Monday, May 11, 2009

History 112: Imperialism and the New City

1. The readings on the Belgian Congo show that what was going on was freely admitted to be a horrible situation. Was anything done to change this after the printing of these two articles?

The main problem with the Congo was that it was under the personal control of King Leopold II of Belgium so he was free to do as he wished. No series action to remedy the situation is done until Leopold II was removed in 1908, several years after the pieces discussed in class.

2. Where these atrocities in Belgian Congo committed based more on orders of elected or crown-appointed officers or whether it was more of the appointed bureaucracy who carried the real responsibility for these actions?

When assigning blame for an atrocity one is usually faced with two different types of defenses, from the bottom and from the top. Those at the bottom will claim that they were just following orders. If one were to follow this logic the blame would go all the way to the top, in this case Leopold II, and will remain solely with him. The defense from the top will claim that what happened was simply a matter of soldiers at the bottom getting out of control. The classic example of these two defenses is the Nuremburg trial with Nazi Germany. In the case of the Congo, as with Nazi Germany, there is clearly enough blame to go from top to bottom. This includes not just the European officials but the native soldiers who carried out many of the massacres as well.

3. In the Congo reports, why was so much of the abuse inflicted on women? I understand the populating factor, but is this when genitalmutilation started happening to women?

To the best of my knowledge female circumcision is a practice that goes back long before this and appears in many cultures. Women are useful targets because they are seen as defenseless. Keep in mind that a rampaging army is full of young men out to rape anything with a skirt on; that means women.

4. I was a little confused on the China situation. In the Davies text it says China wasn't sought after for control like Africa. Why was this? If they could not rule over China what were their intentions there?

China had a long history of imperial rule. The Chinese state might have been corrupt and grossly incompetent, but at least they had some sort of government that Europeans would recognize. China has a far older political tradition than any European state. Statehood is something that European governments were going to respect for self interest if nothing else. If you are the head of a European state you do not want to send the message to your people that states with long established political traditions could be casually overthrown. Keep in mind the long list of political revolutions that have engulfed Europe over the course of the nineteenth century.


5. Was spreading religion (i.e. Catholicism) ever part of the original plans to establish colonies?

The countries leading the new imperialism are either Protestant, as with England and Germany, or secular, like France. So spreading Catholicism does not play a major role. There is certainly a strong missionary drive, but it is not nearly comparable to the imperialism of the sixteenth century.

6. The description of Paris's endless melancholy smog is an aesthetic criticism. Was there any awareness of the environmental and public health dangers of smog? If there wasn't, when did this become a governmental concern?

During the nineteenth century there is a major scare over miasmas, pockets of bad odors, being a threat to public health. This was a major driving force behind the nineteenth century drive for cleanliness. The irony of this is that this whole panic was built around faulty science. There is nothing intrinsically dangerous about bad odors.

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