Episode 47: Time’s Monster

Throughout the Age of Empire, British imperial propaganda un-ironically reflected a seeming paradox common to western nations: images of military potency, grandeur, the subordination of native peoples, and conquest nestled comfortably in the iconography of empire alongside assertions of liberty, enlightenment, and progress. Now, in the twenty-first century, the contradictions of empire have taken on renewed interest as movements of racial and economic justice have again drawn attention to the depredations of liberal capitalism, nationalism, and the tortured legacy of empire. Such critical inquiry has come under attack and scorn by nationalist elements in England, France, the U.S. and elsewhere, who deride such inquiry as ‘political correctness’ and ‘cancel culture.’ A popular claim in conservative media holds that conservative opinions are not welcomed in universities, and that ‘revisionist’ histories have sought to level shame and blame on white students for the perceived injustices of the past. In the U.S., more than a dozen states have passed so-called memory laws that punish teachers for emphasizing historical racism or making students “feel” guilty for any perceived crimes committed in the past.

Our History

True crime TV shows back in the day offered sober disclaimers assuring anxious listeners that “names have been changed to protect the innocent.” As our listeners know, here on HAG we prefer calling things by their true names, and those who commit the crimes, are most definitely getting called out. That guarantee holds true even when the criminal accomplices are historians. Our guest this week is the distinguished Stanford University professor, Priya Satia, whose extraordinary book Time’s Monster: How History Makes History, makes the case that “historians were, for a long time, not only the scribes of empire but also its architects.” Historical writing has often fed the historical imaginations of statesmen, generals, and businessmen whose business it was to feed the growth of empires and national expansion, often with destructive results, from war to genocide. History itself, in other words, is no innocent in history, but rather as the subtitle of Professor Satiya’s book proclaims, history also makes history.

Join us for an episode with Priya Satia, one of our vital scholarly voices.

Priya Satia

Sources Referenced and Items of Interest

Priya Satia, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History (2020)

Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution (2018)

“A Man Of His Time, And Ours: Winston Churchill’s views were typical of his place as a member of Britain’s ruling upper class, which, then and now, views dominance as a birthright.” (June 22, 2021 NOĒMA Magazine)

“The myths of British imperial benevolence and Palestine: Israel’s violence in Gaza is not merely self-defence but part of a longer story of settler colonialism.”

Fascism and Analogies — British and American Past and Present” (March 16 2121 Los Angeles Review of Books)

Kim Wagner & James McDougall, “Don’t mistake nostalgia about the British Empire for scholarship” (April 20. 2018, Times Higher Education)

Timothy Snyder, “The War on History is a War on Democracy” (June 29, 2021 New York Times)

“For much of the modern period, historians have not been critics but abettors of those in power.”

Priya Satia

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