Imperial and postcolonial histories

Featured Interviews

Youth, God, and Empire: Interview With Dr. Joy Schulz
Interviews | January 22, 2020

Youth, God, and Empire: Interview With Dr. Joy Schulz

Emphasizing the centrality of American missionary children in the domination of the Hawaiian Islands during the second half of nineteenth century, Dr. Joy Schulz's analysis exposes the potency of youth power through a series of chapters that trace the development of these young evangelists into colonizers and revolutionaries. In the process, she draws attention to the complexities born at the intersections of childhood and empire and underscores the capacity of children to record their own histories in ways that may complement or complicate adult ambitions.

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Elites Connecting Eastern and Western Europe: An Interview with Dina Gusejnova
Interviews | April 3, 2019

Elites Connecting Eastern and Western Europe: An Interview with Dina Gusejnova

Dina Gusejnova, a lecturer in Modern history at the University of Sheffield, looks into this unstable period through the eyes of German-speaking liberal intellectuals who belonged to the old and new nobility of Germany, Austria, and Russia. In her book, European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) she analyses how these German-speaking intellectuals used their old networks to call for a new Europe. This fascinating book provides a transnational history of the idea of Europe, linking histories of Germany and Russia, which are usually told separately, through the eyes of a cosmopolitan network of authors. We discussed the place of the old nobility in the new world order, transnational approaches to history, the importance of bridging isolated national historiographies, and the changing patterns of historical research in the last decade.

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Islam, Constitutionalism, and the Nation State in Afghanistan: An Interview with Faiz Ahmed
Interviews | December 5, 2018

Islam, Constitutionalism, and the Nation State in Afghanistan: An Interview with Faiz Ahmed

In his book, Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires, Faiz Ahmed, Associate Professor of History at Brown University, tells a story of a modern Islamic project of statecraft and legal synthesis, undertaken against a background of broader regional connections. The early legal history of Afghanistan is an account of an Islamic politics that did not, as in contemporary cases, grasp for imported European legal codes. Nor did it constitute a case of Salafi or "Wahhabi" ideologies of Islamic reform. Rather, King Amanullah's project emerged out of a rich history of what Ahmed calls "interislamic" cultural exchange and modern visions of politics, including a unique adaptation and application of the shariʿa to the form of the modern nation-state.

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Troubling the Empire: An Interview with Antoinette Burton
Interviews | September 6, 2018

Troubling the Empire: An Interview with Antoinette Burton

The British Empire in its various guises remains a rich historiographical field. Over the course of the past forty years, imperial history has undergone a series of changes stemming from the cultural turn, postmodernism, and postcolonial studies. A central element of this has been to break away from the male-dominated approaches to the 'Official Mind', and incorporating gender, race, and class into our understanding of Empire. Professor Antoinette Burton of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been at the forefront of this change, as part of a wider group of scholars breaking down the insular boundaries of the field. We spoke about the pitfalls of studying the Empire in the current era of revisionism and imperial nostalgia, and how we as historians can combat the challenges raised by the amnesia surrounding colonial actions. We also discussed how both collaborative projects and the field of World History can enrich our understanding of the British Empire, as well as the benefits of these approaches to early career researchers.

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Guns, Spies and Empire, Or, Why Good People Do Bad Things: An Interview with Priya Satia
Interviews | April 23, 2018

Guns, Spies and Empire, Or, Why Good People Do Bad Things: An Interview with Priya Satia

Priya Satia argues that the making of Britain's "covert empire" was bound up in intelligence-gathering tactics pioneered by British agents in the Middle East (Arabia and Iraq, specifically). The ultimate tool of covert empire—aerial surveillance—came to be used far beyond the Middle East; but, Satia argues, its initial deployment there resulted from the marriage of a cultural epistemology peculiar to British agents in Arabia with the emergence of mass democracy, and a new suspicion of empire, in Britain itself.

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When the Ottoman Empire Scrambled for Africa: An Interview With Mostafa Minawi
Interviews | March 14, 2018

When the Ottoman Empire Scrambled for Africa: An Interview With Mostafa Minawi

Taking the Ottoman Empire out of the Middle East area studies prison to which it's so often confined, Mostafa Minawi has traced, in detail, many of the long-missed connections between the Sublime Porte – the center of Ottoman governance – and sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, his research has demonstrated how those links played into the Ottoman Empire's participation in the late nineteenth century "scramble" for territory by European empires on the African continent – an episode in which, Minawi argues, the empire played a much more active role than has previously been assumed.

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Protectionism and Empire: An Interview with Marc-William Palen
Interviews | January 10, 2018

Protectionism and Empire: An Interview with Marc-William Palen

In The 'Conspiracy' of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896, Marc-William Palen traces the roots of the trade liberalisation 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.

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Reintegrating Apartheid into Post-War Global History: An Interview with Jamie Miller
Interviews | December 21, 2017

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

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. 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.

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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.

Read more about `Acts of Faith: Talking Religion, Law, and Empire with Dr. Anna Su`
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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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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Making the Pilgrimage to the "Mecca of Revolution": A Conversation with Jeffrey James Byrne on Algerian Internationalism and the Third World
Interviews | August 25, 2016

Making the Pilgrimage to the "Mecca of Revolution": A Conversation with Jeffrey James Byrne on Algerian Internationalism and the Third World

Algeria's position as a stable authoritarian regime in a region rocked by the mutual learning processes of one "Arab Street" from the other is ironic, since, as University of British Columbia historian Jeffrey Byrne shows in his recent book, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization & The Third World Order, the country's identity was from its founding deeply tied up with its identity as a "pilot state" for anti-colonial revolution. After all, Algeria gained its independence from France in the first place through combination of guerrilla warfare against the French military and the deft diplomacy of twenty- and thirty-something diplomats-cum-revolutionaries operating between Peking, Moscow, and the United Nations. From 1962–1965, when revolutionary Ahmed Ben Bella served as President of the young republic, Algiers was on the itinerary of every self-respecting revolutionary group out there, from Nelson Mandela's African National Congress to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization to European Trotskyists. No less than Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean intellectual who was the psychologist of colonization and decolonization par excellence, used Algeria as the basis for his works like The Wretched of the Earth.

Read more about `Making the Pilgrimage to the "Mecca of Revolution": A Conversation with Jeffrey James Byrne on Algerian Internationalism and the Third World`
City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel
Interviews | October 7, 2015

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

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, Michael 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.

Read more about `City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel`
Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on the League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire
Interviews | August 10, 2015

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

During our brief stroll around Geneva and the Palais des Nations, 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? 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, Susan 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.

Read more about `Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on the League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire`
Unweaving Sven Beckert's "Empire of Cotton: A Global History"
Interviews | January 26, 2015

Unweaving Sven Beckert's "Empire of Cotton: A Global History"

A global history of cotton, Sven Beckert explains in Empire of Cotton, is enlightening for several reasons. Firstly, its spatial organization shifted radically during the last three hundred years. Due to the difficulties of growing cotton in cold, damp Europe, Eurasia or North America, it should come as no surprise that most cotton cultivation–and, for ages–production was confined to local industries in places like China and, above all, India. But by the 18th and 19th century, a radical shift was underway, as the finished production of cotton goods shifted towards what we now identify as the industrial heartlands of the North Atlantic economy: the textile mills of northern England and a panoply of mill towns in Continental Europe and North America.

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Immigrants, Railroads, America, Germany: An Interview with Julío Robert Decker
Interviews | December 22, 2014

Immigrants, Railroads, America, Germany: An Interview with Julío Robert Decker

In his work to date, historian Robert Julio Decker, a scholar at the Technical University in Darmstadt, has explored the history of immigration regimes, while his future work promises to contribute the exploding literature on the history of capitalism. Speaking with him earlier this year during his tenure as a fellow at Harvard University, we discuss his path to global history, his early work, and his ongoing research on the global history of capitalism in the United States and the German Empire.

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The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman
Interviews | November 17, 2014

The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman

The Sino-Soviet Split, as it is called in English and Russian ("Sino-Soviet Hostility" in Chinese – zhōng sū jiāo'è), had ramifications that went far beyond the oceans of red dye spilled by the Mercator projections. As country after country "the Third World" gained independence, the Soviets and the Chinese were among the few major powers that offered compelling developmental – and historical narratives – to fledgling nations. But what would the meaning of Revolution be in a decolonizing world? Was Revolution really about anti-capitalism, as the Soviets argued? Or was the real essence of Revolution opposition to empire, as their Chinese rivals put forward? How did the Chinese challenge affect the Soviet outreach to the Third World, and vice-versa? And what was the effect of the Sino-Soviet Split on the intellectual repertoire of a global Left?

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Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck
Interviews | October 19, 2014

Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck

Jenifer Van Vleck devoted years to scouring through the archives of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) and numerous government and Presidential Archives to tell the story of a corporation–and an industry–that reveals much about the shape of American corporate globalism and American empire. The Global History Forum was delighted to sit down with her this summer to discuss her intellectual journey, Empire of the Air, and her upcoming work in the history of technology and American foreign relations.

Read more about `Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck`
Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii
Interviews | September 28, 2014

Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

Read more about `Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii`

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