Thinking globally about history
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How to Start an Empire: An Interview with Steven Press
Interviews | October 4, 2017

How to Start an Empire: An Interview with Steven Press

In Rogue Empires, Stephen Press offers a pre-history to current 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's 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.

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A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi
Interviews | September 15, 2017

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

Seema 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.

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Acts of Faith: Talking Religion, Law, and Empire with Dr. Anna Su
Interviews | August 24, 2017

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

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.

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Of Prostitution and Port Cities: A Conversation with Liat Kozma
Interviews | July 31, 2017

Of Prostitution and Port Cities: A Conversation with Liat Kozma

Exploring prostitution through the regional lens of the Mediterranean—rather than through a political lens like that of a single nation or empire—Kozma innovatively dissects the many layers of state-regulated prostitution and the involvement of global and local institutions. From Casablanca to Beirut, Alexandria to Haifa, people, practices, germs, and attitudes toward prostitution and sexual practices migrated and spread during the interwar period.

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Human Rights and the Global South: A Conversation with Steven L. B. Jensen
Interviews | July 17, 2017

Human Rights and the Global South: A Conversation with Steven L. B. Jensen

Viewed from today's perspective, it might seem like it's only recently that the US has ceded global leadership on human rights. But, as Dr. Steven L. B. Jensen shows in his book The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values (2016), the history of human rights was never simply a story of American or Western hegemony. Moving the locus of study to Jamaica, Ghana, the Philippines, Liberia and beyond, Jensen argues that human rights were as shaped from within the Global South as they were from without. In Jensen's words, actors from the Global South "gave a master class in international human rights diplomacy to both the Eastern and the Western actors."

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Dissecting Hindutva: A Conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma
Interviews | June 30, 2017

Dissecting Hindutva: A Conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma

Until recently, many scholars assumed that nationalism would taper off and that the hold of religion would slacken. Both of these assumptions have been vehemently disproven in the Indian context. The tumultuous relationship between Muslims and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has to do with Hindutva. Though BJP came into existence only in 1980, its intellectual and doctrinal antecedents can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The intellectual history of the Hindutva ideologies forms the focus for the eclectic and prescient oeuvre of Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, India. Sharma historicizes the actualization of a bunch of inchoate and exclusionary ideas into the most politically successful undertaking in modern history—the Hindu nationalist project and, by extension, the BJP.

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From Imperial Nation-States to European Union: Discussing European History in an International Context with Anne-Isabelle Richard
Interviews | June 16, 2017

From Imperial Nation-States to European Union: Discussing European History in an International Context with Anne-Isabelle Richard

Where does "Europe" stop, and where does the world outside Europe begin? It's a question that's engaged inhabitants of the peninsula of the great world continent for centuries, if also one that has assumed newly tragic dimensions as refugees from Balkan states, refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa test their chances in crossing the seas, boarding the trains, and hopping the fences that separate Europe from an ostensibly more dangerous, more cruel, and more hungry outside world. Seemingly freed of its old morally burdensome entanglements in its African, Asian and Caribbean colonies, a reformed, European Union-ized Continent faces the challenges of how it wants to interact with the world of former colonies, mandates, and other possessions that it once ruled and still, of course, holds a dominant trading relationship with. Can history contextualize some of these debates?

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Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller
Interviews | June 1, 2017

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

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—one that 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.

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The Grid and the Territory: Discussing What Comes After the Map with William Rankin
Interviews | March 31, 2017

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

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 William Rankin dubs geo-epistemology: "not just what is known about the earth, but how it is known— and how it is used."

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Global Interior: A Conversation with Megan Black About the U.S. Interior Department in the American World Order
Interviews | March 16, 2017

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

Megan 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.

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The Other Intellectuals: A Conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Raymond Aron and International Order
Interviews | December 10, 2016

The Other Intellectuals: A Conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Raymond Aron and International Order

Raymond Aron represents one of the most important intellectuals to take stock of the global situation in the twentieth century. A frequent commentator to French debates through his position at the Sorbonne and Collège de France, and his long-time column at the newspaper Le Figaro (and, later, L'Express), he engaged in debates about the Algerian war of independence, the meaning of the 1968 student protests in France, and France's position in a world marked by the East-West conflict, decolonization, and economic reconstruction in Europe. There is another side to Aron that his current translation into the North American scene barely captures: namely, his engagement with American intellectual thought on themes like neoliberalism, modernization theory, and détente. Throughout his career, Aron debated and challenged Anglophone intellectuals like Edward Shils, Walt Rostow, Friedrich Hayek and others as intellectuals across the Atlantic found intellectual legitimizations for American hegemony. Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins's account also captures an Aron best understood not as a static "responsible" intellectual never changing, but rather as an evolving intellect who by the end of his life had arguably become a neoconservative. By the early 1980s, Aron was less committed to the kind of social democratic politics that marked his work from the 1940s and 1950s.

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Policing the "Slums of the World": A Conversation About Exporting American Police Expertise with Stuart Schrader
Interviews | November 24, 2016

Policing the "Slums of the World": A Conversation About Exporting American Police Expertise with Stuart Schrader

As Americans debate their choice of President, enthusiasm for long-term ground wars in the Middle East seems at an all-time low. Both candidates debate the merits of drone warfare in distant lands, or even the desirability (and viability) of a ban on Muslims' entry to the United States, but what does seem unanimous after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the U.S. role in the region is best handled by some combination of deploying remote force against "them" over "there," and preventing "them" from coming to "us" "here." With many debating whether the country can police its own cities in a way that does not reinforce racial injustice or systemic hierarchies, American appetites for reconfiguring foreign societies to police themselves appears to be at an all-time nadir. Yet even if Americans seek a more reclusive role vis-à-vis the world (or at least societies wracked by civil war and conflict), what remains clear is that the effects of those wars are rebounding into America itself.

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