All posts by Miriam Hauss Cunningham

Eric Van Young Discusses Mexican Decolonization

At the second public lecture held in conjunction with the National History Center’s sixth international seminar on decolonization, historian Eric Van Young (University of California at San Diego) will discuss “‘In Mexico There Are No Mexicans:’ Decolonization and Modernization, 1750-1850″ on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. The lecture will be in the Jefferson Room (LJ119) of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

New Spain became Mexico virtually over night, in 1821, although a decade of bloody civil strife preceded its final independence. Using the case of Mexico and the life and ideas of Lucas Alamán (1792-1853), one of the most important statesmen of the early republican period, Eric Van Young illustrates the layered and contradictory nature of decolonization as it crossed visions of Atlantic modernity. Decolonization is a transition that typically takes place in several planes or spheres interconnected in complex ways, yet each with its own rhythm. The fastest and most easily achieved may be in the political sphere, with the severing of formal ties between colony and metropolis and the formation of a new state (nation- formation being another matter). Economic decolonization may take a good deal longer, or never occur at all; dependency theory was developed to explain this. Slower still is social decolonization, with lingering ideas about ethnicity and social power embedded even in new institutions. And cultural redefinition within the new polity may be the most protracted change of all because the least susceptible of purposive social engineering by states and ruling elites. Mapping all this onto the struggle to achieve a controlled decolonization of Mexico, Eric Van Young explores the aphorism recently coined by one observer of the country that Mexico went straight from a condition of pre-modernity to one of post-modernity without ever passing through modernity.  A short Q&A session and a light reception will follow the lecture.

Dr. Eric Van Young (Ph.D., UC Berkeley 1978) is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego, where he has taught since 1983. His most recent major published work, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Struggle for Mexican Independence, 1810-1821, won the Bolton-Johnson Prize of the Conference on Latin American History in 2003; he has authored, edited, or co-edited a half-dozen other books. He is a Corresponding Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Medalla 2008 by the government of the Federal District in Mexico in 2009. A specialist on the history of colonial and 19th-century Mexico, he is currently writing a biography of the 19th-century Mexican statesman, entrepreneur, and historian Lucas Alamán.

A webcast of the lecture is available at In Mexico, There Are No Mexicans.

The lecture is sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center, in conjunction with the National History Center’s Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization, a four-week seminar, held at the Library of Congress. It brings together international scholars to examine various dimensions of decolonization, primarily 20th-century transitions from colonies to nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The seminar is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is cosponsored also by the American Historical Association and the Kluge Center.  The first lecture featured University of Oxford Historian John Darwin discussing the history of decolonization as a history of failure.

Sixth Decolonization Seminar Begins

The National History Center’s Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization has begun, with an opening reception to welcome everyone to Washington, D.C. for the month.  During the next four weeks, fifteen historians at the beginning of their careers will pursue new research in the various research centers and archives in and around Washington.  The focus is the dissolution of empires in the twentieth century in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

The seminar is co-sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the American Historical Association.  It is  supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In conjunction with the seminar, two public lectures will be held at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  The first is on Wednesday, July 13th and features University of Oxford historian John Darwin discussing the history of decolonization as a history of failure.  The second lecture is Wednesday, July 20, with Eric Van Young of the University of California at San Diego.  He will focus on the history of decolonization in Mexico between 1750-1850.  Both lectures are free and open to the public.  Each begin at 4:00 pm and are in the Jefferson Room, LJ 119, of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  Following each lecture there will be a short  Q&A and light reception.

For the seminar this year, the directors are Wm. Roger Louis (University of Texas at Austin), John Darwin (Nuffield College, University of Oxford), Philippa Levine (University of Texas at Austin), Jason Parker (Texas A & M University), and Pillarisetti Sudhir (American Historical Association).

The 2011 participants and topics are:

Amanda Behm, Ph.D. candidate, British and imperial history, Yale University (degree expected 2012).
“The Third British Empire: history, theory and reality”

Eveline Buchheim (Ph.D., Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam, 2009), Researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, The Netherlands.
“Passion and Purpose: Intimacies of Decolonization”

Paul Chamberlin (Ph.D., Diplomatic / International History, the Ohio State University, 2009), Assistant Professor of History, University of Kentucky.
“New Imperial Frontiers: The End of the Cold War and the Struggle for the Middle East, 1972-1982″

Jessica Chapman (Ph.D., History, University of California–Santa Barbara, 2006), Assistant Professor of History, Williams College, Massachusetts.
“From Disorder to Dictatorship: The Domestic and International History of Ngo Dinh Diem’s Construction of South Vietnam, 1953-1956”

Mads Clausen (Ph.D., English, U. of Copenhagen, 2010), Assistant Professor of British and American Politics and History, Aarhus University, Denmark.
“Out of the Ashcan of History: Decolonisation, Regional Engagement and Australian Post-Imperial Nationhood, 1956-1972”

Chris Dietrich, Ph.D. candidate, History, University of Texas–Austin (expected 2011).
“In the Wake of Withdrawal: British Decolonization and the International Energy Politics, 1967-1971”

Matthew Heaton (Ph.D., History, University of Texas–Austin, 2008), Assistant Professor of History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“The Decolonization of Psychiatry in the British Empire, 1945-1979”

Jon Howlett, Ph.D. candidate, History, Bristol University, UK (expected 2011).
“‘Decolonising Shanghai:’ the American experience of the takeover of Shanghai and the purge of foreign influence in the city”

Su Lin Lewis (Ph.D., History, University of Cambridge, 2010), Past and Present Post-doctoral Fellow, Institute of Historical Research, UK.
“Cultural International and Civil Society Networks in 1950s Southeast Asia”

Moritz Mihatsch, D.Phil. candidate, History, Nuffield College, University of Oxford (expected 2012).
“Colonialism, Neocolonialism and the United States: How the Sudanese Political Parties dealt with Aid and Technical Assistance”

Lata Parwani, Ph.D. candidate, Modern South Asia History, Tufts University (expected 2012).
“From Homeland to Motherland: Reflecting on the Sindhi Hindu Exodus, 1947-49”

Justin Pearce, D.Phil candidate, Politics, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (expected 2011),
“Decolonisation in Angola and the roots of civil war”

Muhammad Ali Raza, D.Phil candidate, Modern South Asian History, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (expected 2011).
“Yearning for Freedom and Revolution: Indian Radicals in Moscow during the Interwar Period”

Anne-Isabelle Richard (Ph.D., History, Gonville and Caius College, Univeristy of Cambridge, 2010), Max Weber Fellow, European University Institute.
“How Europe needed Africa: The influence of decolonization in Asia on Eurafrican projects in France, 1945-1954”

Matthew Stanard (Ph.D., Modern European History, Indiana University, 2006), Assistant Professor of History, Berry College, Georgia.
“Belgium’s pro-empire propaganda and official U.S. views of decolonization in the Belgian Congo, 1955-1961″


Environmental History As A Way Forward

Is environmental history our best hope for the future?

This question, posed by Patricia Nelson Limerick (Center for the American West) in a conversation with Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center), ignited plans for a more in-depth discussion about the future of the field. The resulting invitation-only workshop, which co-sponsored by the National History Center, the Rachel Carson Center at the University of Munich, and the Center for the American West, drew environmental historians from four continents to Washington D.C. last June to discuss “opportunities and needs in environmental history.”  The emerging field of environmental history is ready to contribute historical knowledge, perspective, and understanding to the diverse issues the planet faces. While environmental history field grew out of the environmentalism movement, its future subjects, collaborators, and impacts within the discipline of history, as well as within the public arena, are up for debate.

Those participants in the conference included James M. Banner, Jr. (National History Center); David Blackbourn (Harvard University); Carolyn Thompson Brown (John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress); Peter Coates (University of Bristol); Kimberly Coulter (Rachel Carson Center); Miriam Hauss Cunningham (National History Center); John Gillis (Rutgers University); Arnita Jones (American Historical Association); Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center); John McNeill (Georgetown); Martin V. Melosi (University of Houston); Marta Niepytalska (Rachel Carson Center); Stephen Pyne (Arizona State University); Mahesh Rangarajan (University of Delhi); Harriet Ritvo (MIT); Libby Robin (Australian National University); Frank Uekoetter (Rachel Carson Center); Richard Walker (University of California, Berkeley); Douglas R. Weiner (University of Arizona); Richard White (Stanford University); Frank Zelko (University of Vermont).  They set about trying to answer the  question of the future of the field, starting with taking stock of the current landscape and moving into how environmental history and research can have real-world effect.

They have gathered their thoughts and reflections on the conference for a special issue of the Rachel Carson Center’s Perspectives that is now available online.   As Kimberly Coulter writes in the introduction, “Together, the sixteen contributions offer diverse insights and concerns about the future of the field from those working in environmental history and related disciplines.”

A short film based on the conference is also available online.

(Full disclosure: Patricia Nelson Limerick and Christof Mauch are members of the board of trustees of the National History Center.)