These last chapters in The Transformation of the World, five and six, have a lot to say about very European stories of industrialization, agricultural reform, medical advances, changes in patterns of life. Osterhammel writes that only European nations kept the kind of records that allow us to assess decreases in family size or in infant mortality, but there is something in his exposition of those developments that causes one to wonder, a bit, in the back of one’s mind, whether he isn’t reproducing a narrative of progress nineteenth-century Europeans themselves would have recognized. These fears are allayed a bit by his descriptions of “colonial cities” like Calcutta and Hanoi, which offer a sense of European power as a complicated series of negotiations. What do you make of this characterization?
The social composition of colonial cities was marked by shades, transitions, and overlapping, against the background of a dichotomy between colonizer and colonized that operated in principle but did not take effect in each and every sphere of life. Social and ethnic hierarchies were superimposed on one another in complex ways. Even at the high-water mark of racist thinking, the solidarity of skin color and nationality by no means universally cancelled the solidarity of class. (286)
It’s difficult to read Osterhammel piecemeal. As many reviewers noted, the book’s approach is impressionistic, and the entire effect may only be apprehended at the end, or perhaps by repeatedly dipping in and out. One finds oneself skipping over basic facts about the past that one feels one already knows—and perhaps missing something about how they ought all to be added up. If you have your own reflections on making your way through this tome, we hope you’ll share them in the comments!
And now, here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section!
Tim Shenk interviews Susan Pedersen: How the League of Nations Shaped International Politics (Dissent)
Jordan T. Watkins, The Old Testament and a New Republic, a review of Eran Shalev’s American Zion (S-USIH Blog)
Sarah Lyall, Magna Carta, Still Posing a Challenge at 800 (NYTimes)
Seamus Perry on George Meredith: Drugs, Anyone? (LRB)
Marina Warner on the Brothers Grimm: Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales (NYRB)
Jonathan Downing, Everyday Messianism (Southcottian Studies)
Mali Skotheim, Classics Through Bars, on teaching the Aeneid in a prison (Eidolon)
Mallory Ortberg strikes again! St. Sebastian in Ascending Order of Sexiness (The Toast)
Robin Marie, ‘Teaching No Name in the Street‘ (USIH Blog)
Jay Rubin, ‘How to translate Japanese‘ (TLS)
Hal Jensen, ‘A self-defining chair‘ (TLS)
Bill McKibben, ‘Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth‘ (NYRB)
Jeffrey von Arx, ‘Vatican I and the long nineteenth century‘ (America)
William Dalrymple, ‘The Renaissance of the Sultans‘ (NYRB)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, ‘Color-blind policy, color-conscious morality‘ (Atlantic)