunity to extol the US’s “long, strong tradition”  of promoting religious freedom abroad.

No sooner than these announcements were made, reporters began pointing out the gap between rhetoric and reality. In a series of blistering questions, journalists underscored inconsistencies in the administration’s stated prioritization of persecuted Christian refugees; the restrictions on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries; the politicization and selectivity of its interventions; and the absence of any self-reflexivity, particularly in relation to spikes in hate crimes directed at American Muslims. China promptly followed suit, questioning America’s moral authority on religious freedom amid white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville.

The history of America’s interest in religious freedom abroad is the focus of Dr. Anna Su’s first book, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (2016). As Su shows, the US has a long history of intervening in countries on behalf of religious freedom. Su tracks the development of official government policies toward religious freedom: first as part of its “civilizing mission” in the Philippines from 1898, then in the democratization of Japan after World War II, and finally through the championing of human rights in Iraq and elsewhere. Working at the intersection of history and law, Su is currently Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. She previously earned an SJD from Harvard Law School, and worked as a law clerk for the Philippine Supreme Court and a consultant to the Philippine government negotiating panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.