Workshop and film screening on transnational solidarities

As part of their visiting fellowships at the CSMCH, Ljubica Spaskovska and Claudia Stern each had to organise an academic and public engagement event. With a bit of imagination, however, they were able to combine their expertise and put together a workshop and film screening. In this blog, they tell us a little more about what happened on the day. 

On 27 May 2019, the CSMCH hosted a workshop on the Histories of Solidarity, Youth and Transnationalism in the 20th Century. There were two panels. The first focused on ‘Youth, Generation and Activism in the Cold War’ and featured papers by Nikolaos Papadogiannis (Bangor University) and Ljubica Spaskovska (University of Exeter).

Nikos’ presentation, entitled “Internationalism, Holocaust Memories and Organised Youth Mobility from West Germany to Israel during the Cold War”, concentrated on the “special relationship” between West Germany and Israel and interrogated internationalism’s characterisation as a solely benevolent phenomenon. Ljubica’s paper on “Non-Aligned Punk – Youth Cultures and Politics Between the Blocs” presented part of her first monograph on “the last Yugoslav generation” and used the citizenship lens to analyse youth negotiation and contestation, as well as the framing of transgressive cultural and political acts in the context of the 1980s.  

Emile Chabal’s presentation focused on student activism in Paris in the late 1930s, especially in the Rassemblement mondial des étudiants

The second panel, ‘Revolutionary (Inter)nationalism in the ‘Short’ 20th Century’, featured presentations by Emile Chabal (Edinburgh) and Harini Amarasurya (Open University). Emile’s paper was entitled “Revolutionary Dreams: Eric Hobsbawm and Global Communism in the Late 1930s”. It uncovered Hobsbawm’s transnational engagement and early political socialisation as a young student in interwar Europe, in particular through his involvement with the Rassemblement Mondial des Etudiants (The World Student Association for Peace, Freedom and Culture), underlining the importance of the little explored aspect of politics and sociability. Harini’s presentation was entitled “From respectable to violent revolutionaries: changing narratives of student activists in Sri Lanka”. She looked at the reasons for and representations of radical leftist student violence, in particular the Sri Lankan student insurrection in 1971, demonstrating that student politics can sometimes be hierarchical, gendered and authoritarian.

The workshop on transnational solidarities ended with the screening of the documentary Nae Pasaran!, directed by Felipe Bustos. The screening was followed by a Q&A moderated by Fraser Raeburn, with the participation of Martín Farias and Claudia Stern, that centred on the Chilean recent history, the political background of Salvador Allende’s government, the Coup on September 11, 1973, and the subsequent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The screening of ‘Nae Pasaran!’

The story of solidarity of Scottish union workers from the Rolls Royce company who refused to repair the engines of the Hawker Hunters jets used by the military junta in Chile is unravelled throughout the documentary. With a variety of testimonies and unprecedented colour images from the period, the documentary brings together different experiences and exposes the scope of the act of solidarity of the Scottish trade union organisation at the East Kilbride engine factory, with both the Chileans in the country and in the communities in exile during 1970s.

Claudia and Ljubica after the screening

Bob Fulton, Robert Sommerville, John Keenan and the rest of the workers’ refusal to work on arms for Chile is a story of hope that reflects the sense of unity, courage and morality of the factory workers, in a period of trade union strength in the UK. The documentary presents an unknown episode of solidarity toward Chile, that from a transnational viewpoint can be seen as a Cold War nuance. It also shows different faces of Chilean society and their political positions, their ambiguities and their divergent versions of memory. The meaning of democracy, power and the sense of solidarity interconnects with the idea of the collective, where past and present are in dialogue. The director of the documentary sends an inspiring message of global solidarity based on his own history.

This blog post was written jointly by our CMSCH-IASH Visting Fellows for 2018-9, Ljubica Spaskovska and Claudia Stern. You can find out more about their research here.

Claudia Stern on class and urban space in Chile, c.1970-c.1990

For our last seminar of the year, the group was treated to a stimulating talk by Claudia Stern (Tel Aviv), one of the Centre’s two visiting fellows this year. Following a workshop and a screening of the documentary film ‘Nae Pasaran’ the previous day, Claudia delivered a richly detailed presentation exploring how middle class identities were redefined in Chile over the course of the 1970s and 1980s. Robbie Johnston was there to listen to her presentation.

The military dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990

The 11th of September 1973 remains a notorious date in Chilean history. It was on this day that military forces, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, toppled the democratically elected socialist government of President Salvador Allende in a coup d’état. The subsequent military regime would rule over Chile until 1990.

Claudia’s talk addressed a crucial, but understudied, aspect of this long period of dictatorship, namely the development of middle class identities. Her paper explored this through the lens of cultural trauma, defined as an aftereffect of social collapse, a force that undermines group identities, sense of belonging and community. The importance of public space was also a central part of Claudia’s analysis.

Claudia began the talk by contextualising the political turmoil of early 1970s Chile, as its social fabric came under increasing strain. At a fourth attempt, the leftist Allende won the Presidency in the 1970 election. In a relatively short space of time, the new Government nationalised the country’s highly prized copper industry, and initiated a host of sweeping reforms in land and housing. Such radical change did not go uncontested. Large sections of the Chilean middle classes had contempt for the Allende’s ‘Chilean Road to Socialism’. Claudia presented her audience with the spectacle of an early protest (or ‘Cacerolazo’) against the socialist government on the 1st of December 1971. The picture was striking. Middle and upper class women took to the streets of Downtown Santiago, banging pots, pans and various kinds of kitchen utensils to register their discontent. Occupying the streets in dramatic fashion, they sought to demonstrate how women – specifically housewives – felt the effects of economic deterioration especially hard (by 1973, inflation reached a dizzying rate of 600 per cent).

Of course, the middle classes did not respond to these disorientating years of political polarisation in a unified way. As Claudia stressed throughout the talk, although the middle classes tended to share common values, they moved on multiple planes in terms of how they viewed themselves. Identities were in flux between generations. For instance, young men from middle class backgrounds were often attracted to left wing movements, identifying with the projection of a masculine, proletarian image.

A major part of Claudia’s talk centred on the national football stadium. The ground, the Estadio Nacional de Chile, became an iconic space in 20th century Chilean history. It contributed to the formation of the middle classes and their place appropriations; it highlighted the extreme split of Chilean society between Allende’s followers and Pinochet supporters; and it symbolised the first effect of the dictatorship on this civic space.

Chile’s Estadio Nacional was converted into a detention centre during Pinochet’s dictatorship

In September 1973, the military junta converted the stadium into a detention centre, where political prisoners were tortured and executed. It remains a site of cultural trauma. Hatch 8, a point on the terrace where prisoners were led into the stadium, has been preserved as a monument to the brutality of the regime. ‘Un pueblo sin memoria es un pueblo sin futuro’ read the words inscribed on the stadium wall. (‘A people without a memory are a people without a future.’)

“Hatch 8” in the Estadio Nacional

Elsewhere, in its attempt to stir patriotic sentiment behind the regime, the dictatorship appropriated national symbols and public spaces, including the national stadium, as its own. Claudia drew our attention to Pinochet’s lighting of ‘The Chilean Eternal Flame of Liberty’ in Bulnes Square, Santiago. The ceremony, marking two years since the coup, was plainly designed to symbolise the triumph of ‘light’ over forces of ‘darkness’. The fervently nationalist discourse of the regime had some appeal. Many welcomed the new regime, at least in its early stages. One of Claudia’s interviewees, whose parents had both been middle class employees at private firms nationalised by the UP government, spoke to this outlook. Although he later came to regret the dictatorship, he nonetheless recalled: ‘I was so calm that I was not interested in knowing anything. Tranquillity was back. Though we could not go out at night, we lived in peace’.

Claudia then examined the ways in which urban housing was contested over this period. The radical public housing programme of Allende’s left-wing Unión Popular (UP) played a key role in its electoral rise. Much of its strength came from rural migration into urban areas. By 1970, Santiago alone contained over 33 per cent of Chile’s entire population. As Claudia emphasised, many of these voters became politicised; the working class politics of the time was well captured in the song of Victor Jara, ‘Las casitas de barrio alto’. In power, the UP defined housing as an ‘inalienable right’.

However, Pinochet’s regime, under the influence of the Chicago School of economics, instigated a pushback. Housing was reframed as a ‘right that is acquired through effort and savings’. Policies like these inscribed the politics of the regime into the everyday spaces of city residents.

Edinburgh’s own Tereza Valny opened the discussion with her comment. She focused her remarks on Claudia’s ‘methodologically innovative research’ and the ways it illuminated such multifaceted experiences. Her enthusiasm for Claudia’s work shone through clearly.

Claudia commented that she had not initially intended to centre her project on the idea of cultural trauma. However, its utility as a guiding concept for her work became clear as she gathered testimonies. In addition, Claudia spoke to the problem of conducting archival research. She commented that during her PhD work, looking at an earlier timeframe of 1932 to 1962, archival material was far more readily available. For the 1970s and 1980s, she has had to fill archival gaps by drawing more extensively on different methodologies, in particular, oral history.

In any case, it was clear that Claudia’s research is rich in content and at an advanced stage. It was a fitting presentation to round off this year’s theme of ‘Space’, as the Centre moves to looking at ‘Revolution’ next year.

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.

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