The Blog May 1, 2023

What We're Reading


Antoney Bell, McGill University

James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2nd  8 ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1989

Integral to the study of transatlantic slavery and the discipline of history, The Black Jacobins is widely considered as a foundational text of Black Marxian literature, documenting the first and only successful slave rebellion in human history. While historians have grossly minimized the role of the Haitian Revolution in colonial history, James demonstrates why scholars must engage with a Black Marxian literature to further understand how colonial governments and planter classes manipulated race and class struggles to maintain colonial capitalism and white hegemony.

White, Sophie. Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019

Sophie White’s work on French Louisiana is a recent monograph that provides a detailed understanding of the legalities and intimacies of slavery in French Louisiana. Relying on numerous trials involving testimonies from civil and criminal cases in the Superior Council of Louisiana, and the manuscript records of the Louisiana Historical Center, White renders a true form of historical agency by using the histories of individuals who spoke on trial about the conditions and the gendered realities of slavery. She successfully conveys how enslaved peoples understood, negotiated, and even challenged the horrors of slavery by carefully merging testimonies, transcriptions, trial proceedings, and outcomes. She further demonstrates how enslaved testimonies can become forms of autobiographical narratives. Her methodology and meticulous work should be integral to any historian studying slavery and French colonial history.


Marc Reyes, University of Connecticut

Isaac Chotiner, Has Modi Pushed Indian Democracy Past Its Breaking Point? The New Yorker

Following the defamation conviction and parliamentary expulsion of Indian Congress Party leader, Rahul Gandhi, New Yorker staff writer Isaac Chotiner spoke with French political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot, the author of many works on India and most recently the book, Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy. Jaffrelot argued that the conviction and disqualification of Gandhi from serving in Parliament represents a new restriction from the ruling Modi government. Previously, minor politicians from local or state governments were targeted this way, but Rahul Gandhi is a national figure, the leader of India’s biggest opposition party. Jaffrelot believes that by going after Gandhi, Modi is saying he will not be replaced and intends to rule for as long as possible. Jaffrelot wonders if Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have gone too far and that there will be fierce pushback by Indian states (India has a federal system where power largely lies at the state level). One of the most interesting observations Jaffrelot makes is that two things can be true at the same time: Modi can be popular (with over seventy percent approval) but his party is not popular enough to rule Indian states that are far removed from the BJP’s most successful areas (the Hindi-speaking northern and central parts of the country). When the BJP is on the ballot, with Modi as its leader, the party has never gotten more than thirty-seven percent of the vote nationally. Although Gandhi is appealing his conviction, it could years to resolve his case so a new opposition leader will be needed as Indians return to the polls in 2024 to decide if Modi and his party will win a third term, something that has not happened in Indian politics for decades.

Sohini Chattopadhyay, 80 Years since the Bengal famine of 1943: Indian history’s debt to photojournalist Sunil Janah, Moneycontrol

Summer 2023 will mark the eighty anniversary of the 1943 Bengal famine in which at least three million Indian died as a result of famine, disease, as well as British colonial incompetence and denial. The famine is sometimes called “a forgotten holocaust” or an “unremembered genocide.” While there are many works by academics about the famine, these works have been mostly inaccessible to the public. What is the public’s memory of the famine and why is there no national memorial or public museum the way there is for Partition? The author, Sohini Chattopadhyay, argues that at the time of the famine, there was an Indian publication documenting the atrocity in real-time and thanks to a single photographer, Sunil Janah, Indians today have a record of the true horrors of the famine. The Communist Party of India’s weekly magazine, People’s Age (renamed People’s War during WWII) extensively and meticulously documented the famine from 1943-1945. People’s Age published Janah’s many photos (the famine was his first major assignment) and his work inspired other artists to document the famine and help spread the word of the tragedy outside of the first affected areas. Because of the People’s Age coverage, word of the famine reached Calcutta (now called Kolkata) and this is where British colonial officials first heard about it and instead of trying to remedy the situation, worked to suppress and censor news of it. Some Indian nationalists saw the famine as the breaking point with the British, the final indignity that revealed to the last Indian holdouts that only independence and the expulsion of the British were necessary for Indians to survive.

Adam Tooze, The Attack on the Center for Policy Research, India’s Leading Policy Research Institution, Chartbook

Historian Adam Tooze devoted his Chartbook newsletter to examining an Indian think tank he had the privilege of visiting in Autumn 2022, the Center for Policy Research (CPR), and its recent struggles with Indian authorities. Anyone familiar with Indian think tanks has heard of CPR. It has been around for decades, and its policy reports are considered a gold standard for Indian scholars and policymakers on issues ranging from the economy, energy, technology, and international relations. When Tooze arrived in India, CPR’s offices were raided by the Indian tax authorities and researchers had their phones and laptops seized. Politically-motivated raids, whether by tax authorities or local police, are not uncommon in India and a frequent way to bother foes a government considers meddlesome. But CPR is not a business or rival political organization; CPR is a well-known think tank and promoter of technocratic governance. If you are looking for radicals and bomb-throwers at CPR, you will be disappointed. Tooze pointed out that CPR’s future is in jeopardy because its foreign funding license has been suspended. CPR probably cannot survive on domestic funding sources or at the very least, won’t be able to produce the amount of sterling scholarship its dedicated researchers produce month in and month out. Tooze closed his newsletter by discussing a letter he had joined in support of CPR and their commitment to rigorous academic inquiry and intellectual freedom. Tooze is just one of many researchers and academics, from all over the world, supporting the mission of CPR and protesting their treatment as Indian democracy further crumbles.


Daniel R. Quiroga-Villamarín, The Graduate Institute Geneva

Doris Tarchópulos, Le Corbusier, Sert y Wiener: Las Huellas del Plan para Bogotá (Bogotá: Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2022)

With apologies to the readers of this English-language blog, I wanted to start my selection with a recent monograph written in Spanish —on the basis of archival materials in French and English from repositories all over the North Atlantic. In this recent book, Tarchópulos recovers the legacy of the mid-century plans for Bogotá’s urban expansion drafted by Le Corbusier and his pupil Josep Lluís Sert. Her careful exploration of the contemporary traces of these forgotten “modernist blueprints” for one of Latin America’s most unruly cities might prove to be relevant far beyond her discipline in architectural history and urbanism.

Mohammad Shahabuddin, “Pan-Asianism, Anti-Imperialism, and International Law in the Early Twentieth Century,” Asian Journal of International Law, April 21, 2023, 1–24,

In this article, Shahabuddin tries to untangle the project of Pan-Asianism from its association with the worst evils of Japanese war-time hegemony. Instead, drawing of recent historical scholarship, Shahabuddin highlights how imaginaries of Pan-Asianism were also mobilized for anti-imperialist purposes in different international legal contexts —from the League of Nations to the rather infamous idea of a Monroe Doctrine for Asia. As the peoples of continent, rightly no doubt, continue to demand a more salient place in the world stage, the unstable meaning of these Pan-Asian imaginaries might find again in the limelight of global governance.

Eric Helleiner, The Contested World Economy: The Deep and Global Roots of International Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023)

The field of International Political Economy (IPE), as Helleiner argues, has yet to come to terms with its roots beyond its rebirth in the 1970s. To tackle this historical amnesia, this monograph attempts to both deepen and expand IPE’s knowledge of itself as a disciplinary project. To do so, it not only adds new perspectives to the field’s traditional tryptic of historical traditions (liberalism, mercantilism, and Marxism) but also highlights the internal divisions inside these three camps themselves. With its focus on the importance of a global history of global economic thought, this book will certainly become an important reference for a wide —and hopefully, global— audience.

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