Tag: British History

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

CFP: Workshop on “Altruism and Its Discontents: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development”, NACBS Annual Meeting, Providence, RI, October 25-28, 2018.

Theme: “Altruism and Its Discontents: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development” Proposal deadline: February 15, 2018 Materials: CV and 1-page abstract This workshop will explore human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern period, c. 1800-2000, through the prism of “altruism.” While usually treated separately, each of these areas of endeavor grapples with often competing interests…

CFP: Britain and the World Conference (Exeter, June 2018)

After its tenth annual conference in Austin last year, the British Scholar Society invites submissions to its eleventh Britain and the World Conference, to be held at the University of Exeter from 21 to 23 June 2018. The conference will concern, as always, interactions with the “British world” – including the British Empire and wider…

Thicker Than Water: Revisiting Global Connections on the Banks of the Suez Canal with Valeska Huber

Thanks to the haze of time, the first great age of globalization during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century can sometimes seem like a golden age. It’s true that we live in an age of unprecedentedly inexpensive air travel, cell phones and Skype often replacing long travel to business meetings, and financial management tools making it easier to speculate on the ups and downs of the S&P or Nikkei, the ruble or the euro. But perhaps as we find ourselves bogged down by the kinks in this new post-1970s world of re-globalization–the passport checks, the baggage fees, the broken connections–it’s all the easier to reimagine the world of high imperialism, a lost golden age. Chroniclers like Stefan Zweig and John Maynard Keynes chronicled the time as an age in which

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.

There was perhaps no more potent symbol of this world of ultra-connectivity than the Suez Canal, built in what was still Ottoman Egypt in 1869 and connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. The Canal increased world trade. It also  soon became a vital strategic artery for the British Empire, since it made the “passage to India” via intermediary stations like Suez and Aden far shorter than the former trip around the Cape of Good Hope. So powerful was the imaginary of the Canal as one of the crucial changes of the epoch that, when Henry Morton Stanley finally located David Livingstone (of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871, the Canal was the first thing that came to Stanley’s mind when Livingstone asked him what had changed in the world during his many years out of contact with the Western world.

Channelling Mobilities (Cambridge UP, 2015), the recent book of Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute London)

Channelling Mobilities (Cambridge UP, 2015), the recent book of Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute London)

Yet as Dr. Valeska Huber, a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in London, shows in her recent book Channelling Mobilities: Migration and Globalization in the Suez Canal Region and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, paperback 2015), the Suez Canal did not so much open as channel migration and globalization during this world of increasing trade and economic integration.

Sure, the opening of the Canal made it easier for passengers—that is, especially if they were white, wealthy, British, or best, all three—to travel around the world, often unencumbered by passport checks. But our popular memory of the Canal often forgets the fact that building a giant channel of water in the middle of the Egyptian desert obstructed the migratory routes of Bedouin tribes who formerly moved from east to west. More fundamentally, the very opening of the Canal and the transformation of the region into a giant transportation hub gave rise to new worries about the movement of slaves, prostitutes, Muslim “fanatics,” or disease across the region. Contemporary fears that cholera originated in India led to the imposition of quarantine and disease control regimes along the shores of the Red Sea. At the same time, shipping titans and imperial bureaucrats debated the wisdom of dividing shipping routes’ staffing between Asians (for the hot and sticky days of shipping through the Indian Ocean, supposedly unbearable for the “white race”) and Europeans (so as to avoid the problem of Asian or Arab crews outstaying their welcome in Southampton or the London docklands). The Canal channeled as much as it connected.

Huber’s work is, then, valuable not only as an intervention into the field of Middle Eastern Studies, relying as it does on British, French, and Egyptian archives. It constitutes a welcome foray into the broader conversation about the history of globalization and the history of the late nineteenth century as a time not only of increasing connectivity, but also of increasing channelling—that is, processes and institutions whereby migration of goods and people is cordoned off, classified, or restricted, often relying on distinctions of race, sex, or level of civilization. In order to discuss Channelling Mobilities more with Dr. Huber, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Dr. Timothy Nunan (TN) made use of the twenty-first century’s aforementioned telephonic tools to speak with Dr. Huber (VH) across oceans–fitting, given that telegraphic cables were just one of many pieces of infrastructure to cross the Suez Canal during the period her book studies.…

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.