Book Review on “Abolitionizing Missouri”

Cross-posted from: H-TGS

Sarah Panter, Review of: Kristen Layne Anderson. Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. 272 pp. $48.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-6196-8.

Reviewed by Sarah Panter (Leibniz Institute of European History)
Published on H-TGS (September, 2016)
Commissioned by Alison C. Efford

Until a decade ago, it seemed that almost everything had been said about the experiences of nineteenth-century German immigrants in the United States. In recent years, however, historians have provided fresh perspectives on broader aspects of the social, political, and cultural history of the German-speaking diaspora in the United States. This is especially true of the second half of the nineteenth century and becomes visible, for example, in the claims for a “transnational turn in Civil War history.”[1] As a result, younger scholars have adapted new methodological approaches and started to open up the international potential of this research field by emphasizing the need to contextualize the attitudes of German-speaking immigrants and how they negotiated social, cultural, and racial differences in an entangled transatlantic space.[2]

In this larger context, Kristen Layne Anderson provides a valuable and well-written study. Anderson aims to question the image of German immigrants as idealistic fighters for humanity and as indisputably radical abolitionists in the border state of Missouri, particularly in St. Louis. In so doing, the author shows convincingly that “the racial ideology of the majority of German Americans in St. Louis was quite pragmatic, in that they shifted their position on slavery and the place of African Americans in American society when it benefited their own community to do so” (p. 3). Correspondingly, German Missourians took different stands on questions of race, gender, class, and religion between 1848 and 1870. The study’s arguments are supported by drawing on a broad range of sources, including the German- and English-language press representing different political orientations, statistical material from census documents, and personal and family papers. The six chapters are arranged chronologically and mainly follow political events and dynamics with regard to the questions of slavery and racial equality.

Continue reading

New Report on Red Cross Fundamental Principles: A critical historical perspective

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CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / L. Lehongre

For more than half a century, the Fundamental Principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality have underpinned the global humanitarian work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. But how have these principles evolved since their codification in 1965, and to what extent have they been adapted for modern day conflict and emergency contexts? Are certain principles more ‘valuable’ than others, and what can the successes, failures and controversies of the past teach us about the future of humanitarian work?

These are just some of the thought-provoking questions raised in a new report: Connecting with the Past: The Fundamental Principles in Critical Historical Perspective. The report, a collaboration between the ICRC, University of Exeter and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, reflects the debates and key points raised by eminent academics, historians and humanitarians who attended a symposium at ICRC headquarters in Geneva in September, 2015. The event and related report, examine five significant periods of history, starting with the founding of the Red Cross in 1865 and ending with the post 9/11 era and the many unprecedented and complex humanitarian challenges that have arisen throughout.

New Book on “René Cassin and Human Rights”

Jay Winter, Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale University, and Antoine Prost, Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, have published their new book on René Cassin and Human Rights. From the Great War to the Universal Declaration, (originally published in French in 2011). Both authors are investigating the emergence of the international human rights regime through the lens of one of its supposed major protagonists. They focusing on the life of the prominent French jurist and diplomat René Cassin (1887-1976), who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968 for his renowned human rights commitment.

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By examining the biography of this prominent figure Winter and Prost seek to show what human rights meant to a generation that experienced two World Wars and how these experiences shaped the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Approaching the history of human rights through the prism of an individual’s life both authors claim to add a “third approach” ( p. xix) to the existing literature:  “This biography is a history of the struggle for human rights in a specific time and place. We offer a different chronology and a compromise between those who see human rights as advancing in a glacial manner in a cumulative or additive process of gains and losses, and those who see it in terms of truncated evolution, with a radical break at a specific point in time” (p. xix).

I have just published a review of the book in the American Historical Review, Vol. 119, No. 5, p. 1786-1787. If you are interested in reading it, you will find the complete review @:

http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/119/5/1786.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=Pz5fCb7lkzrrdjj

Review of the edited volume “The History and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention and Aid in Africa”

Bronwen Everill, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the King`s College London, and Josiah Kaplan, Research Associate at the Department of International Development of the University of Oxford, have recently published the interdisciplinary volume The History and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention and Aid in Africa, Basingstoke/New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2013. Both editors compiled a variety of interesting essays by scholars of international relations as well as historians, which deal with cases of humanitarianism in sub-Saharan Africa. Seeking to investigate the continuities and evolutions since the colonial era, Everill and Kaplan deliberately chose a rather broad conceptual approach, one that “sees humanitarian military interventions as part of a series of related activities – or ‘interventions’ – in African societies, which includes military action, economic aid, political support and state-building and assistance” (p. 3).

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However, by subsuming assistance for refugees, medical campaigns to combat leprosy, various forms of charity, famine relief, and discourses on good governance under the term of humanitarian intervention, in my opinion the editors run the risk of blurring the term and losing its conceptual precision. Both editors acknowledge the analytic importance of a long-term historical perspective and emphasize the need to link nineteenth-century colonial experiences with today’s humanitarian engagement in Africa. Yet the volume actually contains only one genuine essay dealing with the nineteenth century; nearly all of the other contributions concentrate on case studies from the second half of the twentieth century. The international relations approach seems to dominate the volume at the expense of the intended deeper historical perspective. Despite this conceptual critique each individual essay of the volume offers new intriguing perspectives of various forms of humanitarianism in sub-Saharan Africa. You will find my complete review of the volume @ http://www.sehepunkte.de/2013/11/23978.html.

Debate on the “Courts of Mixed Commission for the Abolition of the Slave Trade” and International Human Rights Law

Jenny S. Martinez, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and former associate legal officer at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, has published in 2012 her compelling law study The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law, Oxford University Press 2012.

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In her very readable book she argues that international human rights law derives its origins from the “Courts of Mixed Commission for the Abolition of the Slave Trade”, which were located around the Atlantic in West Africa, South Africa, South America as well as the Caribbean and were established to judge captured slave ships in the period from 1819 to 1871. Thus Martinez draws a direct line to the development of the International Criminal Justice system of the 20th and 21st centuries. Continue reading

Discussion on “Human Rights and Decolonization”

Additionally to my last post concerning the publication of my book “Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence. The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria” and the related research on “Human Rights and Decolonization” I would like to point to the important publication of Roland Burke, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights, Philadelphia 2010 (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14717.html). In his book Roland Burke, Lecturer at La Trobe University Melbourne, analyzes the changing impact of decolonization on the UN human rights program. In showing the crucial importance of Third World influence on the international human rights agenda he offers an inspiring new perspective. You will find my review of the book at:

http://www.sehepunkte.de/2013/06/17799.html

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In October 2010 “humanity” (editor: Sam Moyn, Columbia University, New York), a peer-reviewed academic journal, started to publish research and reflections on human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern and contemporary world. I strongly recommend the journal and the related blog, which you can find at: http://www.humanityjournal.org/blog

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In the first issue of “humanity” Jan Eckel, historian at the University of Freiburg, wrote an essay review on Roland’s book and the German version of my book “Menschenrechte im Schatten kolonialer Gewalt” (https://www.oldenbourg-verlag.de/wissenschaftsverlag/menschenrechte-im-schatten-kolonialer-gewalt/9783486588842), in which he raised some interesting questions. On the journal’s blog Roland and I used the opportunity to respond to Jan’s essay review and we started a fruitful discussion on the topic of “human rights and decolonization”.

If you are interested in following the discussion you will find