How Fascist is Trump?

On Wednesday 18th January we will be co-hosting a special seminar with the Institute for German Studies, to be given by Dr. Frank Uekotter.

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Abstract:

One week before his inauguration, a Google search for “Trump” and “Fascism” retrieves more than half a million results. When it comes to the collective memory of Western democracies, it is the experience of Fascism that resonates more strongly than any other with the American president-elect. But is this a precedent that holds up to scrutiny? How far do we get in understanding Trump when we look at him against the crisis years of Western democracy in the interwar years? And how does the literature on Fascism in Germany and Italy look against this contemporary challenge: do we have the kind of history of Fascism in our libraries and our collective memory that we need to confront Trump? By bringing history and contemporary politics into a dialogue, this presentation tries to make sense of a phenomenon that may not be quite as unprecedented.

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Week 2 Seminar: Prof. Robert Gerwarth (UCD) – The Vanquished: Europe & the Aftermath of the Great War

Our speaker next week is Prof. Robert Gerwarth (UCD). Please note that on the same day we are also co-hosting this event, in which Prof. Gerwarth is also participating.

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When the First World War formally ended in November 1918 with an Allied victory, three vast and centuries-old land empires – the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires – vanished from the map. A fourth, the Hohenzollern Empire, which had become a major land empire in the last year of the war when it occupied enormous territories in East-Central Europe, was significantly reduced in size, stripped of its overseas colonies, and transformed into a parliamentary democracy with what Germans across the political spectrum referred to as a “bleeding frontier” towards the East.

As a consequence of imperial collapse and the rise and clash of nationalist as well as Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik movements, an extensive arc of postwar violence stretched from Finland and the Baltic States through Russia and Ukraine, Poland, the borderlands of Austria, Hungary, and Germany, all the way through the Balkans into Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. This lecture will explore the effects of “1918” on the defeated states of Europe, drawing on comparisons between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.  It will also seek to argue that the political agenda of the following three decades was very much set in the years between 1917 (Russian Revolutions) and 1923 (Lausanne Treaty). It was in this period, rather than in the Great War itself, that the ground was laid for the even more terrible conflict that began in 1939 / 41.

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Week 1 Seminar: Dr. Saurabh Mishra (Sheffield) – Violence, Resilience and the ‘Coolie’ Identity: Life on the Ships to the Caribbean, 1834-1920

Our regular series of research seminars resumes this week with Dr. Saurabh Mishra (Sheffield). The full calendar of this term’s seminars can be found here.

 

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Abstract:

Historians have often explored the massive impact that nostalgia had on almost every aspect of the lives of migrants. While this is true, I will argue that the migrants’ lives were also defined by a deep sense of rupture from the life back ‘home’. This rupture was arguably experienced for the first time at the immigration depots and on board ships, both through overt and subtle forms of violence that they were subjected to, and through the medical surveillance that they had to endure. The time spent within these confined spaces was instrumental in forming a nascent sense of the ‘coolie’ identity, as well as in setting the tone for their future relationship with the state and other authorities. This paper will explore these issues with particular reference to Trinidad and British Guiana.

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Spring 2017 Research Seminar Schedule

Please find here the calendar of research seminars for Spring 2017 in the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History – we hope to see you there! Any questions to Dr. Simon Jackson (S.Jackson.1@bham.ac.uk)

 

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Guest Seminar: Wm. Roger Louis (Texas): Britain and the Creation of the State of Israel in 1948

Happy New Year! To start the new year, our week 1 calendar features a jointly hosted (with Modern Languages and the IAS) guest talk by Prof. Wm. Roger Louis (Texas). Please contact Dr. Berny Sebe (B.C.Sebe@bham.ac.uk) for more info.

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Professor Louis has recently published Ends of British Imperialism: the Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization (2006). He has written or edited more than thirty books including Imperialism at Bay (1977) and The British Empire in the Middle East (1984). His edited publications include The End of the Palestine Mandate (1986), The Transfers of Power in Africa (1988), Suez 1956 (1989), The Iraqi Revolution (1991), and Churchill (1993).

He is the past President of the American Historical Association and the present Director of the AHA’s National History Center.  He is Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford History of the British Empire, and the former Chairman of the Historical Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of State, from which he resigned on principle in 2008.

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Winter Round table: Critical Histories of Energy & Extraction

We round off the term on Thursday 8 December, 2-5 pm, with a round-table in association with the Birmingham Seminar for Environmental Humanities: all are welcome and our speakers are Dr. Marta Musso, Prof. Tait Keller & Dr. Frank Uekotter.

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Abstracts:

Dr. Marta Musso:

Taking Control: Sonatrach and the Algerian Decolonization Process

e role that hydrocarbons played in decolonisation processes has so far been overlooked by historians. However, the oil industry played a pivotal role in the history of decolonisation, both on an economic level, as basis for self-directed industrial development, and an ideological level, as “the weapon against the West” that Gamal Nasser theorised in 1952 in his pamphlet “Philosophy of the Revolution”.

This paper aims to analyse the specific case of Algeria. The Saharan hydrocarbon reserves were discovered in 1956, two years after the outbreak of the hostilities with France; for the French government, it was the occasion to cover its energy deficit and to become a producer country. For the Algerian nationalists, the struggle to gain control over the Sahara became the symbol of future wealth and economic independence. Foreign oil companies, on their part, immediately saw the war as an occasion to penetrate a new market and to seize promising resources.

After the independence, building a national oil industry that would directly manage the Saharan hydrocarbons became one of the main goals pursued by both Ahmed Ben Bella first and Houari Boumediénè later. This paper will reconstruct the establishment of the Algerian National Oil company Sonatrach and the entrepeneurs that founded, focusing on the relations between the people running the company and the Algerian establishment, on the one hand, and the relations with the foreign oil industry, namely French and American companies, on the other hand. In particular, the paper will focus on the problem of technological transfer and nationalization in the context of globalized enterprises such as oil companies in producer countries.

Prof. Tait Keller:

The Energy History of World War One

My paper focuses on how energy geopolitics linked the battle lines and home fronts with industry and agriculture in ways that fundamentally shaped the twentieth century. Few human endeavors have altered the natural world in the modern era as agriculture, industry, and warfare. In 1914, the three formed a violent triad geared for the production of destruction. While battlegrounds seemingly suffered devastation, the resulting damage to nature was normally short-lived. Paradoxically, major environmental change occurred behind the lines, away from the killing fields. Scholars have typically studied armies in the First World War as social entities, but I classify fighting forces as biological systems, which depended on a “military ecology” of energy extraction, production, and supply to function. To maintain the “biological welfare” of soldiers and power engines of war, belligerent countries commandeered energy resources throughout the biosphere. The duration and scale of the conflict altered military ecologies around the world and led to new “material flows” of foodstuffs and fossil fuels. Militarized material flows of energy transformed relationships from global geopolitics down to individual consumption patterns.

Dr. Frank Uekotter

‘The Men of Energy’

The presentation discusses the biographical dimension of large infrastructure projects. What are our historical experiences with the men leading these projects? How has the role of the “infrastructure czar” changed since the late nineteenth century? Can we identify distinct national styles of leadership? And what kind of leadership should we expect in the twenty-first century? The presentation provides some insights into a work-in-progress about a collective biography of what Tom Hughes called “system builders”.

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Misconduct in Japan: who writes the rules of knowing?

Ahead of this week’s Modern & Contemporary research seminar on Wednesday afternoon, our speaker, Dr. Tamson Pietsch, writes on what counts as success in education…

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What is the warrant for knowledge?  If the Floating University was an educational experiment, who wrote the rules of knowing that determined what counted as its success or failure? This is a questi…

Source: Misconduct in Japan: who writes the rules of knowing?

Week 11 Seminar: Tamson Pietsch (Sydney), ‘Great Gatsby Gap Year: The Floating University and the Politics of Knowing in America and the Interwar World’.

Our week 11 research seminar speaker is Dr. Tamson Pietsch who is hosted jointly with MBS. Tamson blogs on the original knowledge economy over at Cap & Gown

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Abstract:

When the Floating University set sail from New York in September 1926 on its seven-month cruise around the world, its educational status was already uncertain, undermined by New York University’s last minute withdrawal of sponsorship. However, once underway, the voyage was to face another kind of difficulty. As a ‘pedagogical experiment’ that emphasised individual experience as the way to know the world, the Floating University grew out of contemporary discourses within both popular culture and the new discipline of psychology. But as a world cruise of 500 wealthy American young people, it was also rooted in interwar cultures of consumption and production that brought it into close contact with an increasingly global mass media hungry for scandal. And scandal was something that students of the Floating University readily provided.

This paper is interested in how the question of the success or failure of the Floating University was determined not in academic journals, student assessments or university classrooms, but instead in the newspapers, not only of the United States but of countries across the world. In doing so it presents research-in-progress that takes up the insights of a generation of historians of science who have shown that what counts as success in experimentation is constituted by social cultures and contexts and their measures of trust and respectability. This, indeed, was something the leaders of the Floating University were to discover, much to their cost.

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Guest Blog: ‘Oil Imperialism? Energy and Political Power from a Global Perspective’

Our guest blog-post this week comes from Gemma Jennings, an AHRC-M3C funded PhD student in History here at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History. Gemma’s research examines the impact of the oil industry on gender relations and social structures, adopting a transnational approach focused on Algerian oil, tracing the impacts of this sector through space.

Below she reports on an important recent conference at the crossroads of global, political and environmental historiographies. Thanks Gemma!

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Image: An oil pump at sunset, source.

Conference report: ‘Oil Imperialism? Energy and Political Power from a Global Perspective’ (4-5 November 2016, Paris-Sorbonne).

Emerging as a uniquely valuable commodity in World War One, oil has become one of the world’s most sought after resources, with the global struggles for control of oil reserves widely researched and debated. In these discussions, both within and beyond academic circles, the notion of a new, contemporary form of imperialism, that of ‘oil imperialism’, is frequently invoked. However, scholars have yet to offer a clear definition or theoretical framework for research discussing this conceptualisation. This conference sought to address this ambiguity, exploring a range of historical episodes in which the apparent operation of ‘oil imperialism’ has been identified, attempting to both define the term and interrogate whether the concept could be employed as a useful category of analysis.

Panel One examined oil in the context of empire and international relations. GUILLEMETTE CROUZET (Geneva) presented on the British oil concession in Bakhtiaristan in the early twentieth century, arguing that oil companies operated as ‘agents of imperialism’. The paper illustrated how the policies of these companies created an area that was governed by capitalism and oil technopolitics, transforming local people from ‘dangerous’ tribes into colonial subjects through their employment within the oil labour force. BENJAMIN BENGOBEYI’s (University Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne) paper, in contrast, elucidated how oil exporting countries have been able to use their oil reserves to counter perceived imperialistic projects, through an examination of Iraq’s approach to the implementation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) oil embargo against Israel and its allies in response to the Yom Kippur War.  VICTOR McFARLAND (University of Missouri), likewise examined international politics in the Middle East, examining the U.S. role in the Persian Gulf in the 1970s, exploring the motivations for and limitations of the American military presence in the region, particularly highlighting the dependence on local partners acting as hosts for the American military. The final paper of the panel, presented by EMILY MEIRDING (U.S. Naval Postgraduate School), returned to British oil interests, interrogating the prevailing premise that the British involvement in the Falklands War was motivated by an attempt to control the Falklands oil reserves. In elucidating the lack of evidence to support this supposition, and highlighting that, conversely, Britain had no interest in this oil, the paper both countered the conception of the conflict as an ‘oil war’ and highlighted the significant influence of  ‘oil imperialism’, as a presumed ubiquity, both among contemporary actors as well as in historical accounts.

The second panel focused on the operation of national and multinational oil companies. MARTA MUSSO’s (European University Institute) paper illuminated the divergent policies pursued by French and Italian oil companies, faced with British and American domination of the industry. The work highlighted a rhetoric that posited these companies outside of and in opposition to Anglo-Saxon ‘imperial’ projects to gain access to oil. TOURAJ ATABAKI (Leiden University) then examined the labour policies in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, arguing that the crucial role of oil workers to the British war effort, as well as the chronic scarcity of labour in the area, facilitated an entry into the political sphere through trade unions and strikes in oil refineries, ultimately developing political citizens whose actions could affect world politics. KEVIN WUNSTHORN (University Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne) closed the panel with an examination of the tensions between French and Anglo-Saxon oil companies within the context of the Iraq Petroleum Company, examining the divergent aims of the Compagnie Française des Pétroles and its Anglo-Saxon counterparts, and the counter measures taken by the French government to promote its interests in the area.

Day one ended with a keynote address from MYRNA SANTIAGO (Saint Mary’s College), which tracked the development of critiques of oil companies operating in South America, evolving from labour force action and nationalist claims to include wider environmentalist concerns, questioning the notion of oil extraction itself. The argument highlighted that anti-imperialist discourse was a central platform of these movements, noting as one example, that industrial action by oil workers lost much of its status and influence following nationalisation.

The second day of the conference opened with a panel on oil, anti-imperialism and decolonisation. GIULIANO GARAVINI’s (New York University Abu Dhabi) paper examined the formation, aims and actions of OPEC, arguing that in its opposition to former colonisers attempting to protect their interests within oil exporting countries, the organisation embodied the international dimension of anti-colonialism.  ELISABETTA BINI (University of Trieste) adopted a different approach, focusing on the oil workers of Libya from 1960-1980, outlining how the industrial action of these workers challenged the discriminatory policies of American oil companies. PHILIPPE TRISTANI (Agrégé d’histoire, Sorbonne University) then traced how the Iraqi government, despite western opposition, nationalised its oil, arguing that this played a key role in a global ‘décolonisation pétrolière’, mobilising other oil producing countries to nationalise their own industries. KATAYOUN SHAFIEE (UCL London, Centre for Advanced Studies), in contrast, explored strategies employed by oil importers to manage nationalisation, through an examination of the British appeal to international law against the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry. The presentation argued that, despite the final verdict linking permanent sovereignty to control over natural resources, the strategy of temporisation enabled the British government resolve the crisis to its own advantage.

The final panel of the conference looked at oil companies, the state, and the future of oil imperialism, opening with DUCCIO BASOSI’s (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice) paper, which argued that the 1970s  ‘petrodollar recycling’[1] constituted a form of imperialism, due to its direct relationship with the development of an ‘imperial’, globally used, dollar in the 1970s and 1980s. FRANCESCO PETRINI (University of Padua) examined the history of agreements and compromises between oil companies and the U.S. government, arguing that by conflating public interest with the success of their companies, oil businesses were able to leverage deals that tended to favour their interests over those of the state. In the final paper of the day, SIMONE SELVA (University “L’Orientale”, Naples), illuminated how Iranian oil revenues reshaped international capital markets, changing the role of American banks into intermediaries for Iranian international investments.

VICTOR McFARLAND (University of Missouri) concluded the conference, outlining that although the range of papers had elucidated the development of ‘oil imperialism’ as a powerful concept in contemporary and historical discourse, the conference had not produced a clear definition of the term, primarily due to its more empirical focus. The geographic delimitation of the conference was discussed, noting that papers had primarily concentrated on oil producers in the Middle East and South America, as well as foregrounding the relationships between western (primarily America and Britain) and producing countries, with less consideration of the broader range of international connections. Finally, the current lack of ‘histories from below’ in this field was discussed, underlining the focus, both at the conference and in wider literature on high politics and economics of the oil industry, highlighting the need to build on and expand the limited studies concerned with individuals and communities directly affected by the industry.

Conference Details

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