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Historian Ian Rutledge explains how European imperialism led to World War I

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Over the years, countless books and documentaries have been made about the First World War, probably already featuring significant coverage on the subject.

But the new book by historian and economist Ian Rutledge, Sea of ​​troubles, manages to take a new approach by focusing on the little-known origins of the war in European imperialism.

“The subject of the book is very original, it has not yet been satisfactorily explored before,” he explains. The National.

A notable work that had previously discussed the connection between imperialism and the Great War was Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism by Vladimir Lenin. Rutledge says that Lenin “wrote Imperialism while World War I was actually happening. Although he talks about this relationship in his pamphlet, he never really explains it properly.

Rutledge, an Arabist who lives in Chesterfield, England, has already written two books about Iraq – the latest dealing with an armed uprising against British colonial rule in the country in the early 20th century. Although he was “very pleased” with the book and its positive reviews, Rutledge said he felt he had written a book on a fairly narrow subject area. British imperialismboth in space and in time.

“It didn’t satisfy me in two ways,” he says. “First, the book in some ways continues a trend in published work on imperialism, which focuses almost entirely on the British Empire. It is difficult to find anything truly substantial outside of this kind of literature that deals with imperialism in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc. I wanted to write a book about European imperialism.

Rutledge certainly casts a wide net Sea of ​​troublesits 30 chapters explore various themes and developments such as a comparative study between living standards in the 18th century Ottoman Empire and Europe, the delay of industrialization in the 19th century. Ottoman territoriesRussian military projects in the Mediterranean, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, the occupations of Algeria, Morocco, and Libya, and the imperial power play between major European powers in the Mediterranean region that led to the great war.

“There is a path of violence that runs through, from the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then the Italian invasion of Libya – the Balkan wars that were linked to that – and then to the First World War itself,” he says.

For Rutledge, researching such a vast story wasn’t easy: “One of my reviews for my last book said that it read like a novel, and that’s what I wanted to do with it. Sea of ​​troubles, but it is much more difficult. Firstly because it is a much longer period, and secondly because some of the main actors did not write their memoirs or did not remember them.

The voices of colonized subjects are often not given sufficient weight in narratives about British imperialism. Rutledge says that earlier accounts of the British “just weren’t interested” in what the colonized thought.

Another reason was that “European colonialism has access to all the newspapers, all the reports, while on the other hand, a large part of the region was illiterate, so there were not many reports that one could have.

“I had to deal with it by looking at the reports and attitudes of some high-profile people who wanted to make an argument about what was happening to their country,” he says.

One such underrated figure mentioned in Rutledge’s book is Abd al-Rahman Al-Jabarti, an Egyptian historian who witnessed and wrote three separate accounts of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Al-Jabarti detailed everything from the personal habits of the French invaders to their military prowess, and seemed to understand the rivalry between France and Britain.

Another figure who caught Rutledge’s attention was Hamdan ben Othman Khoja, a Kulogglu scholar, who wrote in defense of the Arab people of Algeria during the French invasion. “He went to France to try to get the French to listen to him in Parliament. He’s a character. The only way I learned about Hamadan Khoja is from a book written by a Tunisian. But he wrote in French, so it was quite easy,” he says.

Rutledge is an Arabic speaker and has learned the language over the past 25 years. “It’s a very difficult language for a European to learn, I think,” he says.

With a doctorate in economic history from the University of Cambridge, Rutledge has a colorful CV. In the 1970s, he worked for three years in the coal mining industry after having a “big row” at a London university where he worked.

“When we are young, we do anything without thinking about it. I quit my job, then found myself unemployed and had three children.

He found work with an NGO, the Workers’ Educational Association, and then also worked at the University of Sheffield (which had a financial arrangement with the NGO) on educational programs for coal miners.

“This course had some success, but as the coal mines began to close, there were fewer students. We started a Masters in Energy Studies at the University of Sheffield and I was given the honorary title of Principal Investigator. This lasted until I retired from teaching,” he says.

His work in the energy sector was also a gateway to the Middle East. Rutledge says it is not possible to explain how the global energy system works without looking at the Middle East.

“I started reading a lot about the history of the Middle East and the oil industry. In fact, my previous book, Enemy on the Euphrates, this largely concerns the oil industry in Persia and Iraq. This is one of the main reasons for the invasion and occupation. So I thought I should start learning Arabic.

Rutledge, who is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Palestinian Medical Aid, says it is more important than ever to know the role of European imperialism in sparking the Great War due to the “lack of understanding in the West of the history of the Palestinians”. “.

While Sea of ​​troubles does not delve into the Palestinian question, it highlights what Britain did there that contributed to what has happened since.

“In the West, young people understand so little why all this carnage is happening in the Middle East,” he says.

“We are in the middle of a terrible and tragic situation.”

Updated: October 16, 2023, 3:04 a.m.

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