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History: mainstream versus critical perspectives. October 18, 2011. Why study history?. George Orwell : “Whoever controls the past controls the future and whoever controls the present controls the past” Cited by Howard Zinn to explain the relevance of history But how to study history?.

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History: mainstream versus critical perspectives

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why study history
Why study history?

George Orwell :

“Whoever controls the past controls the future and whoever controls the present controls the past”

Cited by Howard Zinn to explain the relevance of history

But how to study history?

history from above
History from above

History is the memory of states ( Henry Kissinger).


He tells the history of 19th-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England..From his standpoint, the "peace" that Europe had before the French Revolution was "restored" by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere?

history from below
History from below

“My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own.

Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex”.

history from below 2
History from below (2)

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) .. is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, … the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court -- represent the nation as a whole.

history from below 3
History from below(3)

“The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media”

zinn on columbus
Zinn on Columbus

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic -- the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.”

zinn on las casas
Zinn on Las Casas
  • When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says,

there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it . . . .

zinn on history
Zinn on History

“Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas -- even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?) -- is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure -- there is no bloodshed -- and Columbus Day is a celebration.”

historical structures cox
Historical structures (Cox)

Consist of 3 dimensions

Social Forces

Forms of state

World Orders

walter rodney
Walter Rodney
  • Development and Underdevelopment as simultaneous and comparative situations
  • Exploitation as a central explanation of underdevelopment
  • The institution of slavery
development in rodney s vision
Development in Rodney’s vision

He argues:

“exploitation of land and labour is essential for human social advance, but only on the assumption that the product is made available within the area where the exploitation takes place.”

how did africa develop europe 1
How did Africa develop Europe? (1)
  • Pre-colonial period
  • “The kinds of benefits which Europe derived from its control of world commerce are fairly well known, although it is curious that the recognition of Africa’s major contribution to European development is usually made in works devoted specifically to that subject; while European scholars of Europe often treat the European economy as if it were entirely independent. European economists of the 19th century certainly had no illusions about the inter-connections between their national economies and the world at large.
how did africa develop europe
How did Africa develop Europe?

“Colonialism was not merely a system of exploitation, but one whose essential purpose was to repatriate the profits to the so-called ‘mother country’. From an African view-point, that amounted to consistent expatriation of surplus produced by African labour out of African resources. It meant the development of Europe as part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was underdeveloped.”

how did europe underdevelop africa
How did Europe underdevelopAfrica?
  • Technological Stagnation and Distortion of the African Economy in the Pre-Colonial Epoch
  • The European Slave Trade as a Basic Factor in AfricanUnderdevelopment
  • Continuing Politico-Military Developments in Africa — 1500 to 1885
history continued basil davidson
History continued: Basil Davidson


origins of negro slavery 1
Origins of Negro Slavery (1)

“Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior.

origins of slavery 2
Origins of Slavery (2)
  • The features of the man… were only the later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed labor and resorted to Negro labor because it was cheapest and best. This was not a theory, it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter. He would havegone to the moon, if necessary, for labor. Africa was nearer than the moon, nearer too than the more populous countries of India and China. But their turn was to come.
the economic logic
The economic logic

With free trade and the increasing demands of the sugar plantations, the volume of the British slave trade rose enormously. The Royal African Company, between 1680 and 1686, transported an annual average of 5,000 slaves. it has been estimated that the total import of slaves into all the British colonies between 1680 and 1786 was over two million  

triangular trade
Triangular trade

In this triangular trade England - France and Colonial America equally - supplied the exports and the ships; Africa the human merchandise; the plantations the colonial raw materials. The slave ship sailed from the home country with a cargo of manufactured goods. These were exchanged at a profit on the coast of Africa for Negroes, who were traded on the plantations, at another profit, in exchange for a cargo of colonial produce to be taken back to the home country.

t riangular trade british industry
Triangular trade & British industry

Market for manufactures: The Negroes were purchased with British manufactures;

Labour: transported to the plantations, they produced sugar, cotton, indigo, molasses and other tropical products, the processing of which created new industries in England

Local market for agrarian produce: the maintenance of the Negroes provided another market for British industry, New England agriculture and the Newfoundland fisheries

slavery and development
Slavery and development

Postlethwayt described the slave trade as "the first principle and foundation of all the rest, the mainspring of the machine which sets every wheel in motion."  He was a renowned scholar of trade and wrote The African Trade the Great Pillar and Support of the British Plantation Trade in America, 1745

why discuss colonialism now
Why discuss colonialism now?
  • How do we contrast the histories of colonialism from above and below?

“In contrast to a subjective interpretation of what was good about colonialism on the one hand and what was bad on the other hand, there is the approach which follows closely the aims and achievements of the colonisers and the counter aims and achievements of the African people” (Rodney)