Examining global forces

May 5, 2006

Dr. Michael Callahan, a professor of Liberal Studies at Kettering University, co-edited an important new collection of essays titled "Imperialism on Trial," which could offer U.S. policy makers insight into how to respectfully assist people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is America a modern-day colonial empire? Perhaps not. But some might argue that our country's current global, strategic and political interests explain why we intervene in such states as Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, our stated goals of building civil societies, defending human rights and protecting social welfare serve as justification for actions taken by the U.S. in the larger world. Similarly, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the British Empire claimed comparable interests and goals when they ruled Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

This leads to another intriguing question: can the examination of the impact of international organizations like the United Nations (UN) on modern imperial rule offer valuable insight into other historical attempts to carry out promises to promote the interests of people under foreign rule?

The answers to these questions may exist in a new collection of scholarly essays co-edited by Dr. Michael Callahan, a professor of Liberal Studies, and colleagues R.M. Douglas, associate professor of History at Colgate University, and Elizabeth Bishop, who teaches History at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The roots of this collection, titled "Imperialism on Trial: International Oversight of Colonial Rule in Historical Perspective," developed during a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar at the University of Texas at Austin in 2001 entitled "Decolonization of the British Empire."

Callahan, who won a fellowship in a national competition to participate in this event, said that the three co-editors continued to collaborate after the seminar was over. "We knew that our research was of considerable contemporary interest and decided to present our work as a panel at the American Historical Association's annual conference in 2002. A publisher attending the conference then asked us if we wanted to reach a wider audience by including more essays and expanding the project into a full-length book, and we quickly agreed," he said.

The collection of essays that resulted from this collaboration provides a thorough, accurate interpretation of the evolution of modern imperialism and the meaning of international accountability, raises new questions about the consequences of the first two world wars, and examines the emergence of global interdependence and the complex causes of decolonization. As the editors write in the introduction, this books reveals, "...across a broad cross-section of geographical and political settings, the operation of the complicated and often conflicted dynamic between the national and international dimensions of colonialism in its final and most historically consequential phase."

The essays, authored by several preeminent scholars in the field, show readers that international oversight systems and organizations such as the UN did indeed work, and that following the two world wars the well-being of colonial peoples "was not merely the private concern of metropolitan states, but a shared responsibility of humankind that transcended natural boundaries" (from the introduction).

Callahan, who teaches courses on international relations, imperialism and U.S. foreign relations, said the book is designed for scholars as well as students. "It introduces students to some of the most important global forces of modern world history and exposes them to major development in contemporary Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East," he explained. "This collection also gives students a concise way to study the emergence of global interdependence as well as changing conceptions of sovereignty, the rule of law, civil society, race relations, human rights, and social welfare in different parts of the world. I also think it is an excellent guide to those seeking to better understand the problems and responsibilities of power in contemporary international relations," he added.

And as our country continues to fight what has been termed the War on Terrorism, this work offers some important lessons into how powerful nations can better assist peoples of other countries during a period of national and global crises.

"Imperialism on Trial: International Oversight of Colonial Rule in Historical Perspective" is published by Lexington Books.

Written by Gary J. Erwin with additional material provided by Dr. Michael Callahan