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BBC World Histories - 11 2018

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Are we returning to
an age of political
“Many of the Holocaust’s
perpetrators got away with it”
Why Nazi crimes went unpunished
Does history hold the answers
to today’s economic problems?
Ol’ Man River: The global power of a protest song
Peter Frankopan: Lessons from the Silk Roads
Afua Hirsch on one of
2018’s biggest controversies
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Sometimes, we reshape the
contents of this magazine in
reaction to breaking news.
In other instances, our longplanned themes reflect news
headlines with eerie precision.
Such was the case when, on 28 October, Jair Bolsonaro
claimed victory in Brazil’s general election. A populist
politician with extreme views on social issues including
immigration and homosexuality, Bolsonaro seemed to
strike a chord with a sizeable proportion of the nation’s
people: he secured victory with 55% of the vote.
The issue you now hold in your hands was already
nearly complete by the time that result was confirmed.
But it’s certainly possible to see his win as just the latest
example of a global trend towards increasingly polarised politics. From the rise of Viktor Orbán in Hungary
and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland party
to Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro, does this
pattern represent a new era of extremism? And, if
so, how does it compare with historical examples?
Those are the questions we put to our expert panel,
and you can read their thoughts starting on page 18.
A week after the Brazilian election, news broke
of the trial in Germany of a former SS guard accused
of complicity in mass murder at a concentration
camp. It’s the latest in a long series of legal proceedings
attempting to convict former Nazis, a process that
illuminates the complex topic of how to ensure justice,
in every sense of the word, for both perpetrators and
victims of that almost unimaginably horrific violence.
How, 75 years on, should we remember the Holocaust? Mary Fulbrook and Richard J Evans tackle
that question on page 72.
Elsewhere, we step away from current affairs with
two stories that cast the familiar in a new light. On
page 52, Celia Hatton traces the surprising journey
of the instant noodle, from its invention in Japan
60 years ago to US prisons today, via China’s boomtime factories. And, on page 60, Mark Burman charts
the course of ‘Ol’ Man River’, the hit centrepiece of
the musical Show Boat that evolved to become a song
with a social impact felt as far afield as Spain and India.
As always, there’s much else besides, from an early
trek across Canada to a look
at the cultural treasures of
medieval Africa. We’ll be
back on 31 January; in the
meantime, enjoy the issue –
and the final weeks of 2018.
Matt Elton
Editor, BBC World Histories
Together with two regular
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team also produces a bi-weekly
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5PAGE 26
Black people made
homeless by major
floods in 1927 crowd
a rescue barge in
Mississippi. This
issue, we explore
how the song ‘Ol’ Man
River’ – first
performed that year
– was adapted to
highlight tensions
in the US and, later,
other nations
Can history help solve today’s
economic problems? ✪
As populist politicians come to power
around the world – most recently in Brazil
– we ask a panel of seven leading experts to
assess whether we are witnessing the dawn
of a new era of extremism
Africa’s medieval
golden age ✪
The continent’s middle ages have often
been painted as a dark era without history.
Nothing could be further from the truth
Pressing present-day conundrums,
tackled by eight great minds of the past
The age of noodles ✪
✪ On the
How a simple snack created in hungry
postwar Japan fuelled the rise of the east
‘Ol’ Man River’ keeps flowing ✪
The global legacy of the 1920s musicaltheatre hit, from showtune to protest song
Are we returning to an
era of political extremes? ✪
Expert voices from the world of history
28 A Year in Pictures: 1967
by Richard Overy
Peter Frankopan
Author of bestseller The Silk Roads and a new
follow-up volume, Frankopan’s Inside Story
piece on page 16 explains why we need to shift
our focus from recent upheavals in the west to
the more radical changes taking place farther
east in Asia. It’s a transformation, he argues,
without historical parallel for over 500 years.
70 Extraordinary People: Alain Locke
by Jeffrey C Stewart
98 Museum of the World: Alan Shepard’s
spacesuit, c1959 by Kassia St Clair
Viewpoints: Afua Hirsch on the historical
statue debate ✪, Ana Lucia Araujo on the
Brazil museum fire, Alex von Tunzelmann
on historical accuracy in films, and Lesley
Downer on Japan’s Meiji Restoration
Mary Fulbrook
Over seven decades after the end of the Second
World War, and despite a number of trials, real
justice remains elusive for many perpetrators
and victims of Nazi violence, as Mary Fulbrook
discusses on page 72. “What historians have
not done to date,” she says, “is show the specific
failures of waves of prosecution.”
14 History Headlines: The latest news from
the world of history, in digestible chunks
Afua Hirsch
16 Inside Story: Peter Frankopan on the
At the centre of a storm of controversy following
her 2017 newspaper column suggesting that
Britain should consider felling statues of its
historical heroes, Hirsch assesses the current
situation on page 6. “The refusal to engage with
matters of historical record was, ironically, the
best example of the problem I raised,” she says.
historical roots of Asia’s transformation ✪
72 The Conversation: Mary Fulbrook and
Richard J Evans discuss her book on the
aftermath of the Holocaust ✪
Ian Kershaw
80 Agenda: The latest events, TV and film
92 Global City: Rome by Ferdinand Addis
A leading chronicler of Nazi Germany, Kershaw
is particularly well placed to assess how today’s
extremist movements compare with history’s
most infamous examples. He argues in our Big
Question feature on page 18 that “The polarisation does not – at least, not yet – come close to
the extremism seen in Europe during the 1930s.”
94 Wonders of the World: St Basil’s
Linda Yueh
84 In the footsteps of… A 17th-century
explorer in Canada by Margaret Small
From recessions to trade wars, recent years
have witnessed a series of financial shocks that
reverberated around the globe. On page 44,
Yueh considers what some of the leading
historical names in the field of economics –
including Adam Smith and John Maynard
Keynes – would have said about these issues.
Cathedral, Moscow by Paul Bloomfield
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Expert opinions on
historical issues that
touch today’s world
Monumental row
Rather than simply tearing down the statues
of problematic historical figures, it is more
useful to have a wider, more honest debate
about controversial chapters in Britain’s history
rowing up as a mixed-race
girl in Britain, I never read
names that resembled mine
in blue plaques marking
sites of heritage or historical interest.
I didn’t see statues of people who looked
like me, nor streets named after people
who had African roots, like I did. I was
not particularly perplexed by this fact.
It was obvious that such people had not
existed in Britain’s past – or if they had,
they had made no contribution worth
remembering. Black people were, after
all, ahistorical, colonial subjects or
slaves. The glorious statues I did see in
our great towns and cities commemorated men – they are almost all men – who
had nothing to do with any of that part
of my heritage.
I believed this messaging that I had
received both subtly and subconsciously
– and sometimes explicitly and overtly
– for the majority of my life. So when
Have your say Share your thoughts
on this issue’s columns by emailing us
I began to learn the true dishonesty of
these messages, I was moved to write.
I could not reconcile this country I
loved with the lies and half-truths it had
told me, obscuring the fact that black
people have been in Britain for
thousands of years, some of them
shaping the nation in the most
significant way imaginable. I could
not continue to celebrate the heroes
portrayed as figures distant from any
of those vague, problematic events in
our past – Horatio Nelson, Winston
Churchill, Robert Clive, Lord Kitchener – without correcting the one-sided
version of their lives that’s widely
communicated and accepted.
I chose Nelson as an example of this
pattern of erasure, amnesia and denial.
When I wrote last year, in a column
in the British newspaper The Guardian,
that Nelson was a supporter of the
transatlantic slave trade and should
be remembered as such, it triggered
a tsunami of debate and, in some cases,
outright hostility. Yet this anger was
directed not towards Nelson for the
position he advocated, but instead
towards me for highlighting it. That
refusal to engage in matters of historical
record was, ironically, the best example
of the problem I was raising.
But it certainly started a conversation. I went on to make a Channel 4
documentary, The Battle for Britain’s
Heroes, examining the ways in which
we remember Nelson and two of our
other great heroes, Winston Churchill
and Cecil Rhodes. In that programme
I called not for statues of these men
to be pulled down, but for them to be
remembered in a more thoughtful way.
I travelled to Berlin, where statues of
key figures from the German empire
of 1871–1919 – whose removal was
demanded by the Allies following the
Second World War – have been placed
in a museum at Spandau Citadel.
Rather than simply tearing them
down – an act of plain destruction –
the statues have been carefully restored
and placed at ground level, where
visitors can engage with them, think
about their legacy and learn lessons for
the future. This is a far cry from the
indifference with which we walk past
our pigeon-poo-stained relics in Britain,
which seems to me to be the worst
combination of ignoring them while
simultaneously glorifying them.
The long-running conversation
about such statues in Britain has
progressed throughout the past year.
In Bristol, the name of 17th-century
slave trader Edward Colston will be
removed from the hall that previously
bore it, while there are calls for his statue
– which stands in a prominent position
in the city – to be removed altogether.
In some cases, my
words triggered
outright hostility.
The anger was not
directed at Nelson
for his position
but towards me
for highlighting it
In Edinburgh it’s been announced
that a plaque will be added to the statue
of Henry Dundas, first Viscount
Melville, explaining that the politician
successfully delayed the abolition of the
slave trade, allowing for the enslavement
of an estimated 630,000 people who
might have been spared had it not been
for his efforts.
Calls to recognise the full picture
of history are not just about changing
the way in which we remember, but also
about introducing the forgotten. To
that end, in October it was announced
that a new plaque would be unveiled at
the address in central Edinburgh in
which famous abolitionist Frederick
Douglass lived. The University of
Only through remembering can we build a future
identity – one built on
integrity and wisdom,
rather than denial and lies
Glasgow, meanwhile, published a
detailed report on the extent to which
it had benefited financially from gifts
and support from people involved in
the slave trade.
Glasgow’s report, in particular,
goes into unflinching detail about the
gruesome details of the institution’s
past. Plantations in the West Indies
preferred “to work the enslaved to death
and purchase replacements from Africa
rather than devote resources to improving living standards and the quality
of life amongst those who worked”.
The profit that eventually benefited
the university was derived from a regime in which a quarter of children
died before reaching adulthood. Half
of those who survived died before
reaching the age of 40.
Former student Robert Cunninghame Graham used his Glasgow
University education to become
Jamaican Receiver General of Taxes,
marrying the sister of Simon Taylor,
one of the most powerful English
slave-owners in the Caribbean. Both
men conceived children with women
on their plantations; the nature of
those relations is unknown, but the
power balance between slave owners
and enslaved women was notoriously
and extremely imbalanced. And in
a final twist, Graham – who went
on to become rector of Glasgow
University– donated part of his
wealth to establish a biennial prize
for the best student work on the
theme of ‘political liberty’.
A global
All of this is depressing. Yet, at the
same time, simply knowing about it is
progress. Glasgow University seems to
understand that, in order to erode what
it describes as “the legacies of slavery and
racism”, it must first face up to them.
It’s a lesson that other British institutions
could do well to learn.
So it’s ironic that critics accuse the
movement to challenge our monuments
of seeking to erase history. On the
contrary: developments over the past
year have shown that it only in asking
these questions – painful and difficult
as they may be – that we are able to
truly remember. And it is only by
remembering that we can build
a future identity as British people –
one built on integrity and wisdom,
rather than denial and lies. Events of
the past year have shown how far we
have come – but also just how far
we still have to go.
Afua Hirsch is a
journalist, broadcaster
and former barrister
Afua discusses the need to challenge Britain’s
historical heroes on our podcast: historyextra.
com/challenging-british-heroes. Read more
about Nelson’s views on slavery in the Christmas issue of BBC History Magazine, on sale now
The loss of Brazil’s
national museum to fire
has intensified calls for
greater investment and
cooperation, both locally
and globally, to ensure
the preservation of
historical artefacts
n September, the oldest
museum in Brazil was
reduced to ashes. The
Museu Nacional in Rio
de Janeiro housed collections of geology,
palaeontology, botany, zoology and
biological anthropology featuring more
than 20 million items acquired over two
centuries. In Brazil, the destruction of
the National Museum sparked a
discussion about the country’s colonial
history and its complex relations with
populations of indigenous and African
descent. More importantly, it fuelled
national and international debates on
how economic and political challenges
impact on the preservation of heritage
around the world.
The Palace of São Cristóvão, which
housed the National Museum, was
closely linked to the history of slavery
and the Atlantic slave trade. Rio de
Janeiro was the largest slave port in the
Americas, and this palace was built on
land previously occupied by a Jesuit
plantation. After the expulsion of the
Jesuits in the 18th century, the estate
was distributed to private owners,
including wealthy slave merchant Elias
Antônio Lopes. In 1803, Lopes built a
villa on the land but five years later he
ceded the property to the Portuguese
royal family, who had moved to Rio de
Janeiro to escape their own country after
it was invaded by Napoleon’s armies.
A few years later, the villa was renovated
to become the palatial residence of the
Portuguese royal family and, later, the
Brazilian imperial family.
Initially gathered by members of
the royal and imperial families, the
National Museum’s collections included
rare artefacts from around the world.
Among its most precious items were the
11,500-year-old bones of ‘Luzia’, the
oldest human remains discovered in
South America (though, thankfully,
much of Luzia’s skull was recovered
from the wreckage). The National
Museum was also among the few Brazilian institutions to feature a collection
of African objects, several of which
documented the slave trade between
Brazil and west Africa – significant in
a country where more than 50% of the
population is of African descent. Among
the most important artefacts of this
collection was a wooden carved throne
sent by King Adandozan of Dahomey
(now southern Benin) as a gift to Prince
Dom João in 1811.
The museum’s Egyptian collection
had grown to become the largest in
Latin America. Among its precious
items was the sarcophagus of ShaAmun-en-su (mummified around
2,750 years ago), brought to Brazil by
emperor Dom Pedro II from his trip to
The exact cause of
the fire is still to be
determined, but it
seems that neglect
may be at the heart
of the disaster
Egypt in 1876. The museum also
included an enormous collection of
Brazilian indigenous artefacts that
nourished the research of hundreds of
scholars over recent decades.
Over decades, Brazil has failed to
educate its population to value its
national heritage. Additionally, school
curricula historically emphasised
European history and heritage to the
detriment of the history of populations
of indigenous and African descent.
Overall, visitor numbers to such
museums in Brazil are low compared
with those of other nations: 192,000
people visited the National Museum in
2017, while in the same year 289,000
Brazilians visited the Louvre in Paris.
At the time of writing, over a month
later, the exact cause of the fire is still to
be determined. But it seems neglect may
be at the heart of the disaster. Reports
from across the past two decades have
highlighted the state of decay of the
building and the urgent need for updates
to secure and protect its collections.
Have your say Share your thoughts
on this issue’s columns by emailing us
Standard narratives
US politicians have denounced the absence of
a flag-planting moment in the recent big-budget
Neil Armstrong biopic. Are they missing the point?
Water seepage and insect infestations
have been recorded, and several rooms
were closed awaiting renovation. Even
more striking is that, unlike its counterparts in Europe and North America,
the museum had no sprinkler system,
rendering it vulnerable to fire.
This long-term decay seems only
to have accelerated in recent years.
As funding steadily decreased to the
museum’s owner, the Federal University
of Rio de Janeiro, the museum budget
also shrank, putting the building and its
rich collections at great risk.
Although degradation also affects
other Brazilian public archives, libraries
and museums, the destruction of the
National Museum sparked international
dismay because its holdings included
millions of items gathered from other
regions of the world. This disaster could
perhaps have been avoided if recent
public campaigns calling attention to
heritage degradation, and calling for
cooperation between international
heritage institutions and greater
financial contribution from private
companies, had been successful before
the fire wreaked its destruction.
Ana Lucia Araujo
is professor of history
at Howard University,
Washington, DC, specialising in the Atlantic
slave trade and related
issues in Brazil
t’s almost like they’re
embarrassed at the
achievement coming from
America,” said US president Donald Trump in September, commenting on the recent Neil Armstrong
biopic First Man. “I think it’s a terrible
thing… For that reason, I wouldn’t even
want to watch the movie.”
The controversy surrounding First
Man has drawn attention to the question
of historical accuracy in films. To many
of its viewers, First Man will seem
impressively accurate, with so much care
taken over period detail that it’s almost
distracting. By the third or fourth loving
close-up of precisely historically correct
1960s beer cans, you’ve got the point.
But the aspect that upset some commentators, and some Republican politicians,
was one shot they felt was missing for
political reasons.
First Man shows Neil Armstrong
landing on the moon. It shows him
speaking his famous words. It shows,
several times, the American flag flying
on the moon – and, given that this was
the first landing, it’s fairly obvious that
American astronauts must have put it
there. What the film doesn’t show is a
shot of the exact moment when they
planted the flag.
“Really sad: Hollywood erases
American flag from moon landing,”
tweeted Senator Ted Cruz, who
continued: “This is wrong, and
consistent with Leftists disrespecting
the flag and denying American
exceptionalism.” Senator Marco Rubio
tweeted: “This is total lunacy…
The American people paid for that
mission, on rockets built by Americans,
with American technology and carrying
American astronauts.”
It seems unlikely that these politicians have actually seen First Man.
It’s fiercely patriotic, contrasting the
American-ness of the space programme
with its Soviet competition and showing
up those weedy liberals at home who
would rather have spent Nasa’s colossal
budget on social improvements.
For a fan of historical movies, it’s
hard to believe that the omission – not
even a denial – of one tiny moment
could have caused so much fuss.
Historical films often take enormous
liberties with the facts. In Roland
Emmerich’s 2011 Anonymous, for
example, the Earl of Oxford is shown
writing plays on behalf of the illiterate
History is a job for
historians. The job
of filmmakers is
to make the best
movie – and that
means prioritising
character and story
and conducting a
passionate affair with Queen
Elizabeth I; far from remaining the
Virgin Queen, she births dozens of
bastards. In the 1991 political thriller
JFK, Oliver Stone completely invented
evidence to suggest that John F
Kennedy was murdered as the result of
a conspiracy. Mel Gibson alleged that
William Wallace fathered King Edward
III of England (Braveheart); Gibson
also made up a horrific American
Revolution massacre carried out by
British troops (The Patriot), and moved
the date of the Spanish conquest of
Mexico by 600 years so it coincided
with the Mayan collapse (Apocalypto).
Compared with all that, one missing
shot of a flag seems rather trivial.
So why didn’t the filmmakers show
it? “Neil was extremely humble…
time and time again he deferred the
focus from himself to the 400,000
people who made the mission possible,” said Ryan Gosling, who plays
Armstrong in First Man. “I don’t
think that Neil viewed himself as an
American hero… And we wanted the
film to reflect Neil.”
What this comes down to is not
history, but story. History is a job for
historians. The job of filmmakers is to
make the best movie they can – and that
means prioritising character and story
over everything else. The narrative arc of
First Man isn’t really about the moon
landing. It’s about a repressed man
trying to reconcile deep personal pain
with carrying on as a husband and
father. Had the flag-planting been
shown, it would have felt like a triumphant climax – but it was the climax of
the moon landing, not of Armstrong’s
emotional journey, and Armstrong’s
emotional journey is the film’s story.
Some audiences will love First Man’s
intimate, human focus. Others may
prefer something more strongly rooted
in the politics and technology of the
space race (if so, they could watch two
outstandingly good earlier movies:
Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff ). This
doesn’t mean that First Man tells the
wrong story, or tells its story wrongly –
only that you can’t please all of the
people all of the time.
Of course, politicians’
criticisms of First Man have
nothing to do with any genuine concern
for 1960s history, and everything to
do with 2018 politics. The protests are
a rallying cry from Republicans to
their ideological followers: by deeming
the movie unpatriotic, they position
themselves as true patriots and guardians of American values. For their
purposes, it doesn’t matter what the
movie actually says, and it doesn’t
matter what the history might be.
As President Trump said, he doesn’t
even need to watch it.
Alex von
Tunzelmann is a
historian, screenwriter
and author of Reel
History: The World
According to the Movies
(Atlantic, 2015)
For more insights on the accuracy of cinematic
portrayals of historical events and people, read
the new article by Eugene Byrne on our website:
How was modern
Japan really made?
As Japan marks the 150th anniversary of the
Meiji Restoration that spawned the modern nation,
we must look beyond edited narratives of the event
n 26 November 1868,
Emperor Mutsuhito –
who would come to be
known by his posthumous
name, Meiji – entered Edo Castle,
escorted by 3,300 daimyo (feudal lords),
princes, courtiers, retainers and samurai. Edo was renamed Tokyo (‘Eastern
Capital’), and Edo Castle became the
Imperial Palace.
This Meiji Restoration, as it was
called, was long portrayed as a nearbloodless transition in which feudal
shoguns were replaced by forwardthinking young modernisers. But
in recent years, scholars have been
re-examining the causes, what really
happened, whether it had to happen
the way it did, and how modern Japan
evolved from it. This research reveals
a classic example of history being
written by the victors.
The incident that sparked this
seismic shift in power is well documented: the arrival in 1853 of American
gunships under Commodore Matthew
Perry, who demanded that Japan allow
American whaling ships to take on
coal and supplies, and that it must treat
American castaways better. Japan had
been largely closed to the west for more
than 200 years, during which time it
had enjoyed uninterrupted peace, developing a rich and unique culture.
Perry’s display of western military
might threw into sharp relief the dissensions between those who felt Japan
should open to the west and those who
were fiercely opposed. The shogunate
bowed to Perry’s demands, exposing its
own weaknesses.
When in 1858 the first American
consul, Townsend Harris, demanded
that westerners be allowed to live and
trade in Japan, the shogunate again acceded. But the emperor, Komei, refused
to give his assent – the first time an
emperor refused to back the shogunate
– giving restive elements in the country
a cause to fight for and a figurehead.
When westerners arrived they were
attacked by militant samurai and
engaged in violent clashes with the
Satsuma and Choshu, the most militant
and powerful of the clans and the most
opposed to the shogunate.
Then, in 1866, the 15th (and, as it
transpired, last) shogun took power:
Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who advocated
the need to open to the west, and
proposed a programme of reforms.
Five months later Emperor Komei,
The revolution was
long portrayed as
a near-bloodless
transition in which
feudal shoguns
were replaced by
young modernisers
who had steadfastly opposed the
westerners, died and was succeeded by
his 14-year-old son, Mutsuhito.
While Yoshinobu asked the French
to send advisers to train his troops, the
British secretly armed and advised the
Satsuma and Choshu, who feared the
renewed strengthening of the shogunate.
After a succession of battles, Edo Castle
was handed over, and rebel troops
backing the emperor marched on Edo.
Contrary to the picture later painted
of these events, regime change was
certainly not bloodless – and more
battles were to come. And though
Emperor Meiji was the face of the new
regime, lending it legitimacy, real power
lay primarily with the samurai of the
Satsuma and Choshu clans who had
been the most active players in the
conflict – and who were most influential
in how it was reported.
The Meiji Restoration marks the beginning of modern Japan. Within a few
years, the country had wheeled vehicles,
lighthouses, a railway. Officials toured
America and Europe, studying governmental institutions, industry, trade,
education and warfare, and launched
a frenzy of industrial development,
administrative reform and military modernisation. They unified the country,
abolished the clan system, passed laws
and introduced universal conscription.
With the help of the west, shipyards, iron
smelters and spinning mills sprang up.
Yet a large number of people resented the
changes, including many among the Satsuma; after disaffected samurai of that
Japan learned that
the only way to gain
respect was to fight
and win wars – and
its growing military
strength eventually
led to Pearl Harbor
clan rebelled in 1877, the Satsuma lost
influence, leaving the militant Choshu as
the dominant force in government.
The Japanese learned that the only
way to gain the respect of the west was
to fight and win wars. In 1895 they
defeated the Chinese, and in 1905 the
Russians. Japan’s growing military
strength led eventually to Pearl Harbor.
In Japan, the choice of locations
of events held to mark the 150th
of the Meiji
reflects the
ambivalence of
different regions that
had different experiences of that time.
Kagoshima (heartland
of the Satsuma) and
Yamaguchi (the former
Choshu domain) are hosting the
largest numbers of events. Those who
were the losers in the civil war have no
cause to celebrate. In Aizu, which
remained loyal to the shogun and
suffered for it, there are banners around
the city reminding visitors that the Aizu
were massacred and the clan destroyed
by the imperial army.
Instead of resisting the west, as
China had done, Japan embarked on
a policy of westernisation and managed
to avoid colonisation. Instead of being
the meal at the banquet, they joined the
diners at the table. To do so involved
reshaping the narrative of what had
happened during the transformation,
underlining the legitimacy of the new
government and how advanced and
modernising it was.
Everything that Japan became
stems from this. But there were many
turning points when things might have
gone another way. One wonders how
things might have gone if, instead of
the militant Choshu, the last shogun,
Yoshinobu, had led Japan into the
modern world.
Lesley Downer is an
author and journalist.
Her latest book is the
novel The Shogun’s
Queen (Bantam, 2016)
THE BRIEFING History Headlines
Scroll down
The Museum of the Bible in
Washington DC has revealed
that five ‘Dead Sea Scroll’
fragments are forgeries
Uncomfortable relationship
Osaka has officially ended its 60-year-long ‘sister-city’
relationship with San Francisco after a dispute over a
statue in the US city’s Chinatown district. Erected in 2017,
the sculpture commemorates so-called ‘comfort women’
from China, the Philippines and Korea who were forced to
work in Japanese military brothels between 1932 and
1945. In a letter, Osaka mayor
Hirofumi Yoshimura argued
that the monument’s
inscription “presents
uncertain and
one-sided claims as
historical facts”.
This statue depicting
‘comfort women’ has
sparked a rift between
San Francisco and Osaka
Chocolate time
Humans have been enjoying chocolate
for 1,500 years longer than previously
thought. Analysis of ancient pottery from
south-east Ecuador revealed traces of
cacao grains, indicating that the cacao
plant was first domesticated and its
seeds consumed around 5,300 years ago.
It is believed that
cacao seeds were
ground and mixed
with liquid to make a
drink. The discovery
also suggests that
cacao was first
cultivated in South
America rather than
Central America, as
was long believed.
Seeds from cacao
pods. A new
discovery suggests
cacao has been
cultivated for some
5,300 years
Autumnal eruption
A recently excavated inscription
casts doubt on the long-accepted
date of the destruction of Pompeii.
The Roman writer Pliny the Younger
reported that Vesuvius erupted on
24 August AD 79. However, the newly
exposed charcoal scrawl is dated October
AD 79 – and experts believe it was written
shortly before the eruption. This tallies
with other evidence of an autumn date,
including pomegranates and heating
braziers found among the remains.
A Roman fresco in
Pompeii depicts
Vesuvius – which
may have erupted
in October 79 AD,
not August
Washington DC’s Museum of the Bible has revealed
that five fragments in its Dead Sea Scrolls collection
are forgeries. The artefacts were tested after biblical
scholars expressed concerns about their authenticity,
and were removed from public display after tests
uncovered “characteristics inconsistent with ancient
origin”. Chief curatorial officer Jeffrey Kloha stated
that, despite being disappointed at the news, the
museum maintains a “commitment to transparency”.
Sword salvage
An eight-year-old girl has pulled a 1,500-year-old sword from
a lake in southern Sweden. Saga Vanecek was looking for
stones on the bottom of Vidöstern lake in the summer when
she discovered the weapon, which dates from the pre-Viking
era. It is now being examined at a local museum, and further
archaeological investigations are being undertaken at the lake.
“People are saying I am the queen of Sweden, because [of] the
legend of King Arthur,” Saga told The Guardian.
Saga Vanecek with
the 1,500-year-old
sword she pulled
from a lake in
southern Sweden
in the summer
Deep history
The world’s oldest-known intact
shipwreck has been discovered in the Black
Sea off the Bulgarian coast. Lying at a depth
of 2,000m, the ancient Greek trading vessel –
thought to be 2,400 years old – is a type of ship
previously known only from depictions on
pottery. Pictures from remote-controlled
cameras and 3D imaging techniques have
shown that the mast, rudders and hull of the
23-metre-long wreck are very well preserved,
thanks to low oxygen levels at that depth.
These wooden
figurines of female
musicians were
discovered in the
tomb of a Chinese
woman referred to
as ‘Grand Lady’
A grand grave
The discovery of the tomb of a wealthy Chinese
woman who died 900 years ago has been revealed.
Inscriptions on a banner in the Song-dynasty tomb
in Anhui province refer to her as ‘Grand Lady’.
Alongside her coffin were well-preserved grave
goods including a miniature wooden house,
a silver pendant, figurines of female musicians,
and the remains of sticky rice dumplings. The tomb
was discovered in 2014, but the findings have only
recently been announced.
While eyes
in the west
are focused
on political
in the US,
the UK and Europe, Asia
is changing at a breakneck
pace. Bestselling historian
Peter Frankopan reports
on the transformation
taking place along the
Silk Roads
Peter Frankopan is professor of global
history at Oxford University. The New Silk
Roads: The Present and Future of the World
is out now, published by Bloomsbury
Why the west
must look east
to grasp change
When I wrote my 2015
book The Silk Roads: A New
History of the World, I didn’t
necessarily expect lots of people to read
it. The areas of the world I work on –
the Middle East, Turkey, Asia, China
and Russia, through many of which
ran the important ancient trade routes
for which I named my book – are often
quickly passed over in schools and the
public consumption of history. I wrote
the book to correct that balance, but
also to explain how the west’s control
of historical narratives for the past
300 years may have led to a misleading
view of the world.
The motivation behind writing my
latest book, The New Silk Roads, was
that – as any historian knows – things
change constantly. Since the publication
of that earlier volume, the world has
altered significantly. Britain has held
the Brexit referendum; in the United
States, the administration of President
Donald Trump has taken power; and in
Germany and elsewhere in Europe we
have witnessed the rise of rightwing
political parties.
Yet the most important things that
have happened in the past three years
were not in Europe or America. Indeed,
it’s my view that Europe and the US are
actually reacting to changes elsewhere
in the world, most notably in Asia. And
these changes are monumental. They’re
on a par with the changes wrought by
the twin expeditions of Christopher
Columbus and Vasco da Gama in the
1490s, and the way in which the wealth
that then flowed back to Europe allowed
the continent to build its empires over
the following 300 years.
The pace of change in Asia over the
past three decades has been absolutely
mind-boggling. According to World
Bank figures, 800 million Chinese
people have come out of poverty since
the late 1970s. Twenty years ago,
Chinese tourists spent US$500 million
abroad every year; that figure is now
US$250 billion – double that spent by
Americans abroad.
Half of the football teams in the English Premier League now have foreign
owners from nations including Russia,
the UAE and China. This is unusual. In
the old days, Europeans went abroad to
buy art, or to bring things back from
India. Today it’s the other way around:
the European economy is kept afloat by
people coming to study at our universities or to buy football clubs for fun.
The shift has been monumental,
and will continue being monumental.
There are three reasons behind it. First,
the natural resources lying along the
Silk Roads account for some 75% of
the world’s oil and gas, more than 50%
of the world’s wheat, and 85% of the
world’s rice. Because the population of
Asia is huge – about 4.5 billion people
live in Silk Roads countries between the
Korean peninsula and Turkey – what
they eat and how they travel has a huge
impact on other parts of the world.
The second reason is that the ways
in which the west is trying to make
sense of how the world is changing vary
A farmer winnows rice in a field
near Ahmedabad, western India
in 2016. Nations along the various
routes of the Silk Roads produce
85% of the world’s rice
dramatically. It’s not clear, for instance,
whether the US – still the most important military, economic and political
power in the world – is trying to slow
down change or outright reverse it.
You can see, in the way the US is putting
pressure on nations including China,
Iran and Pakistan, a real understanding
that power in the world is shifting.
The third reason is that, while
Europe is busy trying to pull itself apart,
in the east there are attempts to forge
cooperation between states. It isn’t
always easy, but new forums and
organisations have been created to
facilitate that process. And a long view
of history highlights factors that have
led to fragmentation and division in the
west, in contrast with greater co-operation among states in the east. Europe,
for instance, has long been a fractured,
competitive continent: in 1500, it
comprised 500 political units that, over
the course of the next 400 years, were
whittled down to 25. As a result, we have
tiny little states whose people want their
identity to be protected, whereas over a
long period of time Asia was a continent
About 4.5 billion
people live in
Silk Road countries,
so what they eat
and the way they
travel has a huge
impact on other
parts of the world
dominated by empires with a much
higher degree of cooperation.
A key lesson to take away from all
of this is that states in Europe and those
in the east are structured around very
different rhythms. So although my
new book isn’t so much a history as a
commentary on what the world is going
through at the moment, its message is
an extension of that of The Silk Roads:
we have to recentre our view of today’s
world. We need to recognise that these
divergent rhythms of history need to
be carefully studied and understood –
and that we don’t have the luxury of
looking at just our own neighbourhood.
A final lesson is that change is
entirely normal: massive geopolitical
change has happened many, many
times in the past. The story doesn’t
end. History is a continuum, so you
need to continually refresh your
knowledge. By looking backwards
and asking questions, you can gain
new insights and perspectives – and
those questions always change.
Peter Frankopan was talking
to Matt Elton
Are we
to an age of
Read a discussion
about the legacy of
the Nazis with Mary
Fulbrook and Richard
J Evans on page 72
In the past few years, increasing numbers of populist and extreme
political groups and leaders have risen to power, in parallel with
growing concerns about crime, immigration, economic woes
and religious radicalism. Seven experts debate whether this shift
signals the dawn of a new era of political extremism
Hester Vaizey
Ian Kershaw
“The popularity of those
who offer simple solutions
to complex problems is
reminiscent of extreme
politics in the past”
“No huge political
movements, left or right,
are today propagating
Historians, with their knowledge of
societies across time, are often reluctant
to declare a ‘new age’. Attention-grabbing
newspaper headlines will boldly claim the
uniqueness of our current situation, while
historians curmudgeonly mutter: “It was
ever thus.” However, in today’s world
there are admittedly echoes of periods of
extreme politics in the past.
The popularity of those who offer simple solutions to complex problems today is reminiscent of the success of extreme
politics in the past. Lenin offered “peace, land and bread”
to hungry, war-weary Russian peasants in 1917, while Hitler
promised “bread and work” to Depression-ravaged, unemployed Germans in 1933. And both leaders had reductive
scapegoats for all of society’s ills. The Soviets demonised the
bourgeoisie, whereas Hitler blamed the Jews.
Immigrants seem to be the scapegoats of our day – witness
the Brexit referendum and the popular resonance of Donald
Trump’s ‘America First’ campaign in 2016. Personality politics
also helps to embed political extremes: core voters stick with
popular leaders regardless of what they do. Even as bombs
rained down on German cities and food rationing began to
bite in the latter part of the Second World War, many Germans maintained their faith in Hitler, expressing the view that
if he only knew their level of suffering, he would do something
about it. Vladimir Putin may have little interest in domestic
policy, but he remains popular in his fourth presidential term,
credited with making Russia a great power again.
Control of the media remains a critical ingredient for the
flourishing of extremism. In the past and present, dictators
have sought to control freedom of expression in newspapers,
on the radio and television. Today it finds new expression
through the internet in the form of fake news – for example,
Russia apparently flooding social media with pro-Trump
propaganda during the 2016 US election.
The new liberal order that emerged in the aftermath of
the Second World War is being challenged and tested, as
political extremes manifest themselves in both age-old and
unfamiliar ways.
Hester Vaizey is the author of Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of
the Wall (Oxford University Press, 2014)
It would be an exaggerated description
to call this an ‘age of extremism’. Society
and politics in Europe have undoubtedly
become far more polarised over the
past decade. The explosion of antiestablishment anger that boiled up in
the wake of the bank crash of 2008,
and the impact of the migrant crisis of
2015–16, have driven the polarisation,
though the roots go back further. But the polarisation does
not – at least, not yet – come close to the extremism seen in
Europe during the 1930s. There are echoes of that era, it is
true. But the differences far outweigh the similarities.
Ethnic, border and class conflict are either absent or greatly
muted compared with the interwar years. Capitalism’s crisis
has been contained – for now. But xenophobic populism and
authoritarianism unquestionably challenge the dominance
of liberal democracy in some countries. Pluralist democracy
is being eroded from within in Hungary and Poland, exists
only as a façade in Russia and Turkey, and is challenged in the
United States by Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.
Democracy is, nevertheless, broadly accepted today both by
elites and the mass of the population. Nationalist populism, as
abhorrent as it is, is not the same as fascism – though fascists
are, of course, among its supporters. Interwar fascism promised
revolutionary national renewal. Its hallmark was paramilitary
violence and extreme militarism, while anti-communism was
a central part of its ideological appeal.
No huge political movements, left or right, are today
propagating revolution. No large paramilitary organisations
dominate the streets of Europe’s cities. The violent clashes of
fascists and communists that characterised the 1930s have
largely gone. Militarism plays no role. Since the end of the
Soviet Union, anti-communism no longer serves as an ideological driving-force. Moreover, Russian national assertiveness
today is, unlike communism, not a doctrine with wide international appeal. The global clash of the extremes – fascism
and communism – is also missing.
The eras are different. We live in dangerous times, but not
in a new age of extremism.
Professor Sir Ian Kershaw is regarded as one of the world’s
leading biographers of Adolf Hitler. His latest book is Roller-Coaster:
Europe, 1950–2017 (Allen Lane, 2018)
Kathleen Burk
“It is not yet a new age
of extremism, but it is
threatening the ‘centre’
in many countries”
Migrants – many of them fleeing violence in Syria – beg Macedonian
police to allow them to cross the border from Greece in 2015, aiming
to reach western or northern Europe
A protest by people, including leftwing demonstrators, against
French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018. Should we consider
people who support far-left or -right movements extremists?
The difficulty with this question is that
it produces more questions than answers.
First of all, how does one define extremes?
Do we agree that violence has to be
involved, or can there be extreme voting?
If it is voting, how does one determine
an extreme? Is it the distance from the
centre, wherever that may be? The centre
in the United States is considerably to
the right of the centre in the UK, for example.
Are the millions in the Midwest of the US who voted for
Donald Trump extremists? What about those in France who
vote for the farthest left of the left-wing? What about Le Pen’s
party on the right? What about the far right in Austria? Are
they extreme if they are not violent just because the centre-left
or the centre-right considers them so?
If political beliefs push people into violence, that can be
defined as extreme, at least in a democracy. It becomes a more
difficult question when the violence is against an autocratic or
authoritarian or totalitarian regime; leaders and supporters of
such a regime would certainly consider opposition as
extremism. Examples include Russia, China, Egypt and
Myanmar (Burma).
What about pure nativism? Here there are nuances. It can
imply an anti-others world view, but are those who genuinely
fear the loss of English culture extreme? On the other hand,
those who attack immigrants in eastern Germany are
certainly extremists. There are many in the Midwest who are
anti-immigrant, not necessarily because they are racist but
because they worry about jobs.
As for the question – is this a new age of extremism? – the
answer has to be retrospective. How will things develop? It is
not yet a new age of extremism, but it is threatening the
‘centre’ in many countries. More to the point, is this a new age
of authoritarianism? Hungary is purposively moving in that
direction; Poland possibly, and the Philippines. Will Brazil?
The future will show.
Kathleen Burk is professor emerita of modern and contemporary
history at University College London. Her latest book is The Lion and
the Eagle: The Interaction of the British and American Empires, 1783–1972
(Bloomsbury, 2018)
Rana Mitter
Saskia Schäfer
“The idea that liberal
democracy would prove
the most lasting form of
government seems under
major threat today”
“After decades of relative
stability, societies all over
the world are now wracked
with deep divisions”
Francis Fukuyama’s declaration of 1992,
when he famously called the end of the
Cold War “the end of history”, seems
a long way away. Indeed, the American
political historian has spent much of the
past quarter-century protesting that he
meant end in the sense of ‘purpose’, not
‘termination’. Certainly, his idea that
liberal democracy would prove the most
lasting form of government seems under major threat today.
The challenge comes not just from internal contradictions within western democracies but, notably, from the new
model in China. In the past few years, under the leadership
of Xi Jinping, China has made it clear that it is no longer
seeking to create a more liberal society – one that converges
with the democracies across the world. Instead, it has developed a sharply contrasting model: an authoritarian state in
which the party’s control is superior to that of the law, but
which also offers consumerism and rapid economic growth.
China can back up its model with trade, overseas investment and one of the world’s most powerful militaries. Beijing
makes no bones about the fact that it is prepared to curb legal
and media freedoms as it seeks to strengthen its power. But
its economic success and unapologetic authoritarianism is
providing fuel for strongman leaders (usually men) around
the world, in a way that seems in determined, even extreme
contrast with recent widespread democratic norms.
In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orbán cites China as
an “illiberal democracy” that he looks up to. Turkey under
Erdoğan, Brazil under Bolsonaro and the Philippines under
Duterte all seem to want their leaders to recreate their countries in ways that recall China. Even US president Donald
Trump, who has launched a trade war with China, has
referred to Xi admiringly as the “king of China”.
A decade ago, it seemed that democracies tended to vote
for moderate leaders. Now it seems that many of them want
leaders who have reacted strongly against democratic norms.
And the authoritarian success of China’s economy gives
them part of their justification for that shift.
Rana Mitter is professor of the history and politics of modern China
at the University of Oxford, and author of Modern China: A Very Short
Introduction (2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2016)
Political leaders today outbid each other
with aggression and vulgarity. Streets are
again becoming unsafe for those marked
as minorities. Established parties are
fragmenting. But when one recalls the
street battles in 1930s Germany, or the
anti-communist massacres in Indonesia in
the 1960s, the present suddenly still seems
quite far from a new age of extremism.
The question remains, though, whether many parts of the
world are sliding into one. Weimar artists vividly foresaw how
re-armament and the propaganda of the Nazi regime were
leading to war. It would be overly alarmist and analytically
unhelpful to conclude that history is repeating, but this must
not discourage us from detecting patterns and trying to grasp
the long-term consequences of concrete political decisions.
After decades of relative stability, societies all over the
world are now wracked with deep divisions. For young people
in China and south-east Asia, opportunities are greater than
50 years ago – but so are the risks. Increased individualisation,
loosened social structures and volatile financial markets form
the backdrop against which these young people seek to fulfil
their dreams of comfort and consumption. At the same time,
we can no longer pretend that, in the age of online media,
political parties are still the best means of representation
and decision-making. Parties are dissolving before our eyes,
and not only do career politicians have a new incentive to
turn themselves into personality cults, they also have few
reasons to honour campaign promises.
The system is dissolving without any convincing alternatives. For all the fanfare surrounding digital technology, it has
been used neither to improve political decision-making nor to
create more equality. Ideas about how to harness technology
for democratic ends remain sparse. Instead of striving for a
reduced work day for everyone, governments continue to fixate
on full employment and punish their unemployed with
ever-more-complicated schemes for incentivisation. Economic
development and progress are still measured in outdated
metrics of growth, blind to the environmental costs.
What marks the extremism of our time is less the new
generation of political entrepreneurs, but rather the extremism
of the centre: the belief that an economic model that formerly
suited western Europe and North America can last forever.
Saskia Schäfer is an assistant professor at Humboldt University Berlin
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has overseen a regime of “unapologetic authoritarianism”, according to Rana Mitter – one that has
been admired as an “illiberal democracy” by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and other strongman leaders
An Indonesian civilian is seized during the army-backed crackdown on communists in the mid-1960s, when several hundred
thousand people were killed. Modern extremism often takes different and less obviously violent forms, says Saskia Schäfer
Far-right Brazilian politician Jair Bolsonaro, pictured in April 2018 during the run-up to the presidential election
campaign, which he won in October. “Brazil certainly looks set to be entering a new age of political extremism,”
says Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Evan Mawdsley
“Brazil’s president-elect
has clearly learned lessons
from extreme victories
elsewhere in the world”
“In terms of politics,
economics and conflict,
2018 might be called the
age of amplification”
In October, Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s
presidential election. Many of the views
he has aired – homophobic, racist and
misogynist – echo those espoused by
extremist political movements across
Europe. So how did he achieve victory?
Partly, he benefitted from the discredit
of the nation’s main parties, all of whom
– on the left, the right and the centre
– have been involved in huge corruption scandals in recent
years. Despite serving as an MP for seven terms since 1991,
Bolsonaro has managed to sell himself as a political outsider.
But there are other key factors in the massive rejection
of Brazil’s main leftwing Workers’ Party PT. Many middle-class white people fear that affirmative action and other
policies to fight inequality endanger their status. Supporters
of Pentecostal churches and other moral conservatives,
meanwhile, disagree with policies that bolster gender equality and the rights of LGBT people.
Bolsonaro also benefitted from a disunited political class
– PT refused to support a leftwing candidate who might
have had more chance of defeating Bolsonaro – and a divided
electorate. Though many Brazilian people have expressed
concern about his announcements regarding easily purchasable weapons, retreat from environmental agreements and
much else besides, many others long for the radical change
in political culture that Bolsonaro aims to represent.
He has also clearly learned lessons from extreme rightwing victories elsewhere in the world. For instance, he seems
willing to inundate the public with provocative news via social media in order to divert attention from specific measures
he intends to take.
There is a clear sense among Brazilians that this is a watershed moment, though nobody is yet able to predict exactly
what will happen.
Bolsonaro’s stated aim to wage a cultural war in schools
and universities will inevitably lead to broad resistance and
conflict from teachers and lecturers, and facilitating the
executions of bandits and the easy purchase of weapons
will increase violence and strengthen militia groups that are
already on the rise. In these regards alone, Brazil certainly
looks set to be entering a new age of political extremism.
‘Extremism’ is by definition about
comparison. As a historian who spent
several decades studying the Russian
Revolution, Stalinism and the Second
World War, my view has to be that, in
comparative terms, the present decade is
certainly less extreme than the first half
of the 20th century. At that time, part
of Europe underwent drastic political
developments, with the rise of the extreme left and the extreme
right in 1917–33, a result of warfare on an unprecedented
scale and political and economic breakdown. This rise was
followed by total war and politically-based mass murder
in the period 1937–45.
Those who describe the current period as an ‘age of
extremism’ often contrast it with the post-1945 era, when a
supposed ‘rule-based international order’ was in place. The
world was indeed less extreme after the destruction of fascism,
the appearance of a reformist (or less violent) communism in
the USSR (but not in China) after 1953, and the end of formal
European and Japanese colonialism. For much of this time,
however, ‘order’ was based on the economic preponderance
of the United States and the totalitarian politics and military
potential of the USSR. Also taking place was a highly
dangerous competition in nuclear weapons and violent
struggles in the post-colonial ‘third’ world. The Marxist
historian Eric Hobsbawm used the term ‘age of extremes’
to describe the ‘short’ 20th century (1914–91), lumping
together the decades before and after 1945.
In comparative terms of politics, economics and conflict,
2018 is not a time of extremism. It might be called the age of
amplification, in that electronic media give a voice to nationalist forces and forces of political outliers. What is remarkable,
however, is the general connection between present and past
politics, the continuing globalised nature of economies and the
absence of a genuine threat of full-scale conflict between major
powers. More pessimistically, one could argue that environmental and demographic problems may in decades to come
generate ‘extreme’ challenges. These challenges are not being
addressed today, masked as they are by a preoccupation with
what are in most respects much less critical issues.
Matthias Röhrig Assunção is a professor of history at the University
of Essex, specialising in the history of 19th- and 20th-century Brazil
Evan Mawdsley was professor of international history at the University
of Glasgow. His books include World War II: A New History (Cambridge
University Press, 2009)
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A year in pictures: 1967
Overtaking sexism
Jock Semple, co-director of the Boston
Marathon, tries to grab Kathrine
Switzer’s race number – outraged that
a woman was running. He was tackled
by her boyfriend, Tom Miller, and
Switzer finished in four hours 20
minutes – the first woman to run the
race as a numbered entrant (she had
entered using the name KV Switzer, so
her gender wasn’t noticed by race
officials). Astonishingly, despite the
publicity surrounding Switzer’s run,
women were not officially allowed to
run the Boston Marathon till 1972, and
the first Olympic women’s marathon
was competed as recently as 1984.
Election, defection,
secession and
As hippies celebrated peace
during the ‘Summer of Love’ in
the United States, war raged in
Vietnam, Nigeria and the Middle
East. Richard Overy reviews the
events that defined a year of
battles and breakthroughs
A year in pictures: 1967
This was a year
Talking about a revolution
A group of Albanian students read a journal bearing an image
of Mao Zedong, architect of the violent Cultural Revolution
celebrated inside the magazine. Launched the previous August
and ending only after Mao’s death in 1976, this aggressive
political campaign resulted in a decade of repressive violence
and perhaps two million deaths. Under dictator Enver Hoxha,
Albania was the only European communist country to support
Maoist China, but the Sino-Albanian alliance deteriorated from
1972, leaving Albania economically and politically isolated.
of paradoxes. A widespread and
growing movement in the west, particularly popular among the young,
condemned war and endorsed peace.
That ethos was epitomised by The
Beatles’ hit ‘All You Need is Love’,
released at the height of what later became characterised as the ‘hippy age’.
People searched for counterculture
and protested against violence of all
kinds, yet conflict was persistent outside the western world. In Nigeria,
a brutal civil war broke out as the
region of Biafra launched a fight for
independence in a state only recently
granted its own nationhood.
In China, the Cultural Revolution reached a bloody frenzy as Mao
Zedong launched a virtual civil war
against those defined as class enemies, though the level of violence was
shielded from global scrutiny.
In the Middle East, Israel’s Arab
neighbours aimed to eradicate
the Jewish presence in the region;
however, in a brief clash that became
known as the Six-Day War, Israeli
armed forces won a rapid victory on
all fronts. Instead of oblivion, Israel
extended its territory into previously
Arab-held areas on the West Bank,
Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights.
The period’s longest-lasting and
most devastating conflict, though,
was fought between communist
North Vietnam and the forces of
South Vietnam, the latter supported by the United States. In 1967,
US bombers ramped up a massive
campaign against targets in North
Vietnam, including its capital,
Hanoi. Over the course of the Vietnam War, a higher tonnage of bombs
were deployed on the North than on
Germany in the Second World War.
In truth, ‘All You Need is Love’
was a long way from the realities of
1967 – conflict and unrest, Cold War
confrontations and the instabilities of
a post-imperial age.
Tenth time lucky
The cover of Aretha Franklin’s first hit album, I Never Loved a Man
the Way I Love You, released in 1967. Franklin, born in Memphis in
1942, had previously recorded nine studio albums but commercial
success had eluded her until she signed for Atlantic Records in 1966.
Her version of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’, also released in 1967, was her
first number-one single; it became her signature song and an anthem
for the women’s liberation movement. By the time of her death in
2018, the ‘Queen of Soul’ had released more Billboard top-10 singles
than any other female singer, and had become a global celebrity,
known for her civil rights activism as well as her musical talent.
A plea for unity
A poster in the Nigerian city of Nsukka calls
for national unity following the declaration on
30 May 1967 of an independent Republic of
Biafra, comprising the south-eastern region of
Nigeria. This attempt by the local Igbo majority
to secede from Nigeria – itself an independent
state for only seven years – fuelled a savage civil
war, marked by atrocities perpetrated by both
sides, that raged until January 1970.
A year in pictures: 1967
Calm after the storm
Hanoi residents peer out from understreet shelters as they wait for the all-clear
after a bombing raid by the United
States Air Force in 1967. Operation
Rolling Thunder, a sustained bombing
campaign launched by the US in 1965,
was intended to debilitate the military
capability and logistical structure of
North Vietnam’s armed forces. The result
was widespread death and indiscriminate
destruction: it’s been estimated that at
least 72,000 Vietnamese civilians lost
their lives during the campaign, which
ended in November 1968.
Dome sweet dome
Visitors roam Expo 67, themed
‘Man and His World’, in
Montreal. To stage the Expo,
land was created in the St
Lawrence river using 28 million
tonnes of fill material, extending
an existing island and building
a new one. Running from April
to October 1967, the Expo
attracted huge numbers of
visitors – a record 569,500 on
its third day alone. It formed
the centrepiece of celebrations
commemorating the centennial
of Canadian Confederation.
The dictator’s daughter
Heat of battle
An Egyptian military truck burns during the
Arab-Israeli Six-Day War fought between 5 and
10 June 1967. The conflict erupted after Egypt’s
president Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits
of Tiran to Israeli shipping in May, thereby
blocking Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Israel
responded by launching airstrikes on 5 June,
and swiftly defeated the alliance of Syria,
Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Those Arab forces
were militarily crippled, losing 20,000
soldiers; Israel lost fewer than 1,000.
Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of former
Soviet premier Josef Stalin, pictured in Long
Island, New York in 1967 after seeking
political asylum in the United States in
March. To the consternation of the Soviet
leadership, she became a powerful critic
not only of her late father’s dictatorship
(he died in 1953) but also of their current
government. She returned to the Soviet
Union in 1984 but soon left again, living in
the UK and the US. She died in 2011.
A year in pictures: 1967
A long way round
Francis Chichester departs Sydney, Australia on
29 January 1967 aboard his yacht Gipsy Moth IV.
Sydney was his only port of call during his recordbreaking single-handed circumnavigation of the
globe via Capes Horn and Good Hope. Chichester
was 64 when he set out from Plymouth on 27
August 1966; nine months and one day later –
on 28 May 1967 – he was met by enthusiastic
crowds on his return to the English port, having
covered 29,630 miles.
Every vote counts
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stands
alongside a bulletin board showing
early returns in the general election of
February 1967. Her Indian National
Congress Party retained power but
with a much-reduced majority – only
54% of the seats, compared with
73% in the previous election in 1962.
This dive in popularity reflected both
serious economic problems in India
and divisions within her party, some
of whom questioned the wisdom of
having a female leader. Indira Gandhi
dominated Indian politics for almost
two decades, serving as prime minister
from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980
until her assassination in 1984.
Heart of the matter
Louis Washkansky sits up in bed at Groote Schuur Hospital in
Cape Town, South Africa, where on 3 December 1967 he had
undergone the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant.
The operation had been performed by pioneering South
African surgeon Christiaan Barnard. Washkansky succumbed
to pneumonia 18 days after the groundbreaking procedure,
but the experimental operation paved the way for successful
transplant surgery in the decades that followed.
Richard Overy
is professor of history
at the University
of Exeter, and
editor of The Times
Complete History of
the World (William
Collins, 2015)
The magnificent ruins of the
Great Mosque at Kilwa Kisiwani,
a city founded in the 10th century,
speak of the growth of the powerful,
wealthy Islamic sultanate based on
this island on the Tanzanian coast
During the Middle Ages, while Europe
fought, traded, explored and evolved,
Africa was a continent in darkness,
‘without history’ – or so the traditional
western narrative runs. In fact, as
François-Xavier Fauvelle reveals,
it was a shining period in which great
African cultures flourished
Medieval Africa
A European soldier guards
an African slave in a late18th-century illustration.
Western attitudes to
African history are still
influenced by the
legacy of slavery
A 13th-century illustration of Arab
traders. After the first wave of
Islamic conquest swept across
north Africa in the seventh century,
merchants carried Islamic religion,
law, architectural ideas and goods
south into sub-Saharan regions
This view of Africa’s distant past as a dark age without history is deeply connected with the legacy of slavery. It’s part of an
ideology that developed in the western world from the 16th
century onwards, when Christian western European powers
began to trade slaves with Africa, and between Africa and the
New World. This commerce created a concept of Africans as
almost non-human – as people and societies without substance
and without pasts. And, though the mass commercial enslavement of Africans has ended, this ideology is in many ways still
entrenched in the mentality of many people around the globe.
The fact that African history is such a sensitive issue means
that the subtitle of the book I wrote in response to Sarkozy’s
speech – The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle
Ages – could attract a few criticisms. Some might come from
conservative historians who suggest that, since the term Middle
Ages was created to describe a period of European history, it’s
only fully legitimate in reference to Christian western Europe.
The fact that such
a view of Africa could
be aired was not the
fault of politicians
but of historians
n 27 July 2007, the then French president
Nicolas Sarkozy gave a speech to 1,300
guests at Cheikh Anta Diop University
in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. In his
address, given during a trip to bolster
relations between France and the African
continent, Sarkozy remarked that: “The
tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into
history... They have never really launched themselves into the
future.” He continued: “The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal
was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time... In this imaginary world, where everything starts
over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavour,
nor for the idea of progress.”
Sarkozy’s speech did not go down well. I was based in
Ethiopia at the time, and witnessed the explosive reaction it
provoked – in Africa, among historians of Africa, and across
the African diaspora. Many of my academic colleagues decided to respond to Sarkozy’s words, to demonstrate that it was
wrong to say that Africa has no history. I also wanted to do
something, but wasn’t immediately sure what.
Eventually, I realised that the problem was not with Sarkozy
himself, nor even with the fact that he felt able to make that
speech, but rather that there was room in wider society for it to
be received. My diagnosis was that books addressing African
history were absent from library shelves and bookstores – and
therefore the fact that such a view of Africa could be aired was
not the fault of politicians but of historians.
Coral-stone ruins mark the site of
Songo Mnara, another medieval
trading centre on the Swahili coast
of east Africa. Artefacts from China
and India found here illustrate the
range of its extensive trade network
Another round of criticism might come from African historians
objecting to the application to that continent of a term coined
for Europe, rather than creating a different, distinct name to
designate the time period in Africa.
Yet, despite these objections, I think it’s useful to apply the
term Middle Ages to Africa. It helps us to rethink the period as
something more broad and inclusive, and not merely European.
This is a period of global history – with a place for the Mediterranean, for the Byzantine empire, and for the Islamic world.
Indeed, the Middle Ages was a period during which all of these
regions were conversing and exchanging. If we understand it in
those terms, it helps us to see Christian Europe at that time as
just one part of a global medieval world made up of many different provinces.
Out of the dark
Of course, researching and writing African history is challenging in many ways. There are far fewer written sources than for
Christian western Europe or the Islamic world, for instance.
That’s partly because many African societies didn’t feel the need
to produce their own written archives, so in many regions historians have to work with written documents created outside
those societies. There are a few exceptions to this lack of internal
written documents – for instance, Christian Ethiopia produced
thousands of manuscripts that historians can use
today – but, by and large, historians who want to work with
African history face a lack of written documentation.
So we are left with using other kinds of sources, mainly
archaeological in nature. These include sites, many already
known to us but many of which are still unknown, as well as
objects from these sites. We can also work with rock art, comparative linguistics, and oral testimonies and traditions. The
challenge that African historians face, working with fragmentary evidence, is very different from that confronting historians
of medieval western Europe or modern societies. But this challenge is also part of what makes the subject so fascinating. It’s
the signature of African history.
Despite the fragmentary nature of the evidence available to
us today, it is possible to trace broader trends in the history of
medieval Africa. Many of the continent’s regions, though not
connected with each other, enjoyed the same pattern of relationships with the outside world. Many of these were based on
Islamic trade, which was established around the seventh or
eighth century AD. We can trace the journeys of travellers –
i-Mazigh-en (or Berber) people, Arabs, and those from regions
as diverse as Egypt, Persia and India – coming to sub-Saharan
African cities and trading on a par with their commercial counterparts and local rulers.
These long-distance commercial relationships gave rise to
changes around the continent in various aspects of life, from
political ideology and judicial systems to styles of architecture.
Again, many of these changes were linked to Islam, which is not
only a religion but also a full legal system. Muslim kingdoms
burgeoned in Senegal, Mali, Chad, Ethiopia and surrounding
regions in the 10th and 11th centuries.
This was a completely new development in Africa. Yet this
story is not just about African people adopting outside novelties
such as Islam or a Muslim legal system. It’s also about them
Medieval Africa
Six sites of splendour
Evidence of medieval power, wealth and knowledge
can still be found in locations across Africa
Timbuktu, Mali
Architecture illustrates well how African
societies both adopted and adapted ideas
from outside the region. Many different
African societies converted to Islam, and
the mosques they built shared features
standard across the Islamic world, being
rectangular in plan and incorporating
a mihrab (prayer niche) in the wall
oriented toward Mecca. But despite these
similarities, such structures also made
use of the expertise in vernacular material
of local builders. A good example is the
banco (raw earth) Djinguereber mosque at
Timbuktu (pictured), which, though much
restored, was first built in the 14th century.
Nora, Ethiopia
This c14th-century Islamic complex
was discovered in 2007 about 120 miles
north-east of Addis Ababa. It features
a mosque made of volcanic stone, several
other smaller mosques, dwellings and a
Muslim cemetery. The existence of this site
in the Christian highlands testifies to the
fact that Muslim communities developed
side by side with the Christian Kingdom
of Ethiopia, emphasising their mutually
beneficial commercial relationship.
Kilwa, Tanzania
An important trading post for Arab and Persian
merchants on the east African coast during
the Middle Ages, Kilwa Kisiwani – an island
some 250km south of Dar es Salaam – was the
main outlet for gold from the 13th to the 15th
century. Kilwa society was both fully African
in terms of cultural background and integrated
into the Islamic world. The Great Mosque, built
of coral limestone and topped with cupolas, is
a wonderful architectural achievement.
The roots of Christian communities in Africa
date back to the early centuries AD. Ethiopia,
where Christianity is still active, is a wellknown example, but Christian kingdoms also
flourished elsewhere in Africa. For example,
Nubia, in what is now northern Sudan and
southern Egypt, had a tradition of representing
royal figures and bishops in church frescoes.
This painting was salvaged from the cathedral
of Faras before it was submerged beneath the
rising waters of Lake Nasser, between Egypt
and Sudan, in the 1960s.
Rao, Senegal
Societies across medieval Africa followed
local religions as well as Christianity
and Islam. Unlike adherents of those
two faiths, worshippers were not
prohibited from placing riches in their
tombs, and their funerary practices
therefore provide a good indication of
connections of the medieval African
world. A tumulus at Rao in far
north-west Senegal, dating from about
AD 1300, yielded a collection of locally
made artefacts and imports including
this gold breastplate (pictured). Gold,
in high demand among the local elites,
was obtained from the Islamic merchants
with whom they traded, and was used by
local craftspeople to produce rich
adornments for the local market.
Mapungubwe, South Africa
This site on South Africa’s northern border with Botswana and
Zimbabwe, on the bank of the Limpopo river, encompasses
the tombs of several elite people. Though their precise
status – kings, lords, merchants or religious leaders – is not
known, their tombs demonstrate the flourishing of a social
class that capitalised on commercial links with the outside
world. These 13th-century elites in the remote hinterland
of southern Africa were presumably trading in different
directions: with the Zimbabwean plateau, where gold
was mined; and with trading posts in Mozambique, where
Swahili merchants re-exported gold to the Islamic world.
The social meaning of this little rhinoceros is not known, but
it is interesting that, though made of gold foil from Africa, the
figurine might represent an Asian rhino (it bears only one horn,
like the Javan and Indian species) – inviting reflection on the
global circulation of ideas and goods.
Medieval Africa
adapting it, a process we can see clearly in the very distinctive
local forms of Muslim architecture in different parts of the
continent – for instance, the Swahili architecture that developed along the east African coast, with its mosques and palaces
made of coral block. So this long-distance relationship between
African countries and the rest of the world is a story both of
adoption and adaptation of outside ideas and products.
Majesty and mystery
This really was a golden era of great civilisations. For instance,
during the Middle Ages, Mogadishu (now capital of the modern state of Somalia) was far removed from the complicated,
war-ravaged city it is today; instead it was a peaceful settlement
of trade, characterised by relationships between people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds.
I’m fascinated, too, by the kingdom of Mali, which appeared around the 13th century and declined around the
15th century. Though the beginning and end of that period
are not very well documented, we know a fair amount about
the middle because we’re lucky enough to have a number of
formidable testimonies from travellers and Arab historians.
In 1324, Mali’s sultan Musa I passed through Egypt on
a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina,
stopping in Cairo for several weeks. We know much about
him because, around 25 years later, Arab historian Shihab
al-Umari interviewed people who had met Musa during his
stay. Thanks to his work, we are able to read a very sensitive
account of the sultan’s personality and actions as a ruler,
as well as rare documentation about him and his kingdom.
King Musa I of Mali (c1280–c1337),
pictured on a European map of
west Africa made in 1375. An Arab
historian provided rich detail about
Musa’s kingdom after making
a lengthy stop in Cairo in 1324
One thing that remains a mystery, though, is the location of
the capital of medieval Mali. I’d love to discover the answer to
that particular riddle.
Another fascinating place to visit would have been the
medieval port of ‘Aydhab, which today is in the contested
Hala’ib Triangle region on the Red Sea coast claimed by
both Egypt and Sudan. It’s so contested, in fact, that almost
nobody can go there now, and no researchers have been able
to carry out any work there in the recent past. In the Middle
Ages, though, it was both in the middle of nowhere and a busy
crossroads between various trading routes. It was thus a place
where different communities met: Arabs, Jews, Indians and
Ethiopians. The few academics who have visited in recent
decades have been able to make out the ruins of small stone
houses, ground studded with pieces of Chinese porcelain, and
People like to think of
Africans as more rooted
in nature than culture.
But history teaches a
different lesson: of kings,
diplomats, merchants
A Malian stamp depicts the 11th-century
Persian philosopher and physician Avicenna
(Ibn Sina). Teachings from the east had a longlasting influence on African states including
the famously wealthy kingdom of Mali, which
rose to prominence from the 13th century
The Elba mountains dominate the
interior of the Hala’ib region of
north-east Africa – now a disputed
triangle between Egypt and Sudan,
but in the Middle Ages the site of an
important port at ‘Aydhab
thousands of Muslim tombs made from large rectangular
blocks of limestone – the final resting places of pilgrims who
either never made it to Mecca or never returned home.
New dimensions
These are just a few of the stories of medieval Africa; there are
many more that I could have introduced, both here and in my
book. My aim is to explore the many dimensions of African
history, the different sources and approaches, and to invite other
historians to write other stories – and also for readers to read
more about them. Even now, with African history and archaeology considered legitimate in the academic world, there are still
many areas to explore and many things that must be done to
recover Africa’s past. The process of researching its history
hasn’t always been as active as it should have been, and academic institutions – both in Africa and elsewhere – should invest
much more in uncovering that past than they do now.
It’s a history that should be of interest to everyone. It’s useful,
of course, for African societies and nations, in order for them to
have something to say about their own past. But it’s also useful
outside the continent, because Africa is often perceived as a region of many calamities – pandemics, droughts, famines, wars,
corrupt governments – where people are viewed as victims.
Of course, this view has been changing for the better in recent
decades. But what I find striking is that many people outside
the continent, even those who are well educated and well intentioned, like to think of Africans as people more rooted in nature
than in culture. It’s pertinent to observe the western taste for
African wildlife documentary movies, from which African
characters are almost completely absent, or our romantic approach to wildlife conservation, work that is most commonly led
by westerners. History teaches a different lesson: it shows Africans who were kings, diplomats, merchants, clerics, and builders
of religious or civil monuments that can still be visited today.
These people interacted with each other across the continent as
well as with merchants and diplomats from the wider world.
African people were, of course, sold as slaves. There were
poor peasants who mined a few grams of gold dust per day when
there was no other way to make a living because locusts had ravaged their fields. But when we read about a 14th-century Muslim cleric addressing King Sulayman of Mali, telling him that
he had heard the locusts say they had devastated the country
because it was ill-governed, it is like feeling a refreshing breath
of air through a tiny window: you get a sense of African people’s
strategies in the face of a variety of natural and social problems.
We also need to change the conversation about global
history. We need to understand not only that today’s African
societies go back far in time, but also that they were always
an active part of the world. They were always economic partners,
rivals and allies of other societies with which we are perhaps now
more familiar. African societies
of the Middle Ages were already François-Xavier Fauvelle
participants in a vibrant political, is a historian, archaeologist and
economic and intellectual conver- author. His book The Golden
sation – one that we can still hear Rhinoceros: Histories of the
today, if only we listen well.
African Middle Ages is
François-Xavier Fauvelle was
published in December by
talking to Matt Elton
Princeton University Press
China dominant.
Trade wars.
Does history have
the answers?
Over the past decade, a succession
of challenges have tested the mettle
of governments and businesses.
Can the theories of historical
economists provide solutions to
modern conundrums? Linda Yueh
asks how eight great minds of the
past might address issues of today
1 Beijing’s skyline has
changed beyond recognition
since the Chinese economy
began to boom from 1979
3 A victim of the 1929 US stock
market crash desperately tries
to sell his car
4 Traders at the New York
Stock Exchange watch stocks
fall as the US–China trade war
escalates in June 2018
Unemployed men march in
a British town during the Great
Depression of the 1930s
Historical economists
Is China’s economic rise
a boon or a bane?
The father of communism, Karl Marx A ,
would have had mixed feelings about this
situation. Though China still has a communist
political system, Marx surely would have been
critical of the dismantling of communes, and of
the system of rewarding workers for output that
Factory workers in China
produce jeans for a Spanish
fashion brand. By plugging
into global supply chains,
China has become the
world’s biggest trader
has fuelled its remarkable recent economic rise.
Despite this boom, the Chinese economy is still
plagued with inefficiencies, due to the retention
of large state-owned enterprises and banks that
are not as productive as those in the private
sector. Marx would not necessarily regard these
inefficiencies as negatives, however: he believed
that a communist revolution might always be
possible in the future, and argued that a trigger
could be an economic crisis or high levels of
income inequality. China, certainly, remains at
risk of both.
Douglass North B would have a different
view. He would not be critical of China’s
adoption of market-orientated reforms; China’s
change of course in adopting the profit-based
policies of capitalist societies is precisely what
he advocated.
North argued that nations should learn from
other nations that had grown well, in order to
improve their own institutions. By abandoning
the institutional structures of a centrally
planned economy that had been in place since
the Communist Revolution in 1949, China has
been able to adopt and adapt the best practices
and market-based institutions of successful
economies. By introducing private competition
and opening up to the world economy, China
has been able to produce more efficiently, plug
into global supply chains that enabled it to
become the world’s biggest trader, and lift
hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
Marx and North would also not agree on
whether China’s growth has benefited the west.
Marx would view offshoring, a process in which
western companies relocate production to
cheaper countries such as China, as detrimental
to factory workers in advanced economies
elsewhere. North would instead stress that China
has produced a sizeable middle class in the span
of just four decades – new consumers who are
beginning to benefit the global market.
The point on which Marx and North would
agree is that should China experience a crisis, the
rest of the world would lose out.
Karl Marx
The philosopher
and theorist who
co-authored the
1848 pamphlet The
Communist Manifesto
was a proponent of
a communal system
of ownership of the
economy. His work
has proven highly
influential around
the world, notably
in Russia, Latin
America and China.
Douglass North
A key figure in New
Institutional Economics
– an effort to include
social, historical and
political considerations
in economics – this US
economist spent his
career studying why
some countries grow
successfully while
most do not. In 1993,
he was awarded
the Nobel Prize in
Economic Sciences
for his work.
In the decades since 1979, China introduced
market-orientated reforms into its
centrally planned economy. The results
have been remarkable: it is now the world’s
second-biggest economy. Its emergence
exerts competitive pressure on the rest of
the world through cheap manufacturing
and consumer goods.
John Maynard
Keynes (1883–1946)
Thousands march in London
in 2018, protesting levels of
NHS funding linked with the
kind of government austerity
policies criticised by John
Maynard Keynes
Does austerity work?
Austerity – the decision of a government to
cut spending in order to reduce its budget
deficit – has dominated economic policy in
many western nations since the 2008
banking crisis.
John Maynard Keynes C made his mark on
history by arguing for the necessity of state
intervention in the economy. Rather than proposing that governments should cut spending, he
called for precisely the opposite. In his view,
austerity doesn’t work because it reduces public
expenditure precisely when more spending is
needed to support firms’ operations and people’s
jobs. He stated that government spending is
needed to bring the economy back to full employment – otherwise it won’t happen in the short
run. By the time full employment is restored
‘in the long run’, as argued by the mainstream
economists of his day, it is far too late. Indeed,
in his typically pithy manner, Keynes wrote in
1923 that the “long run is a misleading guide to
current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.”
Keynes did accept that there was one time when
austerity would be warranted: during a boom.
He said that governments should run budget
surpluses during booms, enabling them to
build reserves that could then be spent during
economic downturns.
Well-known monetarist Milton Friedman D ,
conversely, was sceptical about the effectiveness
of government spending (fiscal policy). His rise
to prominence in the 1970s marked the end of
the Keynesian revolution that had dominated
economics since the 1930s. Over those decades,
when governments borrowed to spend in order
to raise the growth rate of the economy, higher
inflation resulted. Friedman’s approach focused
on controlling the supply of money, aiming
to tame the stagflation (an unusual combination
of high inflation and high unemployment)
that plagued that decade. “Inflation is always
and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,”
Friedman wrote in 1970. That remark highlights
his belief that monetary policy – in which a
central bank controls the interest rate or money
supply – can play a central role in aiding the
economy in the short term, rather than relying
on fiscal policy.
So Friedman would also say that austerity
doesn’t work – but whereas Keynes believed
government-funded public spending relieved
downturns, Friedman thought that supplying
more money into the economy was the solution.
This hugely influential
British economist was
at the forefront of a
movement focusing on
justifications for why
governments should
borrow to spend during
recessions. He argued
successfully against
austerity during the
Great Depression of
the 1930s, when
government inaction
threatened to prolong
the worst downturn
in British history.
Milton Friedman
Friedman’s influential
1963 book A Monetary
History of the United
States (with Anna
Jacobson Schwartz)
explored the causes
of the Great Depression. He focused on
monetary policy and
the actions of central
banks, and pioneered
the ‘monetarist’ school
of thought – that money
supply is the factor that
most affects the economy in the short run.
Historical economists
Members of a London
club watch the New York
Stock Exchange crash
unfold in October 1929.
In an increasingly
globalised world, the
effects of financial
crises can spread
more quickly into
overseas markets –
but is this a bad thing,
or a learning process?
Will globalisation
inevitably lead to more
frequent financial crises?
freedom with capitalism and unfettered
markets. In his view, opening up to the global
economy would lead to more efficient markets
rather than necessarily to more frequent or
deeper financial crises. In any case, he would
view any financial crises that did occur as
occasions in which markets would learn lessons
that could help them to operate more efficiently
in future.
Irving Fisher F , who has been called the
first American economist of note, had firsthand experience of the whims of markets.
His reputation and his fortune were both
destroyed when he predicted in 1929 that the
stock market was on a “permanently high
Friedrich Hayek E was a free-market economist
plateau”. He subsequently wrote about debt
favoured by political leaders in the 1980s such as
deflation, the phenomenon whereby prices fall
US president Ronald Reagan and UK prime
after a bubble bursts. When assets lose value,
minister Margaret Thatcher. His best-known
the debt owed on those assets starts to look big.
work, 1944’s The Road to Serfdom, equated
This prompts people to sell assets, further
depressing prices, which leads to
deflation across the economy.
Having seen the effects of the
1929 stock market crash spread
beyond US shores, Fisher would
surely warn that globalisation
enables more of what happens
in one financial market to spill
over into others.
Hayek wouldn’t disagree
with that, but he would not
consider the answer to be more
regulation. Hayek believed that
markets do best when left to
police themselves. So, though
globalisation may magnify
what happens in one financial
market, he believed that it is
best curbed not by government
but by markets learning and
Protesters in Manila march against government measures to combat the
disciplining themselves to avert
financial crisis afflicting Asia in 1997–98. The crisis spread to Russia and
future crises.
Latin America as investors pulled out of emerging markets farther afield
Financial crises have been a feature of
the global economy for centuries. In the
postwar period, however, increasingly
linked markets have been characterised
by contagion, whereby a crisis in one
economy drags down another through
investors moving money in different
economies. The 1997–98 Asian financial
crisis, for instance, saw ‘hot money’ (such
as money invested in stock markets) leave
not just Asia but also Turkey, Russia and
Latin America. These nations didn’t trade
much with each other, but many investors
pulled out of emerging markets in general.
Friedrich Hayek
Born in Austria,
Hayek’s experiences
after the First World
War influenced his
ideas. He became an
advocate of the Austrian
School of Economics,
which believed that
economies with free
markets are always
more efficient than
centrally planned
economies. He equated
free markets with
personal liberty: every
person chooses how to
work, what to produce
and what to sell.
Irving Fisher
Fisher’s theory of debt
deflation explains the
impact of financial
crises such as the
Great Depression of the
1930s. Central bankers
such as Federal
Reserve chairman Ben
Bernanke refined his
work, using Fisher’s
insights to avoid a
repeat of the consequences experienced
during that decade.
Adam Smith
Are trade wars “good,
and easy to win”?
This quote, from a tweet written by US
president Donald Trump in March 2018,
suggests that when countries raise tariffs
– taxes on each other’s imports – it results
in a quick trade war that ends with improved trading terms between those countries after the conflict is over. Trade wars
are nothing new: the repeal in 1846 of the
UK’s Corn Laws (high tariffs imposed on
imported food designed to benefit domestic producers) marked the end of a period
during which European nations had (often
unproductively) engaged in trade wars,
protected their markets, and pursued
mercantilist policies that sought to
achieve a trade surplus.
The experts whose work led to the Corn Laws’
repeal included ‘father of economics’ Adam
Smith G . Smith was adamantly opposed to
protectionism and the imposition by governments of tariffs to gain trade advantages. His
work showed that the market forces of supply and
demand were the most efficient way of operating.
Smith was not merely a theorist: in his last
role, as Commissioner of Customs and the Salt
Duties for Scotland, he put his work into practice. He reluctantly accepted tariffs only if they
were necessary for government revenue, and then
only if they were applied equally – for instance,
to imports of the tipples of both rich and poor.
He also demanded they be enacted in a nondiscriminatory fashion among nations, to avoid
distorting the export market.
David Ricardo H is often considered the
father of international trade, and his theory of
comparative advantage still governs economics
today. After picking up a copy of The Wealth of
Nations, he became a disciple of Smith and taught
himself economics. He refined Smith’s theories
with his concept of ‘comparative advantage’,
showing how countries would benefit from
international trade if they specialised in goods
they produced relatively less inefficiently. He later
entered the British parliament, and his efforts led
to the repeal of the Corn Laws after his death.
In short, neither of these great economists
would say that trade wars are good – and would
certainly not claim that they are easy to win.
Linda Yueh is the author of The Great Economists: How
Their Ideas Can Help Us Today (Viking, 2018)
David Ricardo
Ricardo, a British
businessman and politician, was among the
most important of the
classical economists
of the late 18th and
early 19th centuries. He
observed that trading
economies are more
productive than those
that don’t trade. His
concept of ‘comparative advantage’ states
that countries should
specialise in goods that
they are relatively less
inefficient at producing.
A cartoon of 1815 by George
Cruikshank highlighted the impact
on the poor of punitive import
tariffs embodied in the Corn Laws.
Economist Adam Smith criticised
such mercantilism and trade wars
During his working life,
Smith saw that trade
was characterised by
mercantilist government policies intended
to ensure national trade
surpluses. In his
seminal 1776 work The
Wealth of Nations, Smith
argued for undistorted
international trade.
This hugely influential
book is considered
the first work of
modern economics.
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Available from
Celia Hatton traces the 60-year
history of the quick-to-prepare snack
that fuelled the rise of the east
Boxing clever
Workers package Chikin Ramen,
the first mass-produced instant
noodles, in a factory in Japan,
c1960. Adapted from the simple
ramen noodles brought to Japan
from China in the 1880s, instant
noodles became a worldwide hit
Ramen became
popular in Japan
in the 1920s
and 1930s as a
comfort food
n a grocery store in New York’s Lower East Side,
Coss Marte grabs items off the shelves. “Right
now we’re looking for the Doritos, because
Doritos and ramen [instant] noodle soup,”
he says. “Get two bags, spice it up a bit…
that’s how you make a prison burrito.” He
pauses, staring at the plastic packs of noodles. “This really is survival food in prison.” Marte began dealing drugs in New York City
when he was 12 years old; at 15, he was sent to prison
for a year, the first of three such stints. During those
stretches, he came to understand the importance of the
starchy concoction dubbed the ‘prison burrito’.
In 2016, the role of instant noodles in US prisons was
revealed by sociologist Michael Gibson-Light, who made the
discovery while researching prison jobs. They’re coveted, and
not merely as a casual snack: instant noodles have replaced
cigarettes as the most traded item in many US prisons.
The United States has more known prisoners than any
The culinary ancestry of dried noodles can be traced back to
other country – 2.2 million at last count. It’s a huge market,
an early form of ramen brought to Japan by Chinese chefs in the
and an increasingly hungry one. Prison budgets have been
1880s. In its most basic form, this dish comprised wheat noodles
slashed, and most US jails now feed inmates only the minimum
served in a soupy broth with slices of meat or tofu on top. The
number of calories per day; many offer just two meals each a day
original was eaten by the bowlful by both foreign and Japanese
on weekends. “If you’re in prison and you want or need more
food than you can get from the chow line, you have to buy it
labourers, becoming particularly popular in the 1920s and 1930s
yourself,” Gibson-Light explains. “The costs of nutrition have
as working-class comfort food. Over the decades, that simple
shifted to prisoners themselves. Instant noodles are a go-to
recipe was continually adapted and enhanced by imaginative
because they’re cheap.” Over time, noodles became so valuable
chefs flaunting their skills by making complex broths, perfectly
that inmates began to use them as currency. “They’re easily
textured noodles and an ever-expanding variety of toppings.
stored and they’re non-perishable, so they can be kept for a very
long time, and you would have almost like a bank account,”
Need for noodles
explains former prisoner Chandra Bozelko, adding that prisThe Second World War changed everything. Large tracts of
oners use noodles to pay each other for needful things – even,
urban Japan were destroyed by bombing; the US Strategic
she believes, sex.
Bombing Survey estimated that 104,000
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise:
tonnes of bombs were dropped on Japainstant noodles are both widespread
nese cities between January 1944 and
and popular. Basic instant noodles are
August 1945. The country was broken.
the cheapest items on sale in most prisIn August 1945, a week after atomic
on stores, costing about US$1 for three
bombs obliterated Hiroshima and Nagapacks. And it’s for similar reasons that,
saki, Japanese emperor Hirohito spoke
over the 60 years since their invention,
directly to his people for the first time
instant noodles have also played a sigin a radio address (albeit pre-recorded)
nificant role in the economies of China
broadcast to the nation. He told his suband Japan, as well as becoming a familjects that “the hardships and sufferings
iar, even beloved food for anyone short
to which our nation is to be subjected
on money, time or a kitchen. Last year,
hereafter will be certainly great”.
more than 100 billion servings of instant
The broadcast’s poor quality, coupled
noodles were consumed around the
with the formal Japanese language used
world. In their birthplace, Japan, they
by the emperor, meant that many who
have repeatedly been voted the nation’s
heard his words didn’t understand them.
Coss Marte prepares a ‘prison burrito’, a
most successful invention, ahead of highBut even those people soon learned that
concoction of instant noodles and corn chips he
speed trains, laptops and LED lights.
their country had accepted the terms of
deemed “survival food” during his time in jail
Flour power
People in Tokyo queue for rations
of flour sent from the US in 1946.
In the years following the Second
World War, Japan suffered food
shortages and poor harvests
Blossoming industry
A promotional display of instant noodles in
a Tokyo store. The growth in the popularity
of the snack has been staggering: today, 100
billion servings are sold globally each year
The rise of the instant noodle
Nocturnal noodles
Diners enjoy a late-night snack at
a noodle cart in Tokyo, 1952. The
sight of hungry Japanese people
queueing at noodle stalls in the
postwar years inspired Momofuku
Ando to create instant noodles
Exhibits at the Cupnoodles Museum
in Yokohama include a replica of
the shed in which Momofuku Ando
perfected his noodle-drying process
(above) and a timeline of key dates
in instant-noodle history (left)
Ramen access memories
surrender, and quickly came to understand the hardships
they would face.
As the war approached its end, much Japanese infrastructure had been shattered. In the absence of a working government, the surviving population had to make
do with meagre food supplies, and ramen noodles all
but disappeared. Bombing had destroyed almost half of
the infrastructure in Japan’s 60 largest cities, and left a
large proportion of the population homeless.
Historian John Dower noted that the surrender also
came at a particularly bad time for Japan, just before the
year’s rice harvest was due. Exceptionally poor weather
caused the harvest to fail, with the result that even more people
went hungry. Many families were forced to rely on thin gruel
and watery vegetable soups. The truly desperate resorted to
eating acorns, orange peel and wheat bran normally fed to
livestock. The United States military formally occupied Japan
from 1945 to 1952, and aid imported from the US – including
wheat flour and vegetable oil – was important in keeping stomachs full at a time when rice was scarce.
Enter our unlikely hero: businessman Momofuku Ando. He
had earned a fortune, first in his native Taiwan (at that time an
Imperial Japanese territory) and then in Japan itself, making industrial parts during the war – but then lost it all. In 1948, he was
convicted of tax evasion and went to prison for two years, though
he always maintained his innocence. After his release from jail,
he was head of a credit union, which also collapsed. Yet Ando was
persistent: he wanted to rebuild his reputation and his fortune.
Around that time, he witnessed something that would
change the course of his life. In Osaka, where he lived in the
postwar years, long queues of exhausted people would wait
patiently for bowls of steaming ramen noodle soup. It was an
image that stuck in his mind.
Momofuku Ando
(1910–2007) eats
cup noodles in 2004.
Recognising that US
consumers didn’t have
noodle-friendly bowls,
in 1971 he packaged his
product in plastic cups
Instant noodles
signalled Japan’s
rise to becoming a
modern economic
Over a decade after the surrender, contacts in Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture told Momofuku Ando they were eager for
Japanese people to eat more American wheat flour – the key
component of US aid at the time. The Japanese Ministry of
Health was trying to encourage citizens to eat more bread, but
that campaign wasn’t working.
The memory of those queues at noodle shops resurfaced in
Ando’s mind. What the Japanese needed, he thought, was a
modern, speedy version of that working-class comfort food –
a dish that used large amounts of vegetable oil and American
wheat flour. He saw this as more than simply something to fill
bellies, musing: “Peace will come to the world when the people
have enough to eat.”
Instant phenomenon
And so in 1957, at the age of 47, Ando transformed himself into
a food inventor. Every day for a year, he disappeared into a
wooden shed in his back garden to experiment. Finally he
emerged with a product almost identical in appearance to the
rectangular bricks of instant noodles that are stacked on supermarket shelves around the world. He called his invention
‘Chikin Ramen’, and began to market it under the name of
the new company he founded for the purpose, Nissin Foods.
Other companies followed with similar creations. Instant
ramen makers were savvy, turning cheap and abundant US
wheat flour into product that could be sold at a mark-up in
newly established supermarkets.
The genesis of instant noodles marked a turning point in
Japan’s history, mirroring its rise from a struggling nation to a
modern economic powerhouse. And they came of age when
Japanese households were filling up with new products. Electric
kettles made it easy to cook instant noodles, commercials for
which were broadcast into newly middle-class homes on brandnew televisions. In 1956, only 1% of Japanese households had
a TV. Four years later, almost half had one.
The rise of the instant noodle
Emergency rations
Train passengers in China stranded
by snowstorms in 2008 request hot
water for their cup noodles. For
people without kitchens – either
temporarily or for longer periods
– instant noodles can be invaluable
Barter economies
Abachi Mohammed photographed
at an Internally Displaced Persons
(IDP) camp in Nigeria in 2018.
With cash in short supply, people
in IDP camps often turn to bartering
items such as noodles to survive
Effervescent advertisements from that age promoted ‘convenient’ new foods including instant coffee,
frozen meals and curry flavour cubes. Some of Nissin’s first television promotions targeted mothers
feeding young children, working bachelors and
elderly people who were discovering the ease of
consuming mass-produced food products. The
Japanese diet never fully reverted back to a menu
dominated by rice. Some observers have compared
the proliferation of noodles in Japan to the long-term
rise in popularity of pizza in many western countries.
In 1971, Ando followed up his first invention with
the product that brought him international success: the
Cup Noodle. He was intent on boosting sales in the US, but
American consumers at the time didn’t own the deep bowls
needed for serving soupy noodles. On a return flight from the
US to Japan, Ando noticed a peel-top container of macadamia
nuts, and was inspired to create similar packaging for his noodles. The resulting cup noodles flew off the shelves. Demand
for instant noodles grew during the 1980s, both in Asia and
then in the US and Europe, with sales reaching approximately
15 billion servings annually worldwide in 1990. Today that
figure is closer to 100 billion servings.
As instant noodles proliferated around the globe, marketers
have taken pains to tailor them to specific markets, introducing
flavours to make them seem local. In Thailand, green curry
flavour is a hit. In Mexico, noodles are eaten with limes and
salsa. There are interesting crossovers, too: in Japan you can try
chicken-nugget-flavoured noodles; in Pakistan, pizza flavour.
Instant noodles
have become the
global convenience
food – a snack that’s
always on hand
A meal in minutes
For a large proportion of the planet’s population, noodles are
an economic necessity. China is by far the world’s largest market for instant noodles, with demand long highest among
migrant workers who left their homes in the countryside to
work in the country’s factories and major cities. For some three
decades, between 1978 and 2009, China’s economic growth
stood at an astonishing 9.5% a year, according to the World
Bank. It was the fastest growth in economic history – but it
relied on migrant workers with a makeshift lifestyle. If you
were a worker at the bottom of the ladder in China, sleeping in
a dormitory and eating canteen food, instant noodles provided
a convenient, filling snack.
Instant noodles – these
were pictured in Osaka
in 2018 – remain
popular despite drives
for healthier eating
and concerns about
environmental impact
Today, it seems, the ‘instant noodle lifestyle’ is rapidly becoming a thing of the past in China. Sales peaked there at more
than 50 billion servings a year in 2010, just after the Chinese
economy reported record gains, but they have fallen every year
since. Indeed, they were down 16% in the past year alone.
Why? In 2011, Chinese government figures showed that
half of the country’s factory workers lived in dormitories; just
five years later, that figure had fallen to only 13%. Some 60%
of those workers moved into rented housing with kitchens,
enabling them to cook what they want, when they want – so
they have less need for instant noodles.
Many Chinese people are also pushing to eat healthier food,
echoing an increasingly global push for better nutrition. Food
conglomerates are under pressure from consumers to overhaul
their products, and Ando’s company Nissin is no different.
However, in a museum dedicated to Momofuku Ando and
his creation in the Japanese city of Yokohama, there is little
mention of the criticism that his invention has attracted in
recent years. Here, a cardboard cut-out of Ando is surrounded
by (and implicitly compared favourably to) famous historical
figures: Beethoven, Marie Curie, Galileo. The display begs the
question: does the creator of instant noodles deserve a place of
honour among the world’s greatest figures?
Whatever the answer, it remains the case that instant
noodles have become the global convenience food – the hot
snack that’s always on hand for those short on money or time.
Is there better food? Quite possibly. Even so, there’s a reason why
the popularity of Momofuku Celia Hatton is a BBC news
Ando’s invention has endured for correspondent, previously based
60 years. As long as there are in Beijing. Her BBC Radio 4
people living in dormitories, or programme The Eternal Life
shopping in convenience stores, of the Instant Noodle is available
or concocting meals in prisons, on iPlayer at
instant noodles will be there.
Stream of consciousness
Actor, singer and political activist
Paul Robeson in a publicity still for
the 1936 film version of Show Boat.
He became inextricably linked with
the musical’s standout song ‘Ol’ Man
River’, which reminded audiences
of the racial and social realities
of the American South through
which the Mississippi flows
In the decades after it first wowed audiences
of the hit musical Show Boat in 1927, ‘Ol’ Man
River’ took on a political life of its own –
thanks, in large part, to the man who gave it
new meaning: Paul Robeson. Mark Burman
traces the song’s course from New York to
London, civil-war-era Spain and India
ultiple histories flow
through ‘Ol’ Man River’.
A foundation song of the
‘great American musical’
that was also performed
on the front line of the
Spanish Civil War and
at the height of the Black
Power movement, there
have been more versions of the song than the Mississippi river
has miles. It has been performed by talents as diverse as Bing
Crosby and Rod Stewart, Judy Garland and Aretha Franklin.
Yet above all it belongs to singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson. His life was inextricably linked to a song he at first resented
and rejected but which he later embraced, repeatedly adapting
it to reflect the political passions and turbulence of his times.
‘Ol’ Man River’ is a faux spiritual written in 1927 by a pair
of New Yorkers for the groundbreaking musical Show Boat,
which follows the lives of performers and workers on a vessel on
the Mississippi river. In fact, neither composer Jerome Kern
nor lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II had ever seen the Mississippi
at the time that they penned the song.
Both were children of Jewish immigrants to the United
States, as was Edna Ferber, author of the bestselling novel on
which the musical was based. When Show Boat opened on
Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 27 December of that year,
the American musical was reborn with wild ambition.
An epic, sprawling, multi-generational work, Show Boat was
nostalgic yet absolutely modern. Both book and musical begin
in the post-bellum American South of the 1880s but end in
1927, in jazz-age Chicago. Race and music give it much of its
power, then and now; Ferber, Kern and Hammerstein were all
alive to the many ways in which black music was already transforming American popular entertainment. The plot is propelled
by Jim Crow laws on interracial marriage. Singing side by side in
segregated America, the show’s touring casts would themselves
frequently be forced to stay in separate accommodation.
Show Boat is a joyous musical comedy, but it is haunted by
slavery’s shadow. The real Mississippi had borne the unfree in
chains to cities such as New Orleans, or to the cotton plantations where so many of them worked in bondage. The very first
words of the musical were intended as a reminder of the racial
reality of the South for the overwhelmingly white audience:
“Niggers all work on de Mississippi,” the black chorus sang,
labouring by the banks while “de white folks play”.
You won’t hear those lines any more. Black cast members
immediately hated singing them, some silently mouthing in
protest. Black newspapers continually lambasted the production for its use of the ‘n-word’. Hammerstein and Kern took
note, rapidly amending the phrase to ‘darkies’, and then to
‘coloured folks’; multiple variants evolved in response to changing tastes and times.
Neither the lyricist
nor the composer of
‘Ol’ Man River’ had
seen the Mississippi
when they wrote the
faux spiritual in 1927
Then there is that beautiful, show-stopping song. Heard
three times throughout Show Boat, ‘Ol’ Man River’ binds together its diverse elements. It was the first thing that Kern and
Hammerstein wrote for the musical, searching for a unifying
theme and a way of convincing Ferber to give them the rights to
her novel. Hammerstein wanted to put the words in the mouth
of “a rugged, untutored philosopher with some protest implied”.
The lyrics speak of a land that “ain’t free”, a world of toil,
“bodies all racked with pain” longing for escape from “the white
boss”. The river is impassive to the suffering of its black workers.
Joe is “tired of living and scared of dying” but “Ol’ Man River
he just keeps rollin’ along”. It’s a song of great power and drama
– and it was crafted specifically for Paul Robeson.
Renaissance man
This was the height of the Harlem Renaissance – the flowering
of black American culture, the age of the ‘New Negro’, as identified by Alain Locke [read more about Locke in our feature on
page 70]. There was nobody newer or more exciting than Robeson, already America’s first black superstar and the toast of New
York intellectuals, black and white. Son of a Methodist minister, himself an escaped slave, Robeson was an elite scholar, a star
athlete and a Columbia Law School graduate discouraged from
practising by the constant racism he encountered. He had
already played leads in plays by Eugene O’Neill, and by 1925
was wowing audiences in New York’s Greenwich Village with
‘Negro spirituals’ performed with his accompanist Lawrence
Brown. Influential liberal magazine The New Republic called
him “not merely an actor and singer… but a symbol. A sort of
sublimation of what the Negro may be in the Golden Age”.
Robeson meant, and still means, many things to many
people, and Kern and Hammerstein were acutely aware of what
he could bring to Show Boat. In the musical’s earliest drafts,
Robeson was pencilled to play not only wise stevedore Joe but
Behind the music
Composer Jerome Kern
pictured at his piano. As
well as ‘Ol’ Man River’,
Kern wrote and co-wrote
hundreds of songs, including
‘The Way You Look Tonight’
and ‘Smoke Gets in Your
Eyes’, across a career that
spanned three decades
Key change
The score for the first
London production of Show
Boat (1928). The work
marked a shift in American
musical theatre from light
comedy towards weightier
dramatic material, often
exploring serious themes
and social issues
When the cotton is high
Men work a cotton gin in Dahomey, Mississippi,
in 1898. In fertile southern states with a long history
of cotton-growing, the jobs of picking and processing
were - until slavery’s abolition in 1865 - undertaken
almost exclusively by enslaved people. Even after
abolition, growing and picking was largely done by
poor black sharecroppers, leading to social tensions
Role of a lifetime
Paul Robeson in publicity stills for the
1936 movie of Show Boat, shown carrying
a cotton bale (top) and with Hattie McDaniel
(above). Robeson had a complicated
relationship with its most famous song,
changing its lyrics on several occasions
to reflect his political views
Show Boat is haunted
by slavery’s shadow.
The real Mississippi
had borne the unfree
to cotton plantations
The global legacy of ‘Ol’ Man River’
also, as the plot hit 1927, Joe’s son – who just happened to be
none other than Paul Robeson himself, performing spirituals on
stage with Lawrence Brown. But Robeson declined the role, so
that latter scene was cut, and black baritone Jules Bledsoe played
Joe for the show’s smash-hit first run.
Robeson’s reason for rejecting the role was, ostensibly,
scheduling – a tour of Europe beckoned – but his anxieties went
deeper. For all of Show Boat’s undoubted brilliance, it still trafficked in stereotypes: faux ‘Negro’ dialect; lazy, good natured
Joe; a servile black cast. Shockingly, by today’s standards, in
that first version Joe’s stage wife performed in blackface.
Meanwhile, as audiences embraced Show Boat, the real Mississippi did more than “just keep rollin’ along”. From April 1927
it burst many of its man-made levees, resulting in the worst
flood of the century. More than half a million people were displaced, and muddy waters poured across seven states. For black
southerners still bound in a system of share-cropping poverty
and murderous white supremacy, the floods were a double disaster: their lives were swept away, their deaths mostly uncounted.
Unlike their white counterparts, black refugees were kept in
outdoor camps with inadequate food and shelter. Many were
forced at gunpoint to undertake heavy labour. In the flood’s
aftermath, the Great Migration – that vast wave of black movement from the South to the North – gained pace.
That was the America Robeson left behind, and he remained
absent for much of the following decade and beyond. Instead he
thrilled European audiences from his base in London, a city he
found “infinitely better than Chicago had been for Negroes
from the Mississippi”. There, in 1928, he took the part of Joe in
the European premiere of Show Boat – an opportunity he found
more appealing if it took him away from the US and its racism.
He found himself in Europe during the height of fascism
and at the heart of the British empire during the midst of the
Great Depression. Encounters with starving Welsh miners and
with African and Caribbean intellectuals including Jomo Kenyatta and CLR James, along with a growing love affair with the
Soviet Union, placed him at the forefront of leftwing intellectual engagement with the defining crises of the age. His views
grew increasingly internationalist, socialist, anti-colonial and
outspoken. American and British security services began keeping files on him and his pronouncements.
Enigmatic variations
Still, his audiences, whether in the Welsh valleys, in local cinemas or on Broadway, would always call for ‘Ol’ Man River’.
By 1928, the song had already broken free from its Broadway
confines to become a jazz standard later performed by everyone from Al Jolson to Frank Sinatra. But by 1937, as delivered
by Robeson at the Albert Hall in two concerts for the Spanish
Republican cause and Basque refugees from the Spanish Civil
War, it was a very different song. The “artist has to take sides”,
declared Robeson, changing the lyrics to: “There’s an old man
By 1928, ‘Ol’ Man River’
had broken free of its
Broadway confines. It
became a jazz standard
sung by Frank Sinatra
called the Mississippi / That’s the old man I don’t like to be.”
Rejecting passivity and inaction, he turned the song’s final lines
into a cry of defiance:
But I keep laughin’ instead of cryin’
I must keep fightin’ until I’m dyin’
And Ol’ Man River
He’ll just keep rollin’ along
By the following year, Robeson was singing his version on
the front lines of Spanish battlefields. He would sing it his way
for the rest of his life – not always with Oscar Hammerstein’s
approval. Hammerstein once remarked: “I see by the papers
that Paul Robeson believes the words should be changed. As the
author… I should like it known that I have no intention of
changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest that Paul write his own songs and leave mine alone.”
Robeson was about to face bigger troubles than the gripes of
a disgruntled lyricist. In 1949, the Cold War threw everything
into sharp relief, with Communist victory in China ushering
in the People’s Republic, and the Soviets exploding their first
atomic bomb. Earlier that year, at the Soviet-sponsored World
Congress of Partisans for Peace in Paris, Robeson had called for
redistribution of wealth and rejected conflict with Russia. “We
shall not put up with any hysterical raving that urges us to make
war on anyone,” he said. “We shall not make war on anyone.
We shall not make war on the Soviet Union.” The US press misquoted Robeson, though, and American readers read his words
as: “It is unthinkable that American Negroes would go to war,
on behalf of those who have oppressed them for generations,
against the Soviet Union.” There was a furious reaction in the
US, where his opponents labelled Robeson ‘Black Stalin’.
A benefit concert under the auspices of the Civil Rights
Congress – itself soon to be investigated under suspicion of
being a front for communists – was planned, to be held just outside Peekskill, upstate New York, on 27 August 1949. Over the
Turbulent times
A swollen river sweeps
through Louisiana in 1927.
That year’s Great Flood
of the Mississippi caused
the displacement of more
than half a million people
across the American South
Divisive words
Robeson gives a speech
in 1949 at the World
Congress of the Partisans
for Peace in Paris – a
forerunner of the World
Peace Council. His words,
misquoted in the press,
angered critics in the
United States
From actor to activist
Paul Robeson surveys bomb damage in
Madrid in 1938 during the Spanish Civil
War. Having moved to Europe, the actor
became increasingly vocal in identifying
with a range of leftwing causes
The global legacy of ‘Ol’ Man River’
‘Ol’ Man River’ was about to flow
in a radically different direction,
far beyond the Mississippi basin
Man of the people?
Voices of discord
People in New York State protest
against Robeson’s appearance at a 1949
benefit concert for a civil rights group
accused of pro-communist activities.
“By this point, you were either for or
against Robeson,” says Mark Burman
Paul Robeson receives a warm
response from factory workers in
Prague, May 1949. Invited by the
nation’s Communist leaders, who
had taken power in a coup the
previous year, Robeson also sang
at the city’s spring music festival
previous three years Robeson had headan accompanying instrument! No – this is
lined similar concerts in and around
a social instrument. The strum of a guitar
Peekskill, a stronghold for leftist Jews
can alter the way a nation thinks!”
drawn from New York to the idyllic rural
In any case, Robeson sharpened
surroundings, but also home to an older
Hazarika’s understanding that an artist
community with pronounced Republicould not separate himself from society.
can sympathies. After the concert was
Hazarika dreamed of a casteless, classannounced, the local paper carried a thunless Assam, a land through which the alldering editorial claiming that “Every ticket
powerful Brahmaputra river flowed – and
purchased will drop nickels and dimes into
often flooded – its 1,800-mile course. Hazarithe basket of an un-American political organika’s own birthplace had been swallowed by the
sation. If the Robeson concert follows the patwaters of the Luit, as it was known locally. In
Assamese singer and activist
tern of its predecessors, it will consist of an unmyth, it is the only male river in all of India,
Bhupen Hazarika, pictured c1948.
savoury mixture of song and political talk by
son of the great Hindu god Brahma.
exchanged ideas with Robeson
one who has described Russia as his ‘second
The ballad that emerged from Hazarika
motherland’. Let us leave no doubt in their minds that they are
and Robeson’s meeting, ‘Bistirna Parore’, was a poetic condemunwelcome around here either now or in the future.”
nation of both the ancient river’s bloody waters along whose
The first attempt to stage the concert was met with local
banks people still suffered, and of the politicians who ignored
hysteria. Anti-Semitic and racial abuse greeted would-be conthose people’s fate: “Though you hear the cries of despair / of
certgoers, who were gradually encircled. Requests for police
the hordes who dwell on your boundless banks / oh Burha Luit
protection had been ignored, and the half-dozen police officers
(Old Man Luit) / why do you roll impassively, silently on?”
present were powerless to prevent a mob of local American
Hazarika soon moved the song to the banks of the (female)
Legion Members and toughs rioting for over three hours.
Ganges in new Bengali and Hindi versions – and the song
The American Civil Liberties Union report into the riot and its
reached hundreds of millions beyond Assam. Many remain unaftermath stated that “the Westchester County Police permitaware of its show-tune origins.
ted the assault upon the Robeson supporters”.
There was one further radical twist for ‘Ol’ Man River’ in the
Undeterred, Robeson, concert chairman Howard Fast and
US in the 1970s, taking it a long way from its origins on Broadother leftist performers including renowned folk singer Pete
way. ‘Ol’ Pig Nixon’ was a parody by The Lumpen, the house
Seeger re-assembled a week later to sing for an audience protectband of militant political organisation the Black Panthers, critied by a human chain of unionists, leftwing war veterans and
cising then-president Richard Nixon. All rhythm ’n’ blues and
volunteers. A scratchy, partial recording exists of Robeson beltrevolution, it played to halls in college campuses across the US.
ing out: “We must keep fightin’ until we’re dyin’,” to rapturous
The four-piece band, with choreographed moves mimicking
applause. By this point, you were either for or against Robeson.
grenade-throwing and shotgun-pumping, had crowds on their
The government fell in the latter camp, and rapidly shut down
feet. It was familiar music – a song by now woven, thanks to four
his career. Concerts were pulled, venues were denied and FBI
decades of covers, firmly into the
agents confiscated his passport.
American psyche – but with vastly
different words for bitter times: Mark Burman is producer of
“Ol’ Pig Nixon / That Ol’ Pig It Jus’ Keeps Rolling: The Story of
The river just keeps rolling along
Nixon / He don’t know nothing / Ol’ Man River, to be broadcast on
‘Ol’ Man River’ was about to flow in a radically different direcWe all should do something.”
BBC World Service in December.
tion, far beyond the Mississippi basin and even the US. That
The venerable Show Boat is now
same year, 1949, Assamese firebrand Bhupen Hazarika arrived
approaching a century old. Staging
in New York to study at Columbia University. A romantic,
it today presents challenges, but DISCOVER MORE
poetic Marxist and former singing child star of Assamese cinerecent productions such as the Who Should Sing ‘Ol’ Man River’?
ma, he was an accomplished performer, filmmaker and broadwell-reviewed show at the Sheffield by Todd Decker (Oxford
caster. He also had a passionate commitment to the newly
Crucible in 2015 still carry genu- University Press, 2015)
independent India and Assamese cultural independence. As he
ine emotional power. Much of that The Undiscovered Paul Robeson
put it: “I am a spark of a fiery age; I will build a new Assam.”
power is down to ‘Ol’ Man River’, (John Wiley & Sons, 2001)
Stories of Hazarika’s first encounter with Robeson vary. Pera song that carries both the com- Anthem: Social Movements
haps it was an exchange of words about post-Partition violence
the Sound of Solidarity in
pelling memory of Paul Robeson and
in India. In my favourite version, it was at a lecture during which
the African Diaspora by Shana L
and the weight of decades of real, Redmond (New York University
Robeson raised a guitar in his fist and asked the audience to tell
Press, 2013)
complex history.
him what it was, before stating: “Not a musical instrument or
n 1907, a young Harvard College
graduate from Philadelphia won
a Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate study at the University
of Oxford. A talented, homosexual and unmistakably African-American
aesthete, Alain Locke seized this opportunity to study abroad. He wished
to become a diplomat or international
journalist – anything that would allow
him to escape America’s race problem
and crushing homophobia.
As black writer James Baldwin later
observed, an African-American abroad
quickly learns how much he is American and how much America’s problems
follow him. At Oxford, Rhodes Scholars
from the American South took every
opportunity to make Locke miserable.
He frequently left Oxford to tour France,
Germany and Italy.
Excluded and wounded but not
defeated, Locke began to reconstruct
his identity. From debates with Jewish
graduate student Horace Kallen emerged
the concept of ‘cultural pluralism’ and a
new theory of Americanism – the right
to be racially, sexually and artistically
different, yet still be American.
Oxford rejected Locke’s 400-page
philosophical thesis. Leaving the university without his postgraduate degree, he
returned to Europe, penniless, homeless
and too embarrassed by academic failure
to go back to America. Lionel de Fonseka came to his rescue. Locke had met
Fonseka through the Oxford Cosmopolitan Club, a community of people from
India, Egypt, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
and South Africa, along with Germans
and a few outlier British, who opposed
the attitude (crystallised in the writings
of Thomas Babington Macaulay) that
non-western cultures were not worth a
single shelf of English literature. Fonseka
invited Locke to stay in his London flat
to help the former finish On the Truth
of Decorative Art: A Dialogue between
an Oriental and an Occidental (1913),
a love song to “the people of Ceylon...
[to counteract] the modern tendency...
under Western influences to abandon
our traditions in art...” Fonseka’s book
delivered a critique of British imperial
style as an aesthetic failure, claiming that
“Oriental” culture possessed the true artistic sense long abandoned by the west.
This work presaged Locke’s The New
Negro: An Interpretation, an anthology
of fiction, poetry and essays published
in 1925 in which he argued that the
aesthetics of indigenous peoples were
just as valuable as – perhaps superior
to – the aesthetic cultures produced by
those who politically and economically
dominated non-white people.
In 1911, Locke returned to the US
and next year accepted a job at Howard
University, a historically black institution, where he taught for most of the following 40 years. He gained a doctorate
in philosophy from Harvard University,
but remained a frequent expatriate. Notably, Locke found in Berlin’s Weimar
culture a way to assert the modernism of
African-American aesthetics, enlisting
German-American artist Winold Reiss
to illustrate The New Negro.
Over subsequent decades Locke
encouraged generations of AfricanAmerican poets, fiction writers, visual
artists, playwrights and composers, nurturing books that argued the AfricanAmerican was the United States’ –
indeed, the world’s – quintessential artist. Locke used his love of art to advance
his love of freedom. In The New Negro
and other publications he argued that
art of the black experience was not only
a weapon against the kind of racism he
had experienced at Oxford, but also an
internal armour of black humanity that
would transform the formerly enslaved
into something noble and powerful.
Locke challenged the implicit notion
that no one who was not a black middleclass, college-educated heterosexual
could be a leader in the US civil rights
movement. Yet a culture of bourgeois
respectability in that establishment
excluded him from positions of leadership. He was investigated by the FBI in
the 1940s, and his homosexuality was
mentioned in his FBI file.
Locke died on 9 June 1954, following
cardiac problems. He had produced
books, exhibitions, concerts and forums
that introduced African-Americans to
the notion that they had a rich intellectual heritage and could continue it.
He introduced African art to the black
community in Harlem, and his work
provided inspiration to the Harlem
Renaissance – the 1920s flowering
of African-American culture. Most
importantly, he argued that there was
a ‘New Negro’ in all African-Americans
– a world-historical subject only
temporarily suppressed, and which
could, if awakened, change not just
America but the world.
Jeffrey C Stewart is professor in the
Department of Black Studies at the University of
California, Santa Barbara and author of The New
Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (OUP, 2018)
Art and freedom
As a gay black man, Alain Locke faced prejudice both in the United States and
at university in Oxford, but channelled his experiences to synthesise new ideas
of African-American culture. His work provided inspiration for the burgeoning
Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of poets, fiction writers, playwrights and
musicians – including Louis Armstrong (pictured bottom right)
“The injustices, and the
evasions of justice, are really
pathetic on every count”
Mary Fulbrook’s new book, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution
and the Quest for Justice, explores the aftermath of the Holocaust.
She met fellow historian Richard J Evans to discuss the outcomes
for both survivors and perpetrators
CULTURE The Conversation
“Museums often still
portray a pretty simplistic
picture of who Holocaust
perpetrators were”
It makes sense that the generation who grew up in the 1950s
and 1960s would confront their parents – to ask about what
this new book?
they had suffered as victims or how they had been involved
Mary Fulbrook: It interested me initially from two quite
as perpetrators – but how do you explain the interest shown
different perspectives. One was an awareness that the legacies
by the third generation?
of the Holocaust persist across generations, and I wanted to
The children of victims often didn’t confront their parents,
explore that in more detail. The other was an enduring sense
instead respecting their decision to remain silent about a
of injustice. It seemed to me from my previous work that many
painful past. But from the mid-1970s the so-called ‘second
of those who were deeply involved in making the Holocaust
generation’ in survivor communities suddenly became aware of
possible, but who weren’t themselves ‘frontline’ killers,
the fact they were different in some way, that they were marked
somehow got away with it. I wanted to explore in more detail
by this past about which they often knew very little. They felt
and on a broader canvas what happened to people on both
unplaced as a result, and needed to explore these stories.
sides of the divide – both those who persecuted and those who
If you were a perpetrator’s child who wasn’t sure what your
were persecuted – and what the significance of that was for the
father had done – and it usually was fathers who had done
next generation.
these unspeakable things – you might be torn between
wanting to know and not wanting to know: wanting to
The survivors and perpetrators of Nazi persecution are now
continue to love and respect him while completely rejecting
very old; in a few years’ time, there won’t be many left alive.
what he had done. So in that generation there was a much
Yet, contrary to what might be expected, public and cultural
more generalised attack on the parental generation than on
memory of the Holocaust seems to be growing rather than
specific fathers. It was often too difficult to confront reality,
diminishing. How can we explain this?
and this led to lots of tension within families in which one
I liken memory of the Holocaust to a mushroom cloud:
person tried to discover the truth while the rest pleaded with
there was an initial explosion of violence, then a cloud
them not to do so.
that broadened and descended over far wider areas
Katrin Himmler, greatThe metaphor of the mushroom cloud
than that initial blast. I think there’s a generational
niece of SS chief Heinrich
particularly applies when we get to the third
dynamic at work here: in the decades immediately
where she discussed
generation. We’re talking here about a generationfollowing the Second World War, people had to
her efforts to confront
al half-life: by this point, the Holocaust is already
deal with the very real immediate legacies of the
her family’s past
fading in immediate significance, providing
conflict, in an environment inflected by Cold War
many people with the emotional distance to
considerations. It took a generation both to reach
explore it in a way in which the children of perpetrathe necessary distance from the Holocaust and to
tors did not. And there are wider implications for the
generate the will to confront it.
present and the future, too. One thing that struck
Additionally, the second generation after the
me is how many Germans of the second and third
Holocaust – who were not themselves directly
generations after the war have a heightened moral
involved in events – wanted to confront and explore
sense of responsibility. Many enter professions such
what had happened in a different way from those
as teaching or psychiatry, working in a healing
who had lived through it. They wanted to
or helping mode. Even if they can’t change
know how the Holocaust could have come
the world, they’ll do their little bit to make
about, and the ways in which their parents’
it a better place.
generation had been involved.
Richard J Evans: What inspired you to write and research
Doctors and nurses
accused of involvement
in the so-called
‘euthanasia programme’,
in which people with
mental illnesses were
murdered, face trial in
Frankfurt in 1947. The
higher-level organisers
of this programme often
escaped justice
Do you think that the continuing revelations about the
involvement of various German professions in the Holocaust
– the army, the big state ministries, the foreign office – has
had an effect in repeatedly bringing home to younger people
the involvement of their grandparents?
I think that, for instance, the first Wehrmacht Exhibition
[about war crimes committed during the Second World War,
which opened in Hamburg in 1995 before touring Germany
and Austria] undoubtedly opened up a cross-generational
conversation between grandparents and grandchildren. After
all, at least 18 million German men who were soldiers during
the war had been, in principle, mobilised into positions where
they might have been involved in atrocities. The exhibition
raised awareness of that fact.
The fallout of the involvement of the German foreign
office and various other ministries has been more muted.
This bothers me, because I think bodies such as the Ministry
for Labour bear a lot of responsibility for the organisation
and facilitation of slave labour; that kind of complicity verged
on perpetration. This isn’t something with which the third
generation of Germans is really being confronted because,
though it’s filtering through the historical profession in the
form of big books, and through the media in serious newspapers, museums often still portray a pretty simplistic picture of
who the perpetrators were.
A huge amount of work has been done on educational
resources in the past quarter of a century, though, and
as a result you can now visit sites such as concentration
camps and Hitler’s former mountain retreat. That’s a big
improvement from, say, the period before the 1990s.
That is true. In the years immediately after the war,
the people desperate to put up memorials to commemorate
lost family members or victim groups were those who were
most emotionally torn up by what had happened. Indeed,
until the 1990s, memorial sites and museums, by and large,
had a narrative prioritising the remembrance of victims;
they pointed at just a few perpetrators rather than at the
broad system of perpetration. I think that changed with,
for example, the Topography of Terror Museum [opened
in 2010 on the site of former Gestapo headquarters in Berlin],
which faced considerable battles to get established when the
first exhibition on the site was created in 1987. There have
been more and more examples since then.
Part of the problem with such sites, particularly those
associated with Hitler, is that for decades after the war there
was a risk that they would become shrines for former Nazis.
I can remember going to the site of the Nuremberg rallies in
the late 1970s or early 1980s and seeing old men sitting there
in raincoats, reading the right-wing revisionist newspaper
Deutsche National-Zeitung and thinking about the good old
days. That, again, is a generational thing: it’s now such a long
time since the end of the war that we no longer have to worry
as much about former Nazis, though we probably do need to
worry about neo-Nazis and new rightwing groups.
It’s really quite difficult to find the site of Hitler’s bunker in
Berlin, for instance – it’s hardly signposted. There were plans
CULTURE The Conversation
A monument commemorates
the enslaved people killed
during Nazi military research
at the Peenemünde facility in
north-east Germany. The
involvement of the Ministry
of Labour in such incidents
“verged on perpetration”,
argues Mary Fulbrook
Fulbrook and Evans in
conversation in London.
“Many people in the Third
Reich were complicit in
the way in which the system
developed,” Fulbrook
says, “but passivity was
also born of knowledge of
repression and terror”
“Herding people into gas
chambers was not deemed
murder in 1960s Germany.
It makes me so angry”
to bulldoze the site of the Nuremberg rallies, but a perpetual
problem with such sites is that, if you do destroy them, you
are in a sense forgetting. So you need to find some kind
of compromise.
You have to create and manage sites relating to Holocaust
perpetrators very sensitively. One solution, I think, would be
to introduce a greater number of exhibitions that explore more
broadly who was involved in making certain types of crime
possible, rather than featuring just a few pictures of SS and
Gestapo and a large number of survivor testimonies, as is
currently the case.
We all know about the great Nuremberg trials, the military
tribunals in which the surviving Nazi leaders were tried by
the Allies at the end of the war. There’s growing knowledge,
too, about the more specialised trials, mainly set up by the
Americans, of judges, doctors and so on. And there were
other trials set up by the Germans, though they are less
well-known outside Germany. In spite of these various
trials, you seem very dissatisfied and angry about the fact
that so many perpetrators escaped justice.
I think that my anger, insofar as it comes across in my prose,
is based on a perfectly justifiable indictment of the failures of
the justice system in the decades after the war. What historians
have not done to date, it seems to me, is show the specific
failures of waves of prosecution. In my book, I examine how
justice was dispensed in the successor states to the Third Reich:
East Germany, West Germany and Austria.
Immediately after the war, there were lots of little German
and Austrian trials – small acts of justice addressing acts that
were very much on people’s radar. Over time, there was a
narrowing of who was considered to be a perpetrator worth
bringing to justice. In West Germany, in particular, the old
criminal law definition of ‘murder’ was used, which could
be applied only to people who were personally motivated and
had engaged in ‘excess brutality’. In the trial of those involved
in Bełźec [now in south-east Poland], an extermination
camp in which hundreds of thousands were herded into gas
chambers, only one of the eight people put on trial was found
guilty. The others were deemed to have been simply
‘following orders’ – herding people into gas chambers! –
and only one could possibly be shown to some extent to
be acting on his own motivation. If you found somebody
who was brutally beating an individual to death, that was
murder – but herding hundreds into a gas chamber was
not deemed murder under criminal law in Germany in the
1960s. This does make me angry. It makes me very angry.
Huge ranges of professional groups were also wilfully
excluded from even being considered for trial. The West
German judiciary, members of which had passed countless
death sentences in the People’s Court of the Third Reich,
avoided being the subject of justice because they said they
had simply been carrying out the law of the land at the time.
Lots of lawyers in high places continued to be lawyers in
high places, influencing the postwar legal system. People
in the civil service completely evaded any serious legal
scrutiny after the war. All of that is a gross injustice.
Among groups that did come under scrutiny, it was
frequently the minions who were brought to court: for
instance, care assistants in sanatoria where the so-called
‘euthanasia programme’ was carried out. Such people were
given two- or three-year sentences, but the huge numbers
of doctors who ordered that programme managed, by and
large, to evade justice.
Finally, there’s the gross disparity between the lucrative
postwar careers and fat pensions of many people who profited
massively from the Third Reich – those who went on to lead
long and well-heeled lives – and the survivors who struggled
for years to gain recognition and compensation. For many,
it was far too little, far too late.
I’m thinking not only of the Jewish victims or those
who worked in ghettoes, but also of gay men, who continued
to be criminalised for a quarter of a century after the war.
They often didn’t talk about it because they were so ashamed
– and if they did talk about it they were just shoved back into
prison, because homosexual sex was still a criminal offence.
When compensation was provided, decades later, it was way,
way too late.
CULTURE The Conversation
“You bring home the almost
unimaginable levels of hatred,
brutality and violence of
these horrific crimes”
How can we explain why people who
knew about these terrible mass killings
didn’t do anything about them or feel
morally outraged?
Many people in the Third Reich were
complicit in the way in which the system
developed, and either benefited from
certain developments – the Aryanisation
of Jewish property, for instance – or
were indifferent to the fate of those
who were suffering. But passivity was
also born of knowledge of repression
and terror, and fear of the consequences
of acting. Lots of people did feel sympathy
with victims of persecution, but had
themselves also experienced it: their
husband was in a concentration camp
for having been a communist, for
instance, or they had said something
out of line in a bread shop and been
denounced to the Gestapo by the lady
next to them.
Debates about consent versus coercion have been far too
simplistic. I think that a lot of the apparent compliance and
conformity was borne of the experiences of fear and terror.
The fact that the apparatus of terror was massive led to a
growing sense of helplessness and a lack of agency.
During the war, there was also a growing concern with your
own – your father, your brother, your son, fighting at the front
– and the overriding notion that the fatherland was fighting for
its survival. So it’s a very complex picture – not one that’s
morally simple in any way.
“People were drawn
into committing acts
of perpetration at one
moment, whereas at
another time they
might be a rescuer.
It’s a much more
complex situation
than talking just
about individuals”
Hear more of Fulbrook and Evans’
discussion on our biweekly podcast
Your book brings home the almost
unimaginable levels of brutality, hatred
and violence of these horrific crimes.
Yet you say that, in the end, it’s extremely
hard for historians to explain why people
participated. But shouldn’t we try?
Yes, of course we should try, and I spend
more than 650 pages in this book trying
to explain that fact!
We can document, we can recount,
and we have a duty to communicate what
happened. We have the luxury and benefit
of the time and space to do the research,
and to look at areas that haven’t perhaps
been covered in sufficient detail. So I
think it’s perfectly possible for historians
to try to impose order on what we know
and understand. We do have to make
creative choices about which voices and
words we bring from the past, and those
creative choices form part of an ongoing
But it can never, in my view, be an
explanation in a deeper moral sense,
because that still evades understanding.
Something that’s bugged me all my life
is how the nation of Johann Sebastian
Bach and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It’s so sad when you hear survivors, now advanced in years,
saying that they came back to their families and were too
ashamed to tell them why they had been in concentration
camps. It’s an unbelievably sad story, and one that needs much
more attention than it has received until now.
The injustice is massive. Of the millions involved in
this system of violence, in West Germany just 106,000
people were investigated; of those, only 6,000 were brought
to court, and 4,000 were sentenced. That is pathetic.
Auschwitz alone employed between 6,000 and 8,000 people
during its operation; only around 50 of those were brought to
court. It is really pathetic on every count:
those percentages, the evasion of justice,
and the injustice to other groups. So I
think that, if a tone of anger comes across
in my book, it’s well-founded.
A set of stolpersteine
in the Berlin district
of Kreuzberg. They
are part of a wave of
memorialisation that
Mary Fulbrook believes
is coming to an end
of course, inevitably continue to mourn, but in future
generations people who don’t have an immediate sense of
emotional connection need to develop their understanding
of the Holocaust.
Returning to your point about the AfD, it’s a very
interesting phenomenon, because it started as a slightly
odd conservative party bothered by the Euro crisis, but has
A book such as this takes several years to produce, so you
increasingly developed into a more rightwing nationalist
weren’t able to fully explore the very recent rise of the
party harbouring quite dangerous elements. Parts of the
far-right, anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland
AfD express the idea that, in order to be proud of Germany,
(AfD), which is now the second-most popular German
the nation has to forget the Nazis. The way in which it has
party in the opinion polls after Angela Merkel’s Christian
become the official opposition in Germany’s parliament is
Democratic Union. There are voices within the AfD saying
quite scary.
that Germans have to stop feeling sorry for the past and
On the other hand, Germans can today be legitimately
move on, and that they have to feel proud of being German.
proud of their country since reunification in 1990. It has
There are even voices on its fringes calling to get rid
achieved an amazing transformation to become one of the
of the culture of memorialisation seen everywhere
strongest polities and economies in Europe. Angela Merkel,
in Germany. Do you think this marks
particularly, has done extraordinary
a turning point in German attitudes
work in the way in which Germany has
towards the past?
developed since she became chancellor.
That’s a complicated question. There are
So it is right that Germans should
always waves in memorialisation, and
be able to say that, in the past quarter
the wave of memorialisation of victims
Mary Fulbrook
of a century, they have done very
that produced the Holocaust Memorial
is professor of German
significant things in the stabilisation
in Berlin and thousands of stolpersteine
history at UCL. Her latest
and development of the future of
[literally, ‘stumbling stones’, concrete
book is Reckonings: Legacies
Europe. So I don’t think it’s sweeping
cobblestones bearing plaques carrying
of Nazi Persecution and the
the past under the carpet to say that
the names and life dates of victims that
Quest for Justice (Oxford
it should be possible to take pride in
are embedded in pavements], which
University Press, 2018)
what Germany has done, particularly
remind us that these people came from
since reunification.
everywhere and lived everywhere, is now
But, at the same time, we have
perhaps nearing an end.
to take a new look at what happened
All of that was very important for
Richard J Evans
in the Nazi era and postwar decades,
a particular generation. Moving ahead,
is former Regius professor
because for a long time Germany did
though, we need to focus on gaining
of history at the University
not face up to its past, it did not bring
a broader understanding of the system
of Cambridge, and author
the Nazis to justice – and by the time
that allowed the Holocaust to happen,
of books on Nazi Germany
that it started to recognise victims
rather than engaging so much in
including The Third Reich
and seriously pursue perpetrators,
mourning the victims. Those who are
in History and Memory
it was much too late.
emotionally connected to this past will,
(Abacus, 2016)
– this remarkable place that could produce music and literature
of such quality – could also allow a man such as Adolf Hitler to
come to power. We can easily explain it in many respects but
somewhere, deep down, we still face the extraordinary
question of how it was possible for people to do these things.
This Native American ‘war shirt’, made
in Montana in the latter decades of
the 19th century from leather, ermine,
feathers and human hair, and decorated with pigment and glass beads,
served as both a memorial of a battle
and evidence of the wearer’s bravery.
It’s among a set of striking artefacts
displayed in a new exhibition at the
Met Museum, celebrating the art and
artistry of North America’s native peoples. From combs and bags to daggers
and clubs, they offer vivid insights into
cultures in disparate regions including
Alaska, California and New Mexico.
A lavish book co-written by one of the
curators has been produced to accompany the exhibition.
Art of Native America, until 6 October 2019
at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York City
As Others See Us, five daily episodes from
Monday 31 December to Friday 4 January
Radio 4
Imagine embarking on an epic journey,
navigating a route via the townships of
Bloatville, Cantstop and Emptypurse
before reaching your destination – the
Great Gulf of Wretchedness. We’ve all
had nights like that, you may well be
thinking – in which case, you’d be closer
to the truth behind that particular
journey than you might think.
Rather than landmarks from some
Tolkienesque universe, these are
locations on an allegorical ‘Temperance
Map’ created by American minister John
Wiltberger in 1838 to depict what he
perceived to be the perils of alcohol. It’s
one of 100 maps and charts, depicting or
drawn in North America from the 15th
to the 21st century, that feature in a new
book from the British Library.
As you would expect, many of the
maps are more geographically literal,
documenting aspects ranging from
the first voyages of exploration to the
violence meted out to native peoples and
the barbarities of the slave trade. More
recent concerns also feature, including
the spread of Aids and the destruction
of the Twin Towers in 2001. Together,
these maps provide novel insights into
the United States, whose highways
and byways still exert a strong pull on
popular culture.
A History of America in 100 Maps by Susan
Schulten (British Library, 272 pages, £30)
An image from The Invisibles,
a film dramatising Jewish
experiences in Nazi Berlin
What was it like for Jewish people living undetected in Second
World War Berlin as the Gestapo closed in? How would you
– how could you – survive? Those are among the questions
explored by The Invisibles, a drama-documentary first released
in Germany in 2017. The answer, for its four subjects, seemed
to be a mix of near-misses, canny involvement with resistance
efforts and, sometimes, youthful recklessness.
The Invisibles, from 25 January (United States), other release dates vary
One nation’s great military victory is,
of course, another’s ignoble defeat.
Similarly, one country’s bold political
move may well, for the citizens of its
neighbours, be a baffling wrong turn.
These alternative perspectives are
examined in As Others See Us, a major
new BBC Radio 4 series from historian
and former British Museum director
Neil MacGregor (pictured above).
Each of the five episodes focuses on
a single nation – including Germany,
Egypt and India – and how its leading
opinion-formers see key moments in
British history. This is a compelling
idea from a major name in his field.
The dangers of drink,
illustrated on a 19thcentury temperance
map. It’s one of 100
examples in a new
book of charts tracing
America’s history
Assyrian king Ashurbanipal is shown
hunting lions in this carved wall panel,
created c645 BC. As a new exhibition
reveals, he was a fighter, a scholar
and a ruthless administrator
Andrea Levy’s 2010 novel The Long
Song explores the last days of slavery
in 19th-century Jamaica through
the eyes of July, born into slavery on
a sugar plantation. A new television
adaptation, set to air in the UK this
winter, stars Tamara Lawrance in the
lead role, with a supporting cast including Hayley Atwell and Lenny Henry.
Adapted by writer Sarah Williams,
who also brought Levy’s Small Island
to the screen, the three-part series will
capture the novel’s striking mix of
dramatic social unrest and hopeful
resolve for the future.
The Long Song, due to air from mid-December,
BBC One (UK)
Ashurbanipal, son of Esarhaddon, may
not be a name familiar to us today – yet
he is a key figure in the history of what
was, in the seventh century BC, the
largest empire the world had ever seen.
He ruled the Assyrian empire, with territory stretching from north Africa to the
Arabian peninsula and from Iran to the
Mediterranean. Famed both as a scholar
and as head of a ruthless military operation, throughout his life he gathered
an extensive collection of documents
sourced from around his empire.
Much of that archive is held at the
British Museum in London, where a
major new exhibition explores Ashurbanipal’s life and times. As well as these
texts, a collection of sculptures, artwork
and artefacts offer vivid insights into
the majesty, might and magic of the era.
Gruesome depictions of barbaric acts of
torture and war sit alongside mythical
creatures and grand celebrations of the
power of the empire’s leaders.
As well as offering unparalleled
insights into the culture, these objects
of an ancient global world also chart the
ways in which nations were incorporated
into a continent-spanning whole. It was,
though, not to last: after Ashurbanipal’s
death, civil war erupted. By 610 BC,
his vast empire was no more.
I Am Ashurbanipal: King of the World,
King of Assyria, at the British Museum, London,
until 24 February
Tamara Lawrance stars as July in the new BBC
adaptation of The Long Song, set in Jamaica in
the turbulent dying years of the slave era
The turreted Château Frontenac looms
over the old port of Québec City. Founder
Samuel de Champlain recalled that
when he arrived in 1608, “I searched for
a place suitable for our settlement, but
I could find none more convenient or
better situated than the point of Québec”
In the footsteps of…
A 17th-century French
explorer’s mission to
colonise Canada
In 1603, Samuel de Champlain sailed to North
America on a mission to prepare for a French colony
in Canada – where, over the following five years, he
encountered warring tribes, fearsome rapids and
murderous winters. Margaret Small retraces the
explorations of the pioneer who founded Québec City
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of a 17th-century French explorer’s mission to Canada
board ship, so had only cold food and
drink. Finally, making their way
alongside cliffs, through dense fog and
past enormous ice floes, they entered the
mouth of the St Lawrence river.
Those ice floes proved to be a portent
of the greatest enemy that Champlain
would face: the Canadian winter. Yet on
this first journey to Canada, the cold
was in retreat. The expedition sailed
upriver to Tadoussac, at the junction of
the Saguenay and St Lawrence rivers.
Tadoussac was an area already well
known to Pont Gravé, because he had
been involved with an ill-fated attempt
to found a colony there only three years
earlier; fewer than a third of those
settlers had survived the first winter. But
though bitter experience had proved that
Tadoussac was not a suitable place for a
permanent colony, it played a key role in
Champlain’s explorations: it was there
that he formed his first alliances with the
region’s indigenous inhabitants.
Crucial alliances
On 27 May 1603, Champlain and
Pont Gravé walked into a gathering of Montagnais, Algonquin and
Etchemin-speaking people celebrating a victory over the Iroquois. The
Frenchmen were supported only by two
Montagnais interpreters, and it is hard
to imagine the courage they required
to brave an encounter with hundreds
of indigenous warriors. Yet Champlain
downplayed the situation, recalling
simply that they “were received well”.
Nothing about the event was familiar to
the Frenchmen; Champlain described
the feast of “bear, seal and beaver, which
are the most ordinary meats that they
have”, and a dance in which its participants carried the heads of 100 defeated
Iroquois in a gory victory celebration. Æ
It’s hard to imagine the courage the two
Frenchmen required to brave an encounter
with hundreds of indigenous warriors
Samuel de Champlain:
Explorer, diplomat,
cartographer, coloniser
Samuel de Champlain (c1574–1635) was
born in Brouage, a small port on the
west coast of France; little is known of
his childhood. He learned navigation
from his father and his aunt’s husband
(both mariners), and from around 1595
served with the army of King Henry IV in
Brittany. In 1598 he joined a voyage to the
West Indies and Mexico, and from 1601
to 1603 served as geographer to Henry IV,
gleaning information about North America from French fishermen who trawled
the north-west Atlantic.
In 1603 Champlain joined an expedition to the ‘Great River of Canada’, now
called the St Lawrence river, in what was
then known as New France. From the seasonal fur-trading base of Tadoussac, he
explored the St Lawrence and Saguenay
rivers. The following year Champlain took
part in an expedition to settle Acadia, on
the bay of Fundy, subsequently mapping
the coast south to Cape Cod. The colony
in Acadia failed to prosper, and in 1608
Champlain was commissioned to found a
new settlement on the St Lawrence.
In July 1608 his men built the fort that
evolved into Québec City (from the Algonquin kebec: ‘where the river narrows’).
It soon became a fur-trading hub but,
though Champlain was successful in exploring and mapping large inland areas,
the growth of his colony was hampered
by financial and political problems, and
it became involved in conflict between
indigenous groups.
In 1629 Champlain was forced to surrender Québec to the English; after it was
restored to France in 1632, the settlement
was redesigned in the standard form of
a French ville. Its population remained
small, though, till long after Champlain’s
death following a stroke in 1635.
hen the French navigator
and geographer Samuel
de Champlain first set sail
for New France (the area
of North America colonised by France,
some of which later became part of Canada) on 15 March 1603, it was the start
of a love affair with North America that
would last until his death. Over the following three decades he navigated and
surveyed thousands of miles of North
American rivers and coasts, and founded
the first enduring French colony in the
New World: Québec City.
Although permanent colonisation
was Champlain’s goal during most of
his time in the region, it was not easily
achieved. Unlike many of his predecessors, Champlain didn’t underestimate
the problems involved in founding a
colony. He read and studied all he could
about earlier European exploration and
attempted settlements in North
America. He realised that strong
leadership, friendly relations with
indigenous peoples, good knowledge of
the region, and a food supply that would
last the winter were all vital.
Even this forethought couldn’t
prepare him for just how alien a country
he would encounter. In scale, climate,
vegetation, accommodation and the
livelihood and lifestyle of the inhabitants, there were virtually no similarities
to be found between Canada and the
south-west France. From the outset,
however, he tried to understand the
country and its peoples so that he could
learn how to live there.
That first exploratory voyage in 1603,
captained by François Gravé Du Pont
(commonly known as Pont Gravé), did
not begin well. Midway across the
Atlantic they hit such violent storms that
for 17 days they could not light a fire on
July 1603
Champlain sails
south-west along the
St Lawrence but is
halted at the Lachine
rapids, near what’s
now Montréal
19 July 1605
Champlain surveys the
Atlantic coast as far
south as Cape Cod, but
turns back when food
supplies run low
3 July 1608
Champlain founds
Québec City – the
first continuously
inhabited permanent
settlement in the
interior of Canada
11 June 1603
Champlain explores
the land along the
Saguenay river; he
finds it barren,
unpleasant and hostile
Champlain establishes a
settlement on St Croix island
where sandy soil, scarce water, a
harsh winter and the outbreak of
scurvy afflict the colony
27 May 1603
Champlain and Gravé
Du Pont meet local
hunters at Tadoussac,
site of a failed colony
Summer 1605
Champlain founds a colony
at Port-Royal on Nova Scotia;
having survived two winters,
in 1607 his party abandons
the settlement on orders
from France
15 March 1603
Champlain sails from
Honfleur in Normandy
to North America
aboard a ship
captained by François
Gravé Du Pont
17–18 May 1603
The expedition encounters
an ice floe six leagues (over
20 miles) wide, and sights
Cape St Lawrence and the
Canadian mainland
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of a 17th-century French explorer’s mission to Canada
Yet Champlain dwelt less on his fear,
and more on the alliances that could
be made. He began to pave the way
for a diplomatic relationship with
the Montagnais and their allies that
ultimately helped the fragile settlement
of Québec survive. It also drew them
into the existing networks of alliances,
with the result that the Montagnais’
adversaries, the Iroquois, ultimately also
became bitter enemies of the French.
On 11 June, Champlain set out
exploring again, venturing up the
Saguenay river from Tadoussac.
Though considerably smaller than the
St Lawrence, the Saguenay is enormous
compared with French waterways:
Champlain measured it at a league and
a half (5 miles) across at its widest point.
It was, though, to prove a brutal
disappointment. Tadoussac had seemed
to have much to recommend it, yet was
unable to sustain a colony; the land
around the Saguenay, seemed hostile
to Champlain, even in the spring: he
described it as “a most unpleasant
land… unfit for animals or birds”.
So, on 18 June, Champlain returned
his attention to the St Lawrence, sailing
upriver to the south-west. When he
reached the region where the river
narrowed around the island now known
as the Île d’Orléans, his language
became glowing. He wrote of lands
rich in fruit-bearing trees and vines,
diamonds in the slate rocks: a level
and beautiful country. Continuing
along the river five days later, he
described the region to the south
almost as a paradise. To his eyes, the
further he went, the more delightful
the country became – until he was
stymied again by its geography.
This time, it was a foaming torrent
that blocked his progress: the stretch
now called the Lachine rapids, just south
of what’s now Montréal. Arriving in early
July, Champlain noted that: “I never saw
any torrent of water pour over with such
rage as this does,” declaring “it was
beyond the power of man to pass with
Champlain hadn’t
anticipated such a
winter – harsher than
anything the settlers
could have imagined
any boat”. Although he asked indigenous
peoples what lay beyond, he didn’t push
upstream from the rapids, believing that
he had already found the best location
for a new colony: the Eden-like area he
had traversed en route.
Champlain had scrupulously
recorded his journey, paved the way with
friendly interactions with the indigenous
peoples he encountered, and praised the
benefits of this countryside. Despite all
that, though, he could not persuade his
backers in France, who recalled Pont
Gravé’s doomed settlement, that this
region was worth investment. Instead,
they turned their attention to North
America’s eastern seaboard, where in
1604 Champlain joined an expedition
led by Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts.
False hope
After several months of searching,
Champlain and his companions decided
to settle on an island now known as St
Croix, in the river of the same name that
today forms the border between Maine
and New Brunswick. Initially it seemed
ideal, being easily defensible yet close to
the fertile mainland. As Champlain put
it: “this place we considered the best we
had seen, both on account of its situation, the fine country and the intercourse
we were expecting with the Indians”.
What he hadn’t anticipated was
a winter harsher than anything the
settlers could have imagined. Champlain
had continued exploring to the south,
but found nowhere more suitable for settlement, and returned to the new island
colony on 2 October – just as winter
descended. Then he discovered the flaws
in the location. There was insufficient
water, the soil was too sandy, and river
ice both isolated the island and rendered
it vulnerable to attack. Worst of all was
what Champlain called “land-sickness,
otherwise scurvy, according to what I
have heard stated by learned men” – an
indiscriminate killer that destroyed the
body from the inside. Autopsies revealed
organs so distorted that they were unrecognisable, but could not establish the
cause. By the end of the season, 35 of the
79 colonists had died of scurvy; only 11
hunters remained healthy.
Champlain suspected that the disease
was caused by eating salted meat and
vegetables and drinking bad water, but
there was little he could do about it –
fresh food was simply not available. “It
was difficult to know this country
without having wintered there, for on
arriving in summer everything is very
pleasant on account of the woods, the
beautiful landscapes and the fine
fishing,” he wrote, adding: “There are six
months of winter in that country.”
Nobody he spoke to, native or European, could suggest a cure for the illness.
All of his work – surveying, establishing
good relations with indigenous peoples,
preparing supplies of salted food – could
not overcome the problems posed by
the long and hostile winter. And yet
Champlain and his patrons did not give
up hope. In spring they began exploring
southward as far as Cape Cod, which
they reached on 19 July. Though they
found vast rivers and harbours, fish and
game, woods and sand, none of the region seemed suitable for a new settlement
that would rely on agriculture. Instead
they turned their attention to a great
natural harbour in Nova Scotia, and the
spot they named Port-Royal.
Champlain and his companions
founded a fully fortified settlement here
in 1605. They experienced a looming
dread of the oncoming winter and the
strange disease it could bring, but they
had learnt much, and they were luckier.
Winter came later here and, after 12 men
The view along the
Saguenay river from
Tadoussac. A colony was
founded here in 1599, but
few of the settlers survived
the first harsh winter
The Lachine rapids
churn the St Lawrence
river near Montréal; in
1603, they halted
Champlain’s progress
upstream during his
search for a suitable site
for a new colony
A reconstruction of the
fortified settlement at
Port-Royal on Nova
Scotia, founded by
Champlain’s party in
1605 but abandoned
just two years later
when the settlers
were ordered to
return to France
French soldiers join
a Montagnais attack on
an Iroquois camp in 1609.
Champlain forged an alliance
with the Montagnais, which
helped his colony survive but
led to clashes with Iroquois
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of a 17th-century French explorer’s mission to Canada
Ambroise-Louis Garneray’s
1848 painting depicts the
founding of Québec City on
the St Lawrence river by
Samuel Champlain in 1608
In 1608, however, he was back on the
St Lawrence. He and his patron, Pierre
du Gua, had convinced the king to
extend their monopoly for one more year.
They knew it was their last chance.
Champlain convinced his backers that
the stretch of the St Lawrence he had
described in such glowing terms in 1603
was the best location for a colony.
Life lessons learned
On 3 July 1608, five years after he had
first surveyed the region, Champlain
began digging the cellars and ditches
that were to be the foundations of
Québec City. That winter was undeniably harsh – indeed, so harsh that the
Montagnais, reliant on hunting, sought
food from the colonists – but Champlain
had learned enough to ensure the
survival of his new colony: how to
Champlain had explored the St Lawrence
river, surveyed nearly 1,000 miles of coastline
and survived three dreadful winters
prepare for the winter, and the value of
alliances with the indigenous peoples.
Despite his experiences of severe
weather, of loss, death and disaster,
Champlain had fallen in love with the
region around the St Lawrence, known
then as the Great River of Canada. He
looked at it with matter-of-fact rather
than marvelling eyes, appreciative of its
grandeur but rarely overwhelmed by it.
He continued to explore Canada until
just two years before his death in 1635.
Through surveying, reading, experience
and diplomacy, he and his companions
had grasped what it took to make a
successful settlement, and played a
key role in laying the foundations of
French Canada.
Margaret Small
is a lecturer in early
modern history at the
University of
died from scurvy and they were at the
point of abandoning the colony, the
settlers received vital supplies and
reinforcements. They were also able to
establish an accord with the Mi’kmaq
people who lived in the area.
The colony could not be said to have
prospered, but it survived. Then came a
blow that Champlain and the others in
the New World could not have predicted. In 1607, the company sponsoring the
settlement foundered; the French king
Henry IV withdrew monopoly rights,
and the settlers were ordered home.
Champlain had explored tracts
of land around the St Lawrence and
Saguenay rivers, surveyed nearly 1,000
miles of North America’s eastern coastline, and survived dreadful winters –
only to see his dreams of a lasting French
colony seemingly torn from him.
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The end of the Aztecs
How the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico
changed indigenous culture forever
Big ideas
Julian Baggini and Justin Champion
discuss the importance of a truly
global understanding of philosophy
Never miss an issue – turn to page 26
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Global City Rome Italy
Some 27 centuries
after it was founded,
Rome continues to
captivate and confuse.
Ferdinand Addis
roams the ancient
ruins and modern
memories of the
Italian capital
Ferdinand Addis
is a journalist and
author. His latest book
is Rome: Eternal City
(Head of Zeus, 2018)
ome was around 700 years
old when people first began
calling it the ‘eternal city’.
That was during the reign
of the emperor Augustus, more than
2,000 years ago, and it has weathered
the storms of Europe’s history ever since:
sacks by Visigoths and Vandals; raids by
Saracens and Normans; the competing
ambitions of popes and kings.
The result is a city still haunted by its
turbulent past. From cheerful cafés by
the Campo de’ Fiori you can step down
into cellars that once belonged to the
Theatre of Pompey, the monumental
complex in which Julius Caesar was
murdered. Near Trajan’s Forum, with its
famous spiral column, a fortified tower
looms – a reminder of the medieval clans
who turned the city into a battleground.
The layers of past epochs are piled
on top of one another. The flank of the
Palatine Hill is a tangle of ancient brickwork, vaulting that supported the palaces of vanished emperors. Excavations
down to the level of the bedrock here
have uncovered traces of primitive huts
from the 8th century BC – by tradition,
the era when Romulus founded the city.
Rome has always been a religious
city. The Basilica of San Clemente, on
the lower slopes of the Caelian Hill,
is famous not just for its spectacular
12th-century mosaics but also for the
history it conceals: under the basilica’s
marble floor lie the remains of an older
medieval church, which itself was built
on top of an ancient shrine to Mithras.
But piety has gone hand in hand with
vice. Not far from San Clemente soar the
arches of the Colosseum, a monument to
darker human appetites. Saint Augustine
tells the story of a Christian friend who
tried to close his eyes against the horrors
of the amphitheatre. But when the crowd
went wild seeing a gladiator fall, he dared
to peep at the action. Immediately, says
Augustine, he was gripped, “delighted
with the wicked contest and drunk with
blood-lust. He was now no longer the
same man who came in.”
Nineteenth-century travellers were
much moved by the traces of Rome’s illustrious dead. Byron wrote verses about
the ancient tombs along the Via Appia
Antica, still one of the most atmospheric areas in Rome. In the Parco della
Caffarella nearby, shepherds can today
be seen grazing their flocks beside the
mausolea: a vision of a landscape from
another time. Percy Shelley preferred
to spend his days atop the ruins of the
The 17th-century church
of Santi Luca e Martina
overlooks the Arch of
Septimius Severus in the
Roman Forum, where epochs
overlap conspicuously
Baths of Caracalla. “Go thou to Rome,”
he wrote, “at once the Paradise, the
grave, the city and the wilderness.” His
bones lie not far away, in the Cimitero
Acattolico, near the grave of John Keats,
who died of tuberculosis in a dingy
apartment by the Spanish Steps in 1821.
In Rome, the dead outnumber the
living. But part of the special character
of Rome is that it never feels like a lifeless
museum. Amid the chaos and decay,
new life is always growing: the riot of
wildflowers that blooms from the crumbling brickwork of the ancient city walls,
or the nightclubs and bars that thrive
around the edge of Monte Testaccio, an
artificial hill made from centuries’ worth
of discarded Roman storage jars.
Even the deepest wounds can heal
with time. In October 1943, SS soldiers
surrounded the ghetto and deported
more than 1,000 Roman Jews to
Auschwitz, most never to return. But the
Jewish community in Rome – one of the
oldest in Europe – survived and recovered. You can try the famous carciofi alla
giudia (Jewish-style fried artichokes)
near the Great Synagogue of Rome, then
travellers were
much moved by the
traces of Rome’s
illustrious dead
The most iconic ancient building in
Rome – a marvel of engineering with
a bloody history dating from c70-72 AD
A former temple, some 1,900 years old,
which still boasts the world’s largest
unreinforced concrete dome
walk to the first-century-AD Arch of
Titus, with its sculpted reliefs showing
spoils plundered during the sack of Jerusalem by Rome nearly 2,000 years ago.
Like the rest of Italy, Rome struggles
with high youth unemployment. But
youth culture in Rome has a dynamism
that defies the city’s millennia of history:
the nightlife of Pigneto or San Lorenzo
is just as Roman as the ancient ruins, the
medieval alleyways, or the grand ritual
landscape of the Vatican. Rome is a city
of contrasts, of vice and virtue, life and
death, growth and decay. If it deserves to
be called the eternal city, it’s not because
it will last forever, but because it always
has some new surprise in store.
Piazza San Pietro
The Basilica of Saint Peter is framed by
Bernini’s famous curved colonnade
4 Villa Borghese
Walk through the Borghese Gardens to
one of the finest art collections in Rome
5 Tiber Island
Walk from this midriver speck into the
atmospheric streets of Trastevere
6 Trevi Fountain
A baroque extravagance made legendary
by Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita
7 Campo de’ Fiori
Brave the crush at the famous vegetable
market in this ancient square
8 Fontana dell’Acqua Paola
Admire the view over the city from this
monumental 17th-century fountain
JOURNEYS Wonders of the World
Wonders of the World
St Basil’s Cathedral Moscow
Ivan’s emblem of victory
The Cathedral of the Intercession on the
Moat – better known as St Basil’s – was
commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, first
tsar of Russia, to commemorate his
victory over the ‘Tatar infidels’ of Kazan in
1552. It’s believed to have been designed
by architect Postnik Yakovlev, who was
– according to legend, though probably
not fact – blinded on Ivan’s orders so that
he could never create another building to
rival the beauty of St Basil’s. Completed
in 1561 on the site of an earlier Trinity
Church, the original edifice comprised
eight chapels ranged around a central
church of intercession with a tented spire.
It creates the form of a fire reaching to the
heavens, and was probably white, its red
hue being added in a later century.
cathedral of
the holy fool
At the southern end of Red Square
rises a forest of russet-and-white
towers topped with candystriped
onion domes. Paul Bloomfield
explores the chapels and icons
of St Basil’s Cathedral
JOURNEYS Wonders of the World
Stars and stripes
When first built, the towers of St Basil’s
were probably topped with less-bulbous
helmet cupolas that were replaced with
tin onion domes after a fire in the late 16th
century. The domes were originally
gilded, and didn’t attain their kaleidoscopic patterns and colours till later renovations. The origins of onion domes in
Russia is disputed; some believe they
were adopted here following Ivan’s victory
over the Muslim Khanate of Kazan, while
others suggest they were already
prevalent in Russia in earlier centuries.
Similarly, though some believe the shape
represents a burning candle (Jesus being
the ‘light of the world’), the symbolism
remains a subject of debate.
Tomb of the ‘holy fool’
The gilded canopy of the tomb of St
Vasily (Basil) the Blessed occupies the
namesake chapel added to the structure
in 1588 to hold the relics of the venerated
holy man, who had died c1552. Known for
humiliating himself publicly – sometimes
appearing naked and chained – Basil was
dubbed the ‘holy fool’, but was revered
even by Ivan for his intense belief and
purportedly miraculous powers.
If walls could speak
The walls of the Church of Saints Cyprian
and Justina are covered with beautiful 17thor 18th-century paintings of early saints
and Biblical stories; the ceiling image
depicts Our Lady of the Unburnt Bush. Ivan
launched his final decisive attack on Kazan
on 2 October, the feast day of Saint Cyprian
in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Wall of icons
The impressive baroque iconostasis
(screen of separate icons) in the central
Church of the Intercession was moved
here in 1770 during large-scale
renovations following a devastating fire
in 1737. Much of the floral decoration of
the cathedral’s interior dates from this
restoration, though some elements –
including individual icons within this
iconostasis – are much older.
Saint among saints
One of 33 scenes from the life of St Alexander Nevsky that make up a 17th-century
icon in the Church of the Entry of the Lord
into Jerusalem. Most of the icons in this
chapel were painted in the 18th century
during major restorations, but this earlier
work was moved here in 1770. Also visible
in this chapel is a scar in a wall left when
a shell hit the cathedral during the October Revolution of 1917.
Air shot
An aerial view reveals a symmetrical layout unclear from ground level: a central
tent spire surrounded by four large domes
on the main axes, four smaller towers on
the diagonals, and the later Church of St
Basil the Blessed at the northern corner;
the belltower at top right was added in the
1680s. St Basil’s was looted by Napoleon’s
troops in 1812, and Stalin ordered its demolition – but fortunately it survived fires,
wars and urban planners.
Paul Bloomfield is a travel and heritage writer
and photographer, co-author of Lonely Planet’s
Where to Go When (Lonely Planet, 2016)
Global history’s finest objects, curated by experts
“Pushing buttons, grasping levers,
even getting the suit on and off –
it had 13 zips – were major feats”
Alan Shepard’s
pressure suit
Created by: Unknown
personnel, BF Goodrich
Company, United States, c1959
Now at: National Air and Space
Museum, Washington, DC
Chosen by: Kassia St Clair
Spend any time looking into
the space race of the late 1950s
and 1960s, and curious tensions
reveal themselves. On the one
hand, rockets streaming into
space represented a lightning
dash into the future, a triumph
of new technology and otherworldly ambition. On the other, it
was all a natural progression of existing
technologies, firmly rooted in national
politics and identity, and had – at times
– a somewhat illogical and cobbledtogether air. This spacesuit, worn by the
American astronaut Alan Shepard
during his training for the Mercury programme, perfectly encapsulates
these contradictions.
Stunned by early Russian achievements in space, America felt as if it
were playing catch up, and its space
programme initially leaned on preexisting suits designed for highaltitude pilots. BF Goodrich, the
company that produced Shepard’s
spacesuit, was predominantly a tyre
manufacturer. Humans need a pressurised environment to survive, so
a suit pressurised like a tyre seemed
the logical solution.
Goodrich got into the spacesuit
business through its work for oneeyed aviator Wiley Post who, decades
previously, had commissioned it to make
clothing that would allow him to survive
flights into the stratosphere. Like Post’s
1934 ensemble, Shepard’s specially tailored suit consisted of a thin, skin-hugging rubber layer that could be inflated,
constrained by a second layer made of
nylon mesh.
This constraining layer was essential.
As anyone who has ever replaced a
bicycle tyre knows, while it is soft and
pliable when uninflated, it becomes
ever more unyielding as air is pumped in.
Though the nylon mesh limited rubber’s
tendency to ‘balloon’ when pressurised,
astronaut Walter Schirra complained
that similar suits were at best “cumbersome” and at worst “downright rigid”.
A good deal of Shepard’s time in this
suit was spent practising basic tasks that
would be simple without it on. Pushing
buttons, grasping levers, even getting
the suit on and off – it had no fewer than
13 zips – were major feats. It took Ed
White, the first American to spacewalk,
an agonising 25 minutes to manoeuvre
himself back into his spacecraft after his
groundbreaking endeavour.
Most of the fibres used to make this
suit were manufactured in the laboratories of global firms such as DuPont
and Courtaulds. This process reflected
practical concerns of space travel, such
as flammability in oxygen-rich environments, but also contemporary mores.
Natural fibres – cotton, silk, linen and
wool – still held their own, but man-made
fibres were taking over. Cheap, practical, stain-resistant and washable, they
were increasingly being marketed as the
fabrics of the future. And, even in space,
looking and feeling the part mattered.
This was allegedly the thinking behind
this suit’s shiny silver coating, now
wearing off to reveal the more prosaic
khaki nylon underneath. “A coverall of
this material would look real good, like
a spacesuit should,” a pilot is said to
have told one of the suit’s developers.
“Just to justify it technically we can
tell them [it’s] specifically designed
to radiate heat or something.”
Kassia St Clair is an author and journalist.
Her latest book is The Golden Thread: How
Fabric Changed History (John Murray, 2018)
strikes back
Medical Secretary gives something
back to research and treatment
Sylvia’s friends remembered her for her kind heart, and her strong
desire to help others. Even though she suffered lifelong poor health,
while also caring for her critically ill mother.
But Sylvia did more than put on a brave face: she struck back against
illness by working as a medical secretary, and following medical
advances keenly. That’s how she found out that with conditions such
as stroke, the right treatment and back-up can make all the
difference when given promptly.
So it’s not surprising Sylvia decided that one of the best things she
could do would be to strike back again, by supporting the work of
the Stroke Association – and leave us a generous gift in her Will.
Today, we take time to remember her. Because Sylvia is still playing
an important part in helping us create a future free of stroke, and
turn around the lives of thousands of stroke survivors each year.
Registered office: Stroke Association House, 240 City Road, London EC1V 2PR. Registered as a Charity in England and Wales (No 211015) and in Scotland (SC037789). Also registered in Northern Ireland (XT33805), Isle of Man (No 945)
and Jersey (NPO 369). Stroke Association is a Company Limited by Guarantee in England and Wales (No 61274)
Troubled waters
A 2001 satellite view of the Mississippi
river delta in the southern United States.
This issue, we explore how ‘Ol’ Man
River’ – a musical-theatre hit that
addressed the plight of the region’s
black people – became a protest song in
nations as far-flung as India and Spain
Журналы и газеты
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BBC World Histories, journal
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