Ljubica Spaskovska on 20th century socialist and non-aligned internationalism

Ljubica Spaskovska (Exeter) is one of our two CSMCH-IASH Visiting Fellows this year. During her time at Edinburgh, she has been working on a new project on socialist and non-aligned internationalism. She shared some of her preliminary findings at the CSMCH seminar last week. Rory Scothorne was there to hear her speak and he sends this report. You can also find out more about Ljubica’s work by listening to her in conversation with Centre director, Emile Chabal, on the CSMCH podcast or by following the Audiomack link below.

The popular association of the Balkans with provincial fractiousness is so entrenched that the region has become the go-to verb for territorial disintegration. Ljubica Spaskovska’s talk on the Yugoslav roots of non-aligned socialist internationalism provided a stimulating contribution to recent efforts to de-provincialise Balkan history, in this case emphasising the global role of Yugoslav radicals who made the leap from student comrades, to partisan guerillas, and finally to influential diplomats within the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations.

Exploring Yugoslavia’s place within wider narratives of twentieth-century internationalism also allowed Ljubica to reassess the ‘metageographies’ of the Cold War, escaping the traditional binary of socialist and liberal internationalism and – through Yugoslavia’s role in the NAM – drawing the Global South back into questions of European internationality. In this account, Yugoslavia featured as a model for forms of transnational integration and cooperation that did not impinge on territorial autonomy but sought to reinforce it.

The Non-Aligned Movement emerged over the 1950s and was formally established in 1961, as postcolonial states – usually vaguely socialist – sought to assert themselves in the international sphere on their own terms, struggling against dependency on either the Western or Eastern blocs of the Cold War. Ljubica located the origins of this alternative internationalist imaginary in the radical student internationalism of the 1930s, organised through World Youth Conferences in Geneva and New York.

At this point, Yugoslavia already stood out within European student radicalism; while many of interwar Europe’s young intellectuals were drawn towards right-wing nationalism or fascism, Eric Hobsbawm noted that Yugoslav Communists were the ‘great exception’. In different ways, student comrades like Ivo Ribar Lola – the ‘Yugoslav Che Guevara’ – and Koca Popovic went on to play crucial roles in the Yugoslav vision of non-alignment, with Lola becoming a mythical figure after his death in a 1943 bombing raid and Popovic becoming minister of foreign affairs under Tito.

Ljubica seemed to downplay World War 2 itself, focusing instead on prewar roots and postwar trajectories, but the partisan battles of the war were nevertheless crucial in embedding the internationalism of the World Youth Conferences back into their local contexts. From the cosmopolitan space of the conference floor in Geneva or New York to national struggles against fascism, the politics of internationalism and nation-building were placed into close dialogue with one another.

National experiences fed back into internationalism. Ljubica suggested that the large Yugoslav contingent in the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Egypt during the Suez crisis was a legacy of their sizeable partisan forces, with peacekeeping offering a new means of fusing military engagement with progressive political intent. Yugoslavia’s engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement’s ‘medical internationalism’ can also be viewed as a consequence of domestic experiences: support for red cross centres and prefab hospitals for refugees in Tunisia and Morocco during the Algerian struggle against French colonialism was in part a legacy of the heroic myth of rescuing ‘the wounded’ that emerged from the Yugoslav partisan movement.

Yugoslavia also participated in international cultures of expertise – a ‘technocratic internationalism’ – facilitated by the NAM. In the aftermath of the Skopje earthquake in 1963, the UN Special Fund project established to assist with reconstruction provided inspiration for town planners as far afield as Plymouth, interpreted by Ljubica as an attempt to build a ‘modernist utopia’ through wide-ranging popular consultation. This ‘developmental modernism’ fed into the United Nations Development Programme, reflecting the broader emphasis of the NAM on progressive development priorities. Other key elements of the NAM fed into UN projects that endure today, such as the 1977 protocols to the Geneva Convention – reflecting the experience of the Algerian war – but some were more fragile and contested.

The NAM’s demand for a New International Economic Order, which conquered the UN General Assembly in the 1970s, developed alongside a weakening of the Assembly’s influence on international relations as the major powers ignored its agenda. The UN Centre on Transnational Corporations was established to study the role of TNCs after their involvement in the coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende, but its efforts to devise a code of conduct were stymied by the reassertion of American and corporate power in the 1980s.

The massive expansion of sovereign indebtedness between 1974 and 1981 (from 3 to 32 countries in external arrears) was part of a profound shift in the global balance of power, from the tense ambiguity of the 1970s to the consolidation of US hegemony as the Cold War entered its endgame. The emergence of the ‘Washington Consensus’ on development framed the UNCTC’s code of conduct as a ‘relic of another era’, and while many hoped the UN might challenge the growing complicity of the IMF and World Bank in the debt-based subordination of the Global South, the UN and NAM were relatively powerless in the face of a rejuvenated neoliberal order. Yet Ljubica’s reflections on more recent developments emphasised the enduring influence of the NAM: the UN’s sustainable development agenda has its roots in the New International Economic Order ideals of the 1970s, and in 2014 the Human Rights Commission began negotiations to create a new binding code of conduct for TNCs.

Ljubica’s conclusion emphasised these present-day legacies of the NAM, though, as Vladimir Unkovski-Korica (Glasgow) pointed out in his comment, it would have been interesting to hear more about where the peoples of the former Yugoslavia fit in. The post-79 transformation of global capitalism reshaped the options available to states – both in terms of their international associations and their domestic agendas – and this surely played a role in the fate of Yugoslavia and its successors.

In the question and answer session following Ljubica’s talk, one audience member asked about the role of an internationalism that rejected the national unit altogether. Ljubica’s response emphasised an entanglement of nationalism and internationalism that characterised the twentieth century experience of both. Her distinction between internationalism and a more ‘utopian’ cosmopolitanism is valuable, but can also be problematised. Nationalism is, after all, often driven by intellectuals whose own national identities are forged in part through those cosmopolitan spaces discussed above. At ‘world’ conferences, metropolitan universities and global institutions, the lingua francas and universalist political agendas of a transnational ‘imagined community’ must be translated out of, and back into, particular territorial situations and discourses.

What stands out about the NAM’s origins and agendas, as articulated by Ljubica, was its vision of a distinctive relationship between the national and international, whereby internationalism could only work if it could ensure the autonomy and consent of participating nations. Forged in resistance to the increasingly coercive, imperial internationalisms of East and West, this model of ‘embedded’ internationalism may still offer one way out of our current impasse between ‘globalists’ and the nativist far right.

Rory Scothorne is a PhD student in History. His research interests lie broadly in the history of social movements, the development and contestation of the public sphere in the twentieth century, and the political thought of the radical left. His thesis focuses on the relationship between the radical left and Scottish nationalism from 1968 to 1992.

‘Mad to be Normal’ film screening

The second of last month’s two film screenings on the theme of ‘Class, Culture, and Mental Health in Post-War Britain’ was ‘Mad to Be Normal’ (2017) a biopic of infamous Scottish anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Jessica Campbell introduced the film on the day, and she reflects on its merits in this blog post.

Featuring an all-star cast including David Tennant (as Laing), Elizabeth Moss, and Michael Gambon, ‘Mad to be Normal’ explores the controversial psychiatric practices taking place at Laing’s Therapeutic Community, Kingsley Hall, in 1960s East London. Emphasising social, environmental and familial aspects of mental illness, Laing was a fervent opponent of institutional and interventionist approaches to mental health and sought to challenge accepted bio-medical models of psychiatric treatment by promoting socially-oriented forms of self-healing.

Advocating the use of therapeutic community models which were premised on flattened social hierarchies, Laing established Kingsley Hall as a site for psychiatric treatment based on a commune-style structure in which patients and staff lived together in shared spaces. Standing in stark contrast to the traditional asylum-based framework for psychiatric care which was under fierce attack at this time, Laing’s approach at Kingsley Hall has been considered by many as revolutionary, a more progressive form of mental healthcare provision which eschewed the use of tranquilising drugs and ECT.

Historians, on the other hand, remain utterly divided over Laing’s character, his practices and his legacy. Was he truly a progressive revolutionary seeking to better the lives of the mentally ill? Or was he simply experimenting with ethically dubious treatments in an act of fame-seeking showmanship? Given the complexity of Laing’s personal and professional life, the group watched the film with eager anticipation, intrigued to writer-director Robert Mullan’s cinematic interpretation.

They were not disappointed. David Tennant fantastically portrayed Laing’s mannerisms, speech and charisma with uncanny precision, giving viewers an insight into the volatility of his personality and his relationships, capturing both his compassionate approach to patients and family as well as his outlandish and at times arrogant behaviour, spurred on by his excessive drinking, partying and dabbling with recreational drugs, most controversially, with his patients. The choice of costume and setting, although perhaps clichéd, also vividly encapsulated the 1960s zeitgeist, presenting Kingsley Hall not only as a site for psychiatric treatment but for countercultural activities, pointing to the fact Laing was not merely an anti-psychiatrist, but a countercultural icon, an advocate of the left, a writer, artist, and a media star.

However, whilst Laing was characterised with flare and accuracy, other elements of the film were fundamentally lacking. Indeed, it was clear as to why the film never reached general release: poorly scripted and slow-moving, the editing was choppy with abrupt scene changes and an anti-climactic ending which failed to really capture the full complexity of Kingsley Hall and Laing’s life. Many of the individuals represented in the film were fictionalised, including American PhD student Angie Wood, who plays Laing’s lover, and a number of the patients, a curious feature considering the well-known experience of patient-artist Mary Barnes and the panoply of famous visitors who frequented the therapeutic community.

Although bringing the reality of mental illness into sharp relief, the characterisation of Kingsley Hall’s patients lacked depth, struggling to move beyond stereotypical portrayals of mental illness which were exacerbated by over-dramatised and sensational scenes of Laing’s experiments with LSD and the bizarre media-spectacle surrounding the birth of, and attempted attack by a patient on, Laing’s fictionalised child.  It seems that in some respects the film did not reach its full potential; Laing’s life and the story of Kingsley Hall arguably deserve a more nuanced and developed cinematic treatment that presents such a central tenet of the history of psychiatry with the candour and complexity it deserves.

Nevertheless, the film prompted a lively group discussion  in which topics such as the film’s historical accuracy, its cinematographic features and key questions regarding the tensions and challenges of mental healthcare provision in general were raised. Whilst perhaps lacking in cinematic quality, it was felt that the film’s exploration of alternative psychiatric treatments raised important questions about the care of society’s most vulnerable, holding especial resonance given Britain’s current mental healthcare crisis.

Jessica Campbell is a PhD student in Economic and Social History. Her primary research interests lie in the social history of medicine. Her doctoral project ‘From Moral Treatment to Mad Culture’ seeks to explore the themes of creativity and patient expression through a historical enquiry into the nature of alternative psychiatric therapies in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain.

Olivier Estèves on the desegregation of English schools

This week, we teamed up with our friends in the Citizens, Nations and Migration Network to invite Olivier Estèves (Lille) to talk about his new book, The ‘desegregation’ of English schools: bussing, race and urban space, 1960-1980. This is the first ever study of the little-known but vitally important phenomenon of ‘bussing’ in postwar England, which affected thousands of Asian children in the 1960s and 1970s. Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz sends this report on Olivier’s presentation. You can also listen again to the talk by clicking on the Audiomack link below or via the CSMCH podcast channel.

The history of the forced dispersal of immigrant children in England, which affected mostly non-Anglophone Asian pupils in areas such as Southall (West London) and Bradford (West Yorkshire) in the 1960s and 1970s has only very recently elicited the interest of historians. But, with the help of archival material as well as interviews with formerly bussed pupils, Olivier Estèves (Lille) has now finally written the first book on the topic.

As Olivier made clear, the term “dispersal” or “bussing” has always been a controversial concept. Although the phenomenon of dispersal, or “bussing” is acknowledged in policy literature it has attracted scant historical attention. This is contrary to the media, political, and academic interests in American bussing, which have inspired many headlines as well as monographs over the decades, despite the fact that it never concerned more than 5% of the total number of American pupils even at its peak in the 1970s.

In the UK, where it was officially known as “dispersal”, bussing was a form of social engineering initiated in a dozen LEAs, whereby immigrant children of mostly primary school age were (forcefully) dispersed to predominantly white suburban schools. The aim was twofold: first, and originally, to placate white fears of an immigrant demographic takeover in areas such as Southall where the number of Asians had dramatically soared in 1960–1961. Second, and dispersal’s official raison d’être, to make sure those mostly non-Anglophone Asians learnt to “integrate”.

Olivier pointed out that dispersal policies were ushered in by Conservatives in power, when Sir Edward Boyle was at the DES, later to be officially sanctioned and nationally championed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government, under circular 7/65, which was issued on 14 June 1965. It noticed that the circular only recommended the implementation of dispersal in areas which had a proportion of “about one third” of immigrant children.

Despite the proverbial exceptions that proved the rule, bussing was a failure. One reason was that dispersed, marooned, and unwelcome Asian youths faced racist bullying in schools far away from their homes. The assimilationist rationale behind dispersal was also ephemeral: it increasingly ran counter to the emerging multicultural principles of British education from the 1970s onwards

Moreover, the legal framework that underpinned dispersal was flawed. First, as Olivier observed, there was no clear definition of “immigrant children”, which ran the risk of political instrumentalisations, reifications, and local abuses. Second, the absence of actual statistics on “immigrant children” made it impossible to calculate their proportion; on top of this, some LEAs (Brent, Haringey) were notoriously hostile to collecting such statistics, as opposed to Bradford for instance. Lastly, the “about one third” proportion proved controversial.

The issue regarding the “about one third” proportion in the circular was about whether or not the percentage rested on evidence-based research. The Labour MP for Brent, Reginald Freeson, asked for further clarification as to the rationale behind this figure in the House of Commons in October 1965). Pressured by his colleague to give details, Denis Howell claimed that the “overwhelming evidence of the professional people involved” pointed to this being the maximum acceptable proportion of immigrant children. Years later in his autobiography, however, Howell confessed that the statistics were based on nothing more than the words of the headmaster of Park Hill school in Moseley (Birmingham) to which he had sent his four children.

Olivier compares bussing in the UK and the US

Olivier emphasised the fact that most children who were bussed faced racist bullying. The focus placed on the ethnic identity of bussed children acted, at least for some, as an identity obliterator, which tended to deprive these pupils of sense of childhood (“you never thought you were a kid”), a feeling nurtured by the fact that many had busy parents working shifts in factories and also had to take care of their siblings, whether or not they were bussed as well.

Olivier ended the talk with a reflection on sources and source material, particularly the long-term consequences of bussing at an individual and group level. For some interviewees, memories of being bussed are an ongoing process of meaning-making through time. Had they been contacted a few years before, certain answers, or a certain twist or shape given to answers would have been different, as is suggested by Maurice Halbwachs’s analysis of the way collective memory is an ever-shifting reality being reconfigured through time and by language. Thus, although the realities of bussing can be reconstructed by historians, the subjective memories of those involved are not nearly as easy to describe.

The talk was followed by a comment from Tim Peace (Glasgow) who raised some questions about the sources and the implications of the study of racial discrimination in English schools both historically and at the present time. In the question and answer session, the curious audience raised a number of questions about the events Olivier had discussed. It was clear that there was a real desire in the room to understand better this complex and unknown aspect of English scholar life between 1960 to 1980.

Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz is a PhD student in History. His research interests lie broadly in the history of the European left, political theory, political violence and historical memory. His thesis focuses on the political commitment of Eric Hobsbawm and his passion for politics in a transformed world (since 1977).

Alexander Geppert on the post-war production of outer space

Our theme of ‘space’ has led to a wide range of contributions to this year’s seminar series, encompassing topics as broad as building materials in 1970s Tanzania, the postcolonial spaces of offshore capitalism, and French colonial borderlands in India. This week, Alexander C. T. Geppert (New York University) provided an even more expansive interpretation of our theme by moving the focus beyond Planet Earth entirely in his examination of cultural responses to the exploration of outer space. Mathew Nicolson sends this report.

A poster for a space exhibition in Berlin in 1956.

Drawing from his recent work editing the ‘Astroculture Trilogy’ – Imagining Outer Space (2012), Limiting Outer Space (2016) and the forthcoming Militarizing Outer Space (2019) – Alexander offered multiple insights into cultural representations and understandings of outer space, with a particular emphasis on postwar Western Europe. He began by clearly defining the term astroculture as ‘[comprising] a heterogeneous array of images and artifacts, media and practices that all aim to ascribe meaning to outer space while stirring both the individual and collective imagination.’

Cultural representations, therefore, lay at the core of popular conceptions of outer space during the postwar period.  This can be witnessed in the vast array of space-themed films, books, albums and artwork produced during this period, including the 1956 ‘Unbegrenzter Raum [The Unlimited Space]’ exhibition in Berlin and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968.

Space stations, Alexander suggested, served as the main focal point for imagining space exploration until they were supplanted in the 1960s by a growing interest in the possibility of a Moon landing.  Until then, space stations were conceived as ‘outposts’ or ‘springboards’ for further travel into outer space and prompted a number of competing proposals.  Most iconic among these was the rotating wheel space station, a design advanced by NASA engineer and former Nazi rocket designer Wernher von Braun with the aim of artificially creating Earth-like gravity on the station through the wheel’s rotation.

The rotating wheel space station underpinned the ‘von Braun paradigm’ of space travel in which the station would act as a staging post for transit between permanent colonies on the Moon, then Mars and then beyond the Solar System itself. Although emerging as a cultural icon in the 1950s and regularly featuring in representations of space travel, NASA ultimately rejected both this paradigm and the wheel station design, opting instead to orientate the Apollo program towards direct journeys to the Moon.

Alexander then turned his attention towards efforts to characterise the ‘Space Age’ as a distinct historical period. The Space Age is sometimes used to refer to the period between the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the end of the Apollo programme in 1972, characterised by intense public interest in space exploration and growing technological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, falling away as this ‘space race’ gave way to apathy in the 1970s.

However, the Space Age was also conceived as a period yet to arrive, in which space exploration and travel would become the defining feature of the near future. Once again, several competing frameworks were advanced, ranging from NASA’s model of ‘linear infinite progress’ to projections of exponential rates of expansion into outer space.  It became possible to look forward to a period when humanity would attain total control over space and time.  This optimistic zeitgeist lasted until the late 1960s before declining alongside reduced public and governmental interest in space exploration during the following decade.

Alexander discusses contactee narratives.

Contact narratives with extra-terrestrial species were identified by Alexander as the third major manifestation of popular conceptions of outer space.  Images of UFOs and ‘flying saucers’ gained a prominent position in the public imagination and shaped representations of such encounters.  This new concern towards threats from the sky highlighted growing fears relating to continuing developments in rocketry and nuclear weapons.

Two accounts by George Adamski and Cedric Allingham (later revealed to be a hoax orchestrated by prominent astronomer Patrick Moore) gained particular attention, in which extra-terrestrial beings were portrayed as Christ-like entities offering humanity salvation from the threat of nuclear war. Outer space can thereby be interpreted as a canvas upon which earthly concerns were projected and reflected.

Alexander concluded by tracing declining interest and enthusiasm towards space exploration in the 1970s.  The Apollo program ended after its sixth Moon landing in 1972 and the role of outer space in the popular imagination diminished. Yet, in a trend Alexander terms the ‘post-Apollo paradox,’ such apathy developed alongside the continuing advancement of space technology as the development of satellites gave outer space greater relevance in peoples’ daily lives.

In his commentary, Matjaz Vidmar (University of Edinburgh) responded to multiple aspects of Geppert’s talk.  He emphasised differences between the Soviet and American roadmaps for entering outer space, the former retaining aspects of the von Braun paradigm and the latter adopting an increasingly direct approach for reaching targets. He also noted the transformative impact of Sputnik’s launch in 1957, which he analysed in the wider context of the militarisation of space exploration. Regarding the ‘post-Apollo paradox,’ Matjaz highlighted the economic crises of the 1970s and post-Vietnam disillusionment as possible explanations for the phenomenon.

The subsequent discussion proved to be equally wide-ranging.  The collapse in optimism towards space exploration was linked back to cinematic representations as the dangers implied in 2001: A Space Odyssey gave way to outright horror in Alien (1979) merely a decade later, while other questions focused on the origins of the flat Earth conspiracy, conceptions of interstellar colonisation and imperialism and whether a gendered analysis can be applied to different staging models of space flight.

Mathew Nicolson is a PhD student in Scottish History.  His research interests focus on the politics and culture of postwar Scotland with particular emphases on its ‘peripheral’ island groups and imperial connections.  His thesis explores the politics of culture, identity and constitutional change in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles from 1969 to 1999. He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Stefanie Gänger on medicine and sociality in the Atlantic world

This week, we welcomed Stefanie Gänger (Universität zu Köln) who took us on a global journey through the history of science and medicine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Her talk brought to life our theme of ‘space’ and offered a wealth of insights into the circulation of knowledge. If you were not able to come along, you can catch up with the full talk via the Audiomack link below or via our podcast channel. Alternatively, Calum Aikman sends this pithy report. 

Cinchona, also known as Peruvian bark, first became known for its medicinal qualities back in the seventeenth century. Grown by the Jesuits on the eastern slopes of the Spanish-American Andes with the prosaic aim of combating fevers and chills, the drug did not easily conform to existing practices: it was unable to dispel ‘humours’, nor did its bitter, astringent taste endear itself to those willing to consume it.

Few, therefore, could have foreseen how popular it would become; yet, by the turn of the early nineteenth century, the reputation of cinchona was so well established that it was estimated that a total of between 15 and 38 million doses per annum were administered globally. Such was its success in tackling ailments that it was even considered to have divine medical virtues.

The purpose of Stefanie’s paper, however, was not to enumerate the reasons for cinchona’s reputation as an early ‘wonder drug’, nor to examine the nature of its production, but to trace how the knowledge of its restorative properties was subsequently diffused throughout the world. One important factor which aided propagation, she claimed, was the increasing significance of the written word in Western culture. The utility of Peruvian bark was soon recorded in medical dictionaries worldwide, such as those edited by Samuel-Auguste Tissot and William Buchan, and translated into numerous different languages.

In addition, for those laymen practitioners unacquainted with textbooks, there were an array of almanacs and periodicals to guide them: one common resource in Spanish America, for instance, was the volume of remedies compiled by the Jesuit missionary Juan de Esteyneffer, which was favoured by the local Creole populations.

Discourses in how to prepare cinchona were thus gradually woven into the fabric of Western and colonial societies. Many remedy books advised that the bark be infused in an aromatic compound to make it more palatable, usually by mixing it with wine; this was the case with Agua de Inglaterra (‘English water’), which was found throughout Portugal, Brazil and Lusophone communities in West Africa. But recipes varied by region: whereas Chinese physicians imbued the bark with cinnamon, in Morocco it was more likely to be treated with vinegar. Stefanie argued that this exemplified how the understanding of a common resource could quickly be subjected to indigenous tastes and mores.

The changing nature of medical practice also allowed cinchona to gain acceptance in areas far removed from its natural habitat. Although relatively cheap in the Andes, it was expensive to procure in most overseas markets. Nonetheless, this did not stop it from growing in popularity far beyond the upper echelons of consumer society. Literate, middle-class households may have dutifully inscribed in notebooks the many ways in which they used the bark, but paupers and slaves were also given it as a cure. In the latter case, it was often mixed into their healing potions. This was frequently at the behest of state authorities and charities, which would have subsidised the expense.

Finally, Cinchona’s fame was also disseminated by word of mouth, which reassured those who were inclined to place their trust in popular testimony. In the Andean territories of Peru and New Granada, native healers were assiduous in preparing the drug for all manner of treatments, which led to knowledge transfer and regular lines of communication about how it should be used.

Stefanie noted that soldiers and sailors were also influential in this regard; many would have been familiar with Cinchona due to its prevalence in army medical supplies (as troops were regularly exposed to insalubrious climates, they were often given it prophylactically in order to shield them from disease), and their willingness to spread the word further helped ensure its acceptance far and wide.

In her concluding remarks, Stefanie suggested that many existing perceptions of global historical development stress the primacy of locality. Her counter-argument is that, while this is important, knowledge can also transcend such a context. Cinchona is a good example of this: its inherent malleability assured its recognition beyond the Andes, allowing it to spread across the globe and become newly situated in a myriad of contrasting environments where understandings were not identical. The production of scientific knowledge, therefore, is not just bound to one place, but can be interpreted anew in locales far removed from its original circumstances.

In her comment, Sarah Easterby-Smith (St Andrews) attempted to place Stefanie’s paper within the wider context of recent historiographical debates, suggesting that it echoed a 2004 journal article by Jim Secord, which depicted science as the product of knowledge in transit and contingent on local production of information. She was pleased to see several examples of source material on display during the presentation, but felt that Stefanie’s analysis was nonetheless limited in some areas.

Were there, for example, any examples of cinchona failing as a drug, and could there have been problems in its circulation? Arguing that people were both ‘present and absent’ in the paper, she also wondered if it was possible to properly strike a balance between the ‘big picture’ and the efforts of select individuals. Moreover, although claiming that an attribute of Stefanie’s analysis was that it was resistant to the easy narrative of ‘flows’, she determined that there had been little opportunity for surrounding power structures to be properly investigated. Despite these apprehensions, she welcomed the paper as an imaginative step forward in conceptualising how knowledge proceeds to enter different ‘spaces’.

Calum Aikman is a PhD student in History. His research mostly focuses on twentieth-century British and Scottish politics, trade union history and the fortunes of the Labour Party in the post-war era. His thesis is on the political thought of the Labour Party’s ‘revisionist’ right wing in the 1970s. He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Ben Smith on the US-Mexico borderlands and the ‘war on drugs’

In the midst of the current debate about the construction of the wall between the US and Mexico, we invited Ben Smith (Warwick) to discuss the origins of the war on drugs between the US and Mexico in the 1950s. His entertaining talk gave us a welcome additional perspective on this year’s theme of ‘space’. Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz sends this report. 

Ben began by describing the emerging moral panic in the USA over drug use in the 1950s. In California, both politicians and members of civil society developed a distinct set of arguments about how to stop the drug trade. These blamed US drug use on Mexican supply, targeted the problem of Mexican corruption, and suggested manipulation of the border as a means to blackmail the Mexican authorities to crack down on traffickers. By the late 1960s, these arguments had become cornerstones of US, and particularly Republican, counter-narcotics policy. In 1969, President Nixon even implemented the de facto shutting of the border in the form of Operation Intercept.

But California’s moral panic not only formed the basis for Nixon’s war on drugs, it also had serious effects south of the border. Here, a complex interplay of exogenous and endogenous pressures emerged. Californian denouncements of Baja California’s corruption interwove with and strengthened homegrown Mexican hostility to the ruling party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional). Such opposition took the form of a critical public sphere, combative civil society organizations, and, by the late 1950s, a powerful local branch of the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). Such groups, when combined with US pressure, forced local authorities to enact periodic, well-publicized crackdowns on narcotics traffickers, corrupt cops, and addicts.

By analysing the dynamics and effects of California’s 1950 moral panic, Smith’s talk brought together, worked off, and revised two distinct historical traditions. First, the origins of the USA’s war on drugs of which many scholars have pinpointed the 1950s as a decisive point of inflection. During this decade, politicians, bureaucrats, and members of civil society not only established a new, and radically more punitive, judicial framework, but also developed a distinct underlying “narrative” or “cultural script” to describe the drug trade and justify these legal changes. This narrative contained two elements: the African-American or Mexican- American drug pusher and the white, often female, drug user or victim.

In his work, Smith has built on such findings and pushed them further. He argues that a third and crucial element of this narrative was the figure of the Mexican drug trafficker. This narrative underlay a series of suggested approaches to drug use, which also emerged during the 1950s. These stressed the idea that anti-narcotics efforts should squeeze supply south of the border, that Mexican authorities were often unwilling to do this, and that manipulation of border traffic and trade could coerce them into action. Yet these measures were not simply reactions to exogenous US pressure. They were also responses to endogenous demands from members of Mexican civil society to clean up local politics. To put it another way, Mexican drug policy was often determined by subnational politics.

In summing up, Smith pointed to the connections between the domestic and the international aspects of the war on drugs. Rather than seeing them as separate issues (to be studied by separate disciplines), Smith suggested we should instead observe them as deeply intertwined. We should, in short, view the thousands of African Americans languishing in US prisons and the thousands of dead and disappeared Mexicans as two sides of the same coin – victims of the same interlinking processes.

In his comment, Edinburgh’s resident Brazilianist Jake Blanc focused on three main ideas: the range of historical concepts employed by Smith, in particular, the concept of US moralising and how to think about it transnationally. Secondly, the context of the early 1950s and the role that the global Cold War might have played in the origins of the war on drugs by US authorities, a question absent in Smith’s talk. And, finally, the roots of the cooperation across the borders between the USA and Mexico.

The seminar ended with a lively question and answer session, which touched on a diverse range of topics, including current conflicts between the USA and Mexico, the role of the DEA in the War on Drugs, the primary sources that have underpinned Smith’s research, and the role that films and television play in shaping realities, notably Netflix’s Narcos Mexico.

Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz is a PhD student in History. His research interests lie broadly in the history of the European left, political theory, political violence and historical memory. His thesis focuses on the political commitment of Eric Hobsbawm and his passion for politics in a transformed world (since 1977). He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Akhila Yechury on borders and colonial sovereignty in French India

What can a dispute over a tiny river island in nineteenth century India tell us about our current political crisis? At first glance, not much. But a richly-drawn talk by Akhila Yechury (St Andrews) inspired an eager audience to reflect on how seemingly small events can have major political consequences. Read Ros Parr’s seminar report to find out more – or listen again to the entire talk via the Audiomack link below or directly on the CSMCH podcast channel

The focus of Akhila’s paper was sovereignty and, in particular, the interactions between French administrators and their British rivals in India. Analysing these colonial-era debates, she highlighted the interplay of ideas framed by Westphalian-inspired international law with older, more fluid local understandings of sovereignty based on hereditary and administrative claims. Her astute reflections on the hybrid forms of legitimacy this produced reveal much about the concept of sovereignty and its multiple and evolving meanings in the modern world. The British deployment of the concept of divisible sovereignty, in which French jurisdiction co-existed with the perceived right of the dominant imperial power to intervene, was particularly enlightening.

The paper introduced research from Akhila’s forthcoming book on French colonialism in India.  This framework, in which territorially fragmented French claims existed alongside those of the British, provides a unique lens for examining the imperial state. Yet, as befits a reflection on the Centre’s current theme of space, the paper moved up and down the spatial scales ranging from tiny French settlements known as loges to the universalist assumptions of the international system.

Akhila explains the geography of French India

One striking feature of Akhila’s study was the detailed analysis of the everyday within these debates.  Local smugglers and colonial administrators appeared alongside each other, their various perspectives meticulously traced in the archival record.  This approach firmly roots ideological debates about sovereignty in the context of time and place to reveal the constant negotiation and renegotiation that occurred over time. An obscure controversy about the use of the British postal service to smuggle cocaine into French territory, for example, illuminated the contrast between different abstract notions and the fluidity of sovereign rights in practice.

Commenting on the paper, Harshan Kumarasingham (Edinburgh) drew out some of the contingencies produced by wider events, such as the rebellion of 1857, and the contrasts between the status of French territories and Princely States.  The richness of the archival research was widely acknowledged from the floor and prompted further discussion on the breadth of insight this reveals. With discussions about sovereignty dominating our public debates, Akhila’s research is timely and we look forward to discovering more on this important topic in her book.

Ros Parr is a Lecturer in Modern South Asian History at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests are located in transnational and global histories of the twentieth century, particularly through the lenses of South Asian and gender history. Her PhD thesis examined the international activities of Indian nationalist women in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s. She is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Introducing this year’s CSMCH-IASH fellows!

One of the innovations of the CSMCH when it was set up in 2017 was to introduce a 3-month visiting postdoctoral fellowship in modern and contemporary history, in collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (IASH). This fellowship was designed to bring an early-career scholar to Edinburgh for a short research visit, with a view to pursuing interdisciplinary research that tied in with the Centre’s chosen theme. After Rakesh Ankit’s successful residency last year, we’re delighted to announce a second cohort of CSMCH-IASH Fellows; we are especially lucky that, this year, we have been able to fund two fellows.

Ljubica Spaskovska

Our first fellow is Ljubica Spaskovska, who is currently an Associate Research Fellow on the Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State-Socialism in a Global Perspective’ at the University of Exeter. Ljubica’s research interests are in the political and socio-cultural history of internationalism, including labour, development and histories of generations, providing important new perspectives on the (re) making of anti-imperial Europe and approaches to European – Global South relations. This work led to her first book, entitled The Last Yugoslav Generation: The Rethinking of Youth Politics and Cultures in Late Socialism (Manchester University Press, 2017).

Ljubica will be in residence from 1 March to 31 May. During this time, she will be working on a project entitled ‘Comrades, Guerillas, Diplomats: Yugoslavia, Non-Alignment and the Quest for a New International Order, 1930-1990’ which will form part of her second monograph under consideration with Cambridge University Press. After the fellowship, she will return to Exeter, where she will be taking up a permanent Lectureship in Post-1900 European History. Her mentor at Edinburgh will be Emile Chabal.

Claudia Stern

Our second fellow is Claudia Stern, who has just finished a Minerva Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Latin American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Originally from Chile, Dr. Stern completed her BA studies at Universidad Diego Portales in Social Communication and Advertising, and also holds a diploma in Cultural Administration from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She then went to Tel Aviv University for an MA in Cultural Studies and a PhD in History. She was subsequently a postdoc at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Research (IPAZ) at Granada University in 2016.

Claudia will also be in residence from 1 March to 31 May, during which time she will be working on the relationship between the experience of the Chilean middle class, gendered identities, and trauma from an economic, urban and political viewpoint. While in residence, she will pursue these interests by studying class identity and its social territorialization in Chile, as well as the ways in which urban icons impacted and shaped individual and national identities. She will also explain how public spaces played a key role as rupture markers in reshaping identities after the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her aim is to explain the transformation of Chilean middle classes identities through urban transformation as a class indicator. Her mentor at Edinburgh will be Jake Blanc.

As you can imagine, we are very excited to have two such talented scholars working with us at the CSMCH. I am sure you will join me in welcoming them to our community – and I would urge you to come along to listen to their respective presentations to the CSMCH seminar in late April and early May.

NB. For those interested in applying for next year’s CSMCH-IASH Fellowship scheme, the closing date is 30 April 2019. The application website has full details.

— Emile

Erika Hanna on the multiple histories of an Irish field

We welcomed Erika Hanna (Bristol) for our second seminar of the year – and the first to be co-hosted with the Modern Irish History research group. Erika gave an engrossing paper, which explored the local and the global through an unsolved murder of mid-20th century Ireland. Robbie Johnston sends this report. 

The village of Reamore in County Kerry, Ireland in 2011

On the 22 November 1958, the body of Mossie Moore was discovered in a stream a short distance from his home on the outskirts of the village of Reamore, county Kerry. The 46-year-old farmer had been strangled to death. Erika used the events which took place in this field over six decades ago to open up a wide-ranging discussion on themes relating to power, landscape, place, and economics at a crucial juncture in Irish history.

Erika also drew on a rich local storytelling tradition to recount the last day of Moore’s life. At the outset of the paper, Erika observed that, although literary forms of storytelling and poetry may not always be considered ‘scholarly’, they are nonetheless hugely important in how audiences beyond academia understand and discuss historical events.

At first glance, an isolated upland parish in county Kerry may seem an unlikely setting for the study of global history. But, as Erika pointed out, the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in this area were not only determined by economic policies in Ireland itself, but were also intimately tied to global economic developments. Crucially, by focusing her talk on the lives of upland hill farmers like Moore, Erika focused our attention on what globalization meant for those who did not travel widely or even leave the house in which they were born; in other words, those who have often been neglected in the writing of global histories.

The dairy farmers of Reamore were at the mercy of dramatic shifts in worldwide prices. The precipitous decline in the price of butter, which began in 1957, and persisted well into 1958, wrought a devastating impact on small holder dairy farmers. This fall was driven principally by a glut in supply following rapidly increased outputs in Australia, New Zealand, as well as Britain. Compounding their economic hardship, the fall in the price of cheese, as well as the decline in chocolate consumption in Britain, prevented these farmers from supplementing or diversifying their income from butter-making.

Significantly, on the 12th of November 1958, the Irish Government published its renowned White Paper on Economic Expansion. The seminal document has been heralded as a critical moment when Ireland began to stimulate economic growth by attracting foreign capital, benefiting in particular from the financial investment of the United States.

While the White Paper is often celebrated as a key step towards modernising Ireland’s economy, in many ways, these changes and the removal of tariffs left many farmers even more exposed to global market forces. These pronouncements were greeted with scepticism by many locals in rural communities such as Reamore, already resentful of the high burden of taxation. While the economic plan represented a shift towards economic liberalisation, there was little in the way of support for dairy farmers, with the Irish state concentrating its assistance on beef farming instead.

Erika interwove these wider economic developments with a captivating story of the circumstances in the time leading up to Moore’s death, and its repercussions in the local community. Although the murder remains unsolved to this day, it was widely believed among locals that a dispute over bog land was at the heart of the matter.

Erika answering questions

In his comment, Enda Delaney (Edinburgh) remarked that the storytelling form of the paper reminded him of the fine work of historian Richard White, Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories, which narrated a dialogue between history and memory with an international perspective. Enda also suggested a number of ways in which Erika could further examine how the lives of Moore and the rural community of Reamore were bound up with the global.

By adopting a storytelling form, Erika’s paper made a compelling case for historians to step outside their comfort zone and use imaginative approaches to enliven and enrich their work.

Robbie Johnston is a PhD student in History. His primary research interests lie in the twentieth-century politics of Scotland and Britain. He is currently working on a thesis which explores the development of Scottish Home Rule and Nationalism from the 1970s to the 1990s. He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Alex Paulin-Booth on the utopias of the French left

We kicked off the new year with a return to ideas of political ‘space’. This came by way of the sometimes unusual fantasies of late 19th century French left-wing authors. Fortunately, we had Alex Paulin-Booth (Université Libre de Bruxelles) on hand to decode the meanings and implications of this utopian and dystopian thinking. Anita Klinger sends this report or you can listen again by following the Audiomack link below or subscribing to our podcast channel (on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts).

Alex’s research is concerned with ideas of time; in particular, she examines experiences and understandings of time and their effect on political activism. In her paper, she focused on the radical French left around 1900 and spoke about how their ideas about time shaped their politics. Notions of time, she argued, became particularly bound up with the questions of the day. As the possibility of a revolution became less certain after the Paris Commune, it provided the left with new, alternative discursive and political spaces to think about possible futures.

Her two main strands of investigation for the paper were, on the one hand, futurist novels and, on the other, the discourse around evolutionary theory, both of which were experiencing a boom around 1900. Through these sources, Alex argued, historians were able to examine how the/a future might have been conceived of by political activists, allowing us to enter into their mind-sets, while also providing us with a history of “how people got things wrong”.

Following an illuminating summary of the limited historiography surrounding the study of time, Alex began by laying out a major concern on the French left around 1900. She spoke of the criticism of Marxism as taking away agency from the proletariat by insisting on “waiting around” for the revolution to come, rather than focusing on concrete, reformist steps which could be taken towards the betterment of society. As concrete discussion of the future was side-lined in political activism, Alex argued that it was displaced into the realm of literature. By way of example, she talked about four turn-of-the-century French novels in some more detail. They were Maurice Spronck’s L’an 330 de la République (1894); Eugène Fournière’s Chez nos petits fils (1900); Daniel Halévy’s Histoire des quatre ans (1903); and Anatole France’s Sur la pierre blanche (1905). Though all four quite different, Alex identified a few themes which these utopian and/or dystopian stories had in common.

One prominent theme was technological development and the anxiety which the new pace of change induced in contemporaries. Though this anxiety had been mounting since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Alex argued that especially evolutionary theory and science had placed all of humanity on a new and vast plane of time, heightening this anxiety even further. Another theme which some of the authors were particularly ambiguous about was the future of work, and the prospect of worklessness. While technological advances would likely reduce working hours, there were serious concerns about not losing control of time altogether and needing to balance the new spare time with some structure to prevent, as Halévy envisioned it, a society plagued by drug use and alcoholism, now that work was not central to the structure of society any more.

A third theme was that of the unity of European nations under some form of federalist structure. This unity, in Maurice Spronck’s imagining, had made redundant the need for any European armies and thus exposed the continent to great threats, particularly from ‘the East’ and North Africa. The utopia, therefore, revealed itself as more of a dystopia after all, at least to Spronck, who, notably, was the only one of the four authors who was on the political right, rather than on the left.

Alex explores notions of time in late 19th century French thought

Curiously, Alex noted, these novels all imagined a future, but once the future was arrived at – often through the heavy-handed literary device of having the protagonist transported there in his sleep – the imagined future proved static. The authors rarely explained how the future societies they had imagined had actually been brought about, presenting a future that was ‘cut off’ from the present with no plan of how to get there.

Towards the end of her paper, Alex went on to speak more about the ‘cult’, or ‘religion’ of science which became increasingly popular around 1900. Science promised progress, based on actual evidence, and evolutionary theory in particular was one such way of progressing. It allowed people to conceive of mankind as a living organism which followed the newly-popularised (and immediately bastardised) theory of evolution. In this way, a scenario in which people would fall out of step with the accelerated pace of change could hopefully be avoided entirely.

However, as Alex emphasised, while these (ab)uses of science may have served as a useful ‘shorthand’, they were more often than not lacking a deep understanding of the actual science behind them. Alex concluded that, overall, the French left around 1900 tried to use science, and especially ideas of time, to safeguard their revolutionary goals while also defending itself against the accusation of uselessly dreaming rather than engaging in meaningful reformist change in the present.

In his comment, Emile Chabal (Edinburgh) reminded the audience that thinking about time was central to the way we understand politics, and therefore a very appealing subject. By including one author from the political right, Emile posited, Alex had made us think especially about what was interesting or perhaps unique about the left at this point in time. In his view, the left was in a state of failure, and therefore in particular need of utopias, where – even though the process was left unclear – the endpoint at least was not.

Emile also raised the point of work and labour. How far had the four novels Alex presented posed the question of the future of work and how should the left position itself as technology may be making work, and workers, ever less central to societies and identities? He furthermore suggested that a political compass might be imagined which did not span from left to right, but from the past (traditionally the focus of more conservative politics), via the present (with which liberalism was most concerned) to the future (which was the remit of the revolutionary left, and right). Lastly, Emile wondered what it might mean for our conceptualisations of time and politics that the current generation in the Western world did not necessarily envision a better future for themselves, while vast populations for example in Asia were still full of utopian dreams and aspirations.

The seminar ended with a lively question and answer session, which touched on a diverse range of topics, including the significance of the French empire; the role of the revolutionary right; notions of constant crises on the left; the place of gender in the utopias imagined by the four authors; and the effects of the Russian Revolution and the First World War on ideas of time.

Anita Klingler is a PhD student in History. Her research interests lie broadly in twentieth century European history, political and colonial violence, and coming to terms with a violent past. Her thesis compares attitudes towards political violence in interwar Britain and Germany. She is a CSMCH steering committee member.