December 07, 2010
By Konstantin Dierks and Sarah Knott (Indiana Univ.), acting editors of the American Historical Review
Note: AHA members should be receiving their print versions soon. The online version will also be available soon, and members should login to member services and click the link to the American Historical Review to access the full text from these articles.
The December issue of the American Historical Review should be received by members shortly. This issue includes stand-alone articles 20th-century decolonization in Central Eurasia and on humanitarianism in the Eastern Mediterranean. An AHR Forum examines new perspectives on the Enlightenment via three original essays and a lengthy comment. There are also three featured reviews and our usual extensive book review section.
In "The Many Deaths of a Kazak Unaligned: Osman Batur, Chinese Decolonization, and the Nationalization of a Nomad," Justin Jacobs explores the transition from empire to nationalized state in 20th-century Central Eurasia. The life of the nomadic Kazak chieftain Osman Batur reveals a self-made "hero" of non-noble birth who was able to exploit the crisis of Han legitimacy on the Chinese frontier. Modern China, the case of Osman reminds us, was a colonial not a colonized state. After Osman’s death in 1949, Chinese myths painted him as an unrepentant feudal bandit, a historical memory that served as a useful smokescreen for a nationalizing ethnic Han constituency. The simultaneous exodus of a small band of his followers, meanwhile, ensured that in Turkish and Kazak guise, Osman became a larger-than-life Kazak nationalist who fought both Russian and Chinese "imperialists." Thus a historically unaligned nomad was subject to twofold and militant transnationalization. The life and the historical memory of Osman prove to reveal the very divergent legacies of Soviet and Chinese decolonization in Central Eurasia.
Keith David Watenpaugh explores "The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927." The essay centers on the efforts by the League of Nations to rescue women and children survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. This rescue—a seemingly unambiguous good—was at once a constitutive act in drawing the boundaries of the international community, a key moment in the definition of humanitarianism, and a site of resistance to the colonial presence in the post-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean. Drawing from a wide range of source materials in a number of languages, including Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic, the essay brings the intellectual and social context of humanitarianism in initiating societies together with the lived experience of humanitarianism in the places where the act took form. In so doing, it draws our attention to the proper place of the Eastern Mediterranean, and its women and children, in the global history of humanitarianism. The prevailing narrative of the history of human rights places much of its emphasis on the post–World War II era, the international reaction to the Holocaust, and the founding of the United Nations.
This forum on "New Perspectives on the Enlightenment" suggests that the Enlightenment offers a rich genealogy for contemporary debates and that Enlightenment scholars are once again asking big questions. In "Rival Ecologies of Global Commerce: Adam Smith and the Natural Historians," Fredrik Albritton Jonsson explores how the defense of global commerce pioneered in the Enlightenment was tied to the improvement of the natural order. Two rival ecologies, one made by natural historians and the other developed by Adam Smith and his liberal successors, vied for intellectual precedence as well as for practical application in the metropole and the colonies. Together they constitute the beginnings of an ongoing quarrel over the environmental foundation of capitalism. William Max Nelson’s "Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering," meanwhile, suggests a colonial and Enlightenment genealogy for racial ideas more commonly associated with the 19th and 20th centuries. He exposes unfulfilled pseudo-eugenic plans, focused on the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, in which racial engineering through controlled "breeding" was seen as a solution to challenges to stability after the Seven Years’ War. Turning to Italy, Sophus A. Reinert takes on the conventional claim that the Enlightenment mainstream put its faith in peaceful laissez-faire economics. "Lessons on the Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Conquest, Commerce, and Decline in Enlightenment Italy" reveals a dynamic debate about the relationship between war and wealth, the nature of economic competition, and the causes of the decline of states. The concluding comment to the forum by Karen O’Brien observes the robust health of Enlightenment studies and of the Enlightenment as a complex resource for contemporary debate.
We look forward to publishing AHA President Barbara Metcalf’s address in the February 2011 issue, alongside articles spanning from barbarians ancient and modern to the first historian of human rights, the Baghdadi Jewish diaspora, and the scavenging imperial Soviet state.