Tag Archives: African History

This Day in History 5/31: Treaty of Vereeniging ends the Boer War

The end of the Britsh Empire began on May 31, 1902.

On that day, the Treaty of Vereeniging ended the three-year long disaster known as the Boer War.  It began as a dispute over mining rights and sovereignty of the Boer Republics of South Africa, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.  It ended as one of the darkest chapters in British history.

The war was technically “over” in 1900, when the British occupied the Transvaal capital of Pretoria.  However, the remaining Boer commandos of the Orange Free State and the Northern Transvaal continued a war of attrition for another two years.   It would see unspeakable atrocities on both sides.  It would see “scorched-Earth” tactics and concentration camps that would result in the deaths of thousands.  It would also see continued and violent repression, mutilation and torture of the majority African native population–a situation not really rectified until almost a century later.

Finally, the Boer War would see British people start to question the need for a colonial empire.  Though a victory, the war cost thousands of lives and millions of British pounds.  Britons would then start questioning the use of British troops, the entanglement in colonial affairs–even questioning the need for an empire in the first place.

Attached is a nice 5-part synopsis of the Boer War and other African conflicts of the time.  It is very even handed, and its short length is perfect for the classroom.

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Videos for the Classroom: The British Empire in Colour

In watching our recent troubles, both economically and on the world stage, I was reminded of another great power that often had to come to grips with its legacy.

I found this incredible documentary, The British Empire in Colour, which gives a sweeping account of the climax, then slow decline, of one of the most influential colonial empires on Earth.  Most importantly, it explores the legacy, both glorious and tragic, of the British colonial experience as it stands in former dominions such as Canada, Australia, former Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Jamaica.

Starting with the Roanoke and Jamestown experiments in North America in the late 16th-early 17th century, Great Britain amassed an empire over the course of two centuries that spread over three-fourths of the globe.  The empire was solidified on the unshakeable belief that the British nation–the white European British nation–had a divine destiny in spreading its culture, its language, its institutions to a world “mired in darkness”, to use a phrase of the time.

Yet even though many of these colonial possessions–Canada, Australia, India–are enjoying success as independent nations, the negative aspects of colonialism have left their deepest and most cruel mark on these former colonies.  

Starting with the “dominions of settlement,” the settler colonies such as Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Rhodesia, a systematic marginalization and destruction of native populations has wreaked havoc on once-proud local cultures.  The carving of African colonies in the 1880s and 1890s has exacerbated religious, ethnic and tribal tensions still to be resolved today.  Furthermore, these same colonial subjects, especially from India and Jamaica, had found that the reality of living in the British homeland–a reality rife with racism and economic turmoil–was a far cry from the idyllic descriptions in their imperial educations.

Share this video with your students, especially those studying Global Studies for their Regents exams.  It will give you an excellent glimpse at the twilight of a great power–and the consequences of those left behind.

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This Day in History 3/9: The Supreme Court frees the Amistad Africans

I’m preparing a response to a statement by Sean Penn in yesterday’s Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, in which he stated that certain reported should be jailed for criticizing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

In the meantime, today we celebrate a moment in American history where people sacrificed for the very freedom that Penn exploits with his anti-democratic venom.

In 1839, a group of enslaved Africans rebelled against the crew of the schooner Amistad, which had left the port of Havana.  They were later captured near Long Island by a naval officer that immediately sent the prisoners to Connecticut.  His intentions were as bold as they were barbaric: Connecticut had not yet officially abolished slavery, and the captain hoped to make a profit from the rebellious Africans.

The ensuing case of the Amistad Africans caused a sensation.  It energized the abolitionist movement in America, and reinforced opposition to the slave trade in other countries.  The main argument was that the initial passage of the Africans across the Atlantic (which did not involve the Amistad) had been illegal, because the international slave trade had been abolished, first in the British Empire in 1807, then in the US in 1808, and internationally in 1840.  Therefore, they were obtained illegally, thus never legally enslaved to begin with. Furthermore, given they were illegally confined, the Africans were entitled to take what legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force.

The case eventually came before the Supreme Court, and it rendered its ruling on March 9, 1841.  The Court, in a 7-1 decision, upheld the lower court’s findings that the Africans were captured illegally and were entitled to fight for their freedom, since they could not be enslaved.  The Amistad Africans returned to their place of origin, the Mende region in present-day Sierra Leone, in 1842.

The Amistad rebellion was one of only two successful slave ship uprisings in American history, and one of only three successful slave rebellions in North America–the others being the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1804 and the rebellion abord the slaver Creole in 1841. 

Attached are clips from the 1997 film Amistad, directed by Stephen Spielberg.  It has its problems with historical accuracy, but it shows the time period and the spirit of the events very well.  The first clip is tough to watch, as it depicts the “Middle Passage” of the Africans from their kidnapping in Africa to their voyage onboard the slave ship Tecora towards Cuba.  The second is John Quincy Adams’ speech before the Supreme Court.  It isn’t the exact speech given by Adams, but Anthony Hopkins does a great job conveying the spirit and ethos of the case.

Anything to say about that, Sean?

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Pol Pot is “History’s Greatest A**hole!”

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Congratulations to Yonatan Lupu for his entry of Cambodian crazyman Pol Pot as “History’s Greatest Asshole.” Even in a crowded field of philandering autocrats, plundering kleptocrats, a “people’s” plutocrat, and an anger-obsessed Democrat, the freaky guerrilla leader who hated everybody beats out all. 

Thanks to everyone who voted, and here’s hoping for a new contest sometime soon.

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Reminder for Our Poll – “History’s Greatest A**hole”

90275679I’ve been pretty swamped here, with kids gearing up for the state tests, assessments that I still have to design with rubrics to match, workshops I have to present, trips I need to plan, etc.  I need a breather to get some creativity back.

Just a quick reminder that our Poll for “History’s Greatest A**hole” is up and running, thanks to the good folks at PollDaddy.  Please vote as soon as you can: the polling ends next Saturday, November 7.  The poll is designed to not accept multiple votes from the same IP address, so it’s strictly one vote per person.

Next post should be a good one for next week: a look at the minor “incursions” or “police actions” in American history.

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“History’s Greatest A**hole!” – The Finalists!

Thanks to everyone who sent their submissions!  Based on the quality of the candidates, and space/time issues for a proper poll, here are the five finalists (for sake of fairness, the contestants’ names have been left out):

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1. Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Assholes like to make history-making dick moves, and few moved their member with such ferocity as Henry Tudor, or King Henry VIII of England.  Apart from going through six wives–and countless chambermaids–to secure that elusive male heir, he decided to make himself head of a church, which helped lead to centuries of religious violence.  As we all know, all assholes think they’re God, and fat Harry was no exception. Even his portraits are symbols of douchebaggery.  By Henry’s death in 1547, Hans Holbein the Younger needed double-wide canvasses just to do His Lardness some justice. 

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2. Fidel Castro (1926-       )

If Fidel wins this contest, I’m blaming Miami and Union City, NJ with stuffing the ballots (just kidding).  Fidel Castro is certainly worthy of this list.  His 1959 revolution in Cuba created the first Communist regime in the Western Hemisphere.  Thousands have been killed, tortured and imprisoned for defying him and his brand of Communism.  His programs have driven the country into ruin, while aid continues to enter the country just to make the US look bad.  He makes lefties swoon and right-wingers squirm, and is personally responsible for Miami and Union City, NJ.  Yet the real reason he’s on here?  According to legend (and we can’t really substantiate this) Castro made ice cream cones illegal.  Now that’s an asshole!

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3. Pol Pot (1928-1998)

Here’s a wacko that deserves a well-placed kick in the nuts.  Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge guerrillas to power in Cambodia in 1975.  For four long years, Pol Pot systematically reduced his country to the Stone Age, literally.  He changed time so that everything started at “Year Zero”, forcing cities to be evacuated for slave labor in the countryside.  Almost 2.5 million people, or 21% of the population, died on his watch from starvation, torture and execution.  The guy hated everybody: foreigners, intellectuals, the disabled, even hated people wearing glasses.  It took the Vietnamese, of all people, to end this nightmare with an invasion in 1979, forcing Pol Pot into the hills as his country still recovers from the lunacy.  They say he was poisoned–let’s hope its by Pearle Vision.

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4. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

It is now common knowledge among academics that the father of Jacksonian Democracy was also a bit of a scumbag.  As President of the United States from 1829-1837, he was a steadfast supporter of slavery, killed the Second Bank of the United States as a gesture to create an “agricultural republic” (or “plantation republic”, for those with less taste in bullshit) and supported the forced removal of almost 45,000 Native Americans from the eastern US, resulting in almost 4,000 deaths along the way–in defiance of the Supreme Court.  If this wasn’t bad enough, consider his temper: he fought 13 duels, killed a man in one, had bullets lodged all over his body, and even had to be restrained from killing an assassin who botched an attempt on his life.  No wonder he graces the “yuppie food stamp.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997)

Only a truly global asshole would change his name.  Joseph-Desire Mobutu took over the Congo in a bloodless military coup in 1965.  He then proceeded to create a totalitarian regime unequalled in Africa.  His personality cult silenced all opposition.  Mobutu personally embezzled $5 billion dollars from his country, forcing it into the economic shitter–which was hard considering it was the mineral breadbasket of Africa.  He renames the country Zaire, and forced the whole country to adopt African names and dress on pain of imprisonment or death.  Finally, in a real classy move, he changes his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”).

I will create the poll in a separate post, along with the dates of the poll.  May the worst asshole win!

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