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Global History and Culture Centre Blog

Workshop Report: “The War of the Locust, 1940-45”

Published: 31 December 2017 - Sophie Greenway

There are so many great events going on at Warwick, it is sometimes difficult to work out which ones to attend. I was really pleased that I decided to go along to the The War of the Locust workshop, as it turned out to be a real eye-opener. I work on dirt, health and domestic horticulture in mid-twentieth-century Britain, so The War of the Locust interested me with its intersection of history and environmental issues, as well as its similar chronological span to my own project. My work has potential for interdisciplinarity, and I grapple with scientific understandings in history, of soil, and the risk of infection. Hearing about The War of the Locust project made me realise how well interdisciplinarity can work. The nature of the project itself, and the archive in which the team are researching, held by the Natural History Museum, makes it truly interdisciplinary.

The War of the Locust is a collaboration between Dr Robert Fletcher (Warwick, History), Dr Katherine Brown (Portsmouth, Forensic Entomology), Dr Greg McInerny (Warwick, Ecology), and Dr Amanda Thomson (Glasgow, Art). The team have set out to understand the twentieth-century campaign to monitor and eradicate the desert locust, which, it turns out, is a fascinating creature. At a time when we are being warned of the imminent catastrophic depletion of insect numbers globally, any opportunity to appreciate the incredible qualities of insect species feels more worthwhile than ever. However, the fact that their tendency to swarm is triggered by persistent touching of fine hairs on their leg, caused by proximity to other locusts when food is short, means that increased locust swarming must be added to the long list of possible threats associated with the unpredictability of climate change. The locust also neatly represents the tensions inherent in food security and ecology. Indigenous populations have long eaten the locust, and research projects are underway to assess insects as a viable future source of protein globally, so the locust represents both threat and solution at the same time.

From Saudi Arabia to Southwest London

Each member of the project team is working on individual, but intersecting, research. Dr Fletcher is studying the campaign against the locust as a world problem, and the way in which Empire and statehood intersect in the effort to understand and control the insect. Predictably enough, the involvement of British Empire researchers in the anti-locust campaign meant that the ‘hub’ for locust research ended up not in any location where the insects breed or live, but in Southwest London. It was intriguing to hear how locust research was actually boosted by the war, since the researchers were able to gain access to sites in Saudi Arabia that were normally inaccessible. Empire scientists began to value landscapes that had previously been perceived as waste, as new scientific frontiers.

Also fascinating was the way in which the nature of the archive itself is revealing hidden histories. Dr Thomson is using the material culture of photographs, films and log books to show how indigenous men and women were present in the anti-locust campaign’s day to day life, as cooks and porters, but only appear as anonymous bodies in photographs. Dr McInerny is approaching the archive itself as an ecological subject, exploring networks of knowledge and intersecting trails of the recording and valuing of information. This approach promises to be of huge importance in the advancement of interdisciplinary studies. In order particularly for historians and scientists to work profitably together, we need to better understand the resources that we have at our disposal. For me, this was a surprising thing for an ecologist to be doing, and prompts all sorts of questions about how we assign value within and between disciplines today.

Locusts and Interdisciplinarity

If I had to pick a ‘stand out’ element of the workshop, however, it would be the privilege of hearing about the work of Dr Brown, who is assessing the value of the archive as a resource for entomologists today. The archive, along with all its paper records including maps, photographs and film, also safeguards a vast collection of locust specimens collected in the mid-twentieth-century. Dr Brown has been trying to assess the validity of the findings of twentieth-century scientists. This has involved her in the sort of archival detective work that, as a historian, I know and love. She has begun an attempt to match individual specimens to the paper trail of where, when and by whom they were collected. The next stage is to use modern methods such as DNA analysis and 3D imaging to assess whether mid-twentieth-century scientists were correct in their classification of their samples, and therefore whether their conclusions about the life cycle of the locust, and particularly its swarming habits, stand up. This project is in its early stages, and Dr Brown has already overcome many hurdles that complicate the application of modern methods to samples that might be eighty years old.

The most interdisciplinary element of The War of the Locust, for me, was the way in which none of these individual endeavours would work without the efforts of the rest of the team. This project is, like all good research, raising many fresh questions for future work. Particularly exciting is the possibility of working in archives in Africa and the Middle East in order to compare local approaches and attitudes with those of the Empire scientists. I’ll certainly be keen to hear how this very stimulating project develops.

“The War of the Locust” is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s “Science in Culture” theme, and is led by Dr Robert Fletcher of the University of Warwick. You can find out more about the project here.

Sophie Greenway is a PhD candidate in the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick. Her thesis is entitled "Growing well: Dirt, health and the home gardener in Britain 1930-70". You can read more about her work on her profile page here, and follow her on twitter @SophieGreenway1.

Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis (2017) – Global History Reading Group

Published: 11 December 2017 - Adrianna Catena & Guido van Meersbergen

In its 1983 report entitled Climate Change, the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee commissioned by the US Congress cheerily concluded that ‘the direct effects of more CO2 in the air are beneficial’.[1] Despite predictions of rapid global warming, rising sea levels, and decreasing crop yields, the report’s suggestion that people would simply adapt to climatic changes set the tone for three decades of underestimation (if not outright denial) of the effects of climate change. As British historian Geoffrey Parker has argued, although we know that climate-induced disasters are bound to occur, ‘we still convince ourselves that they will not happen just yet (or, at least, not to us), and so fail to take appropriate action.’

Parker’s unnerving account of policymakers always remaining ‘one disaster behind’ is as topical now as it was when his Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century was first published in 2013. Then responding to the US government’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina (2005) and similarly poor handling of Hurricane Sandy (2012), the latest string of hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria) are a painful reminder of the urgency of his call ‘to prepare today or repair tomorrow’.

On Wednesday 22 November, the GHCC’s Global History Reading Group convened to discuss selected sections from Parker’s revised and abridged edition, published in July 2017. Adrianna Catena and Guido van Meersbergen report on what was a lively and instructive meeting.

The Seventeenth-Century Crisis

Life was 'nasty, brutish, and short’, Thomas Hobbes’ famous quote runs, and perhaps especially so for Hobbes’ contemporaries. The seventeenth century saw the confluence of wars, regime change, popular revolt, and natural disasters on an unprecedented, global scale. That such widespread conflict and unrest were somehow connected was a notion first put forward by Eric Hobsbawn, and consolidated by Hugh Trevor-Roper, in what rapidly became a landmark historical debate battled on the pages of Past and Present. After a fertile discussion involving some of the more eminent figures in the field, the ‘general crisis of the seventeenth century’ had, for some decades, been laid to rest.

Parker’s Global Crisis revived the debate by making two important contributions. First, in his colossal work the general crisis became for the first time truly global in scope. Thus, the English Civil War (1642-1651), the Fronde (1648-1653), and the revolts against Habsburg rule in Catalonia (1640-1659) and Naples (1647-1648) are set against the termination of Ming rule by the Qing (1644), the execution of the Ottoman sultan Ibrahim (1648), and the Mughal war of succession (1657-1659). Second, and most innovatively, Parker undertakes a sustained attempt at examining the central impact of severe weather– the so-called Little Ice Age – on the 'Global Crisis'.

In five parts and twenty-two chapters whose coverage ranges from Europe to East Asia and, briefly, Africa and the Americas, this work draws powerful links between climate change and political and social upheaval in the period from c.1618 to the 1680s. Parker is equally concerned with outcomes: the official and popular responses that shaped the ways in which each region experienced and emerged from the crisis. While dipping regularly into what he terms ‘the natural archive’ – tree rings, glaciers, ice cores, pollen deposits – the most eye-catching evidence is drawn from the ‘human archive', an extensive, multi-lingual collection of primary sources detailing contemporaries’ experiences of climate change and crisis.

Crisis and Response

It is in providing such detailed and often gripping documentation of contemporary lived experiences of disease, famine, and widespread devastation due to a toxic combination of warfare, crop failure, and extreme weather conditions, that the participants of the Global History Reading Group felt that Parker’s book has most to offer. Can historians, and perhaps early modernists in particular, afford to overlook the impact of climate? The suggestion was raised that, rather than doing climate history itself, ‘climate’, much like class or gender, might become one of these categories that all historians have to reckon with when researching the past.

Another strength highlighted in the session, was Parker’s emphasis on the role of state policies in exacerbating hardship, ultimately increasing the human toll of catastrophe. Some regions, we are reminded, fared better than others after the 'global crisis', Tokugawa Japan offering the most salient example of success, although this was also where the state implemented the most drastic and autocratic pre-emptive measures. As such, Global Crisis provides an important contribution towards a more sustained discussion of how different societies respond to crises, taking stock of different normative assessments of preparedness and risk.

Doubts remained, however, concerning the issue of causality. Parker takes care not to claim that climate change caused all the crises his book covers, yet his discussion of a wide variety of broadly contemporaneous wars, revolts, and regicides within the context of an argument for the direct relationship between natural and human-induced disaster, does raise questions regarding that argument’s global span. For instance, the mid-century Mughal succession conflict was one of only two fought out in the seventeenth century, recently interpreted as a cause for reinforcing, not weakening, Mughal power and prosperity. Likewise, the Dutch regime change of 1650 was a bloodless affair that heralded a period of Dutch primacy, not crisis. Neither event seems to have been much influenced by climate

Other participants addressed the memory bias inherent in impressionistic evidence (“it was the worst of times”), while historians of science suggested that distinctions between ‘natural’ and ‘human’ archives are problematic in principle. Moreover, it was remarked, an unintended irony of the book’s focus on severe weather conditions is that, for historians of other centuries, the message might be that climate only really matters when at its most extreme.

While there is thus doubtless scope for further research on the Little Ice Age and the impact of climate on history more generally, Parker’s book leaves no doubt as to the drastic effects an average change in global temperature of just two degrees Celsius has on agricultural output, or the attendant human cost of such change. Global Crisis thus speaks loudly to contemporary audiences, and stands in need of being widely heard.

Dr Adrianna Catena is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (2016-2020) at the University of Warwick. Specialising in Early Modern Spain and the Spanish Atlantic, she is currently working on her first book: ‘The Colour of Conquest: Indigo in the Iberian Atlantic,’ and on a new research project, entitled: ‘The Hatters’ Blues: A Microglobal history of New World Dyes in Early Modern Spain.’

Dr Guido van Meersbergen is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow (2016-2019) at the University of Warwick. A historian of early modern cross-cultural encounters, he is currently completing his first book, Ethnography and Encounter: The Dutch and English East India Companies in South Asia (1600-1720), while working on a new research project entitled ‘Cross-Cultural Diplomacy Compared: European Diplomats in South Asia (1600-1750)’.

[1] As cited in Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (2nd. rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 513. All citations are from this edition.

Jeremy Adelman, ‘What is Global History Now’ – Global History Reading Group

Published: 8 November 2017 - Guillemette Crouzet & Guido van Meersbergen

Soon after Professor Jeremy Adelman (Princeton University) published his online essay What is Global History Now? on 2 March 2017, responses started appearing proclaiming that ‘Global History is dead, says Adelman’.[1] To be sure, Adelman’s essay featured the ominous subtitle ‘Is global history still possible or has it had its moment?’, while it described the wave of optimism about the future of global history which had only recently engulfed the historical profession as ‘a short ride’. Adelman moreover castigated two of global history’s more prominent manifestations.

One was the “hubristic” belief pronounced by some colleagues that all histories now needed to become transnational or global.The other the type of ‘borderless, do-good storytelling about our cosmopolitan commonness’ that privileged those historical actors who reflected historians’ own ‘cosmopolitan self-yearnings’ at the expense of ‘the left behind, the ones who cannot move, and those who become immobilized’.[2]

Yet the purpose of Adelman’s essay was never to announce The End of Global History. Far from it, as the Princeton Professor emphasised in front of a large gathering of University of Warwick staff and students at this year’s opening session of the Global History Reading Group, organised by Warwick’s Global History and Culture Centre on 1 November 2017. In this first blog post on the new Global History and Culture Centre Blog, Dr Guillemette Crouzet and Dr Guido van Meersbergen reflect on Adelman’s timely intervention.

What is Global History Now?

In many ways, Adelman’s pamphlet reads like the academic equivalent of the soul searching widely conducted by the liberal establishment media in the wake of the election and referendum shake-ups of 2016. The co-author of a widely-used world history textbook, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (2002; 5th edition, 2017), which privileged what he calls global “convergence stories”; in the light of the current widespread ‘anti-global backlash’ Adelman no longer believes that narratives which uncritically celebrate global integration and interconnectedness provide a satisfactory response to the issues of our time.

Tying in the rise of global history with that of neoliberal globalisation, Adelman reproaches global historians for failing to see how their purportedly inclusive narratives created new forms of exclusion, much like the way the globalist policies of neoliberal elites worldwide ignored ‘the other half of the globe’, those for whom internationalisation produced ‘separation, disintegration and fragility’. His message is clear: our discipline needs to rid itself of ‘flat-Earth narratives and ideas of global predestination once and for all’.

Instead, Adelman offers a two-pronged agenda. First, global history has to reckon with the ever more complete dominance of English as an academic language. To prevent global history from turning into simply another ‘Anglospheric’ hegemonic narrative, he argues, global historians need to ‘get more serious about engaging other languages and other ways of telling history.’ The second challenge concerns the importance of ‘local attachments’. That is, global historians will need to do more to address both the benefits and the costs of global integration; to represent those who were connected as much as those who were left out.

Put differently, Adelman prompts global historians to reconsider ‘the power of place’ and with that the engagement of people with multiple scales, i.e. the local, regional, and national scales alongside or before the global one. Such a more rooted history would help to go beyond one-sided celebrations of globalisation and cosmopolitanism. Perhaps ironically, Adelman remarked, the latter only underscores the continuing relevance of global frames of enquiry, as anti-globalisation movements have themselves become truly global in scope.

Future directions

While these are persuasive answers to the issues Adelman’s essay identified, other questions remain. Members of the audience queried the form future directions should take, suggesting the need for more sustained interdisciplinary engagement or the return to the centre of marginalised approaches, including local and military history. It was also remarked that historians can hardly mend the sketched situation unilaterally, but need to work harder to connect with, and obtain input from, disaffected publics; as well as to work collaboratively with colleagues in other countries.

A further point of discussion concerned the fact that Adelman’s essay presents global history as an area of study that, although in need of becoming more inclusive, can nonetheless be spoken of as a single field of intellectual endeavour. As such, the unintended result of the structural adjustments Adelman recommends might actually be another Anglo-centric hegemony that in its attempt to be more embracing leaves increasingly little room for alternative forms of doing global history, particularly as practiced outside Anglo-American academia.

Perhaps the most important conclusion drawn at this year's first Reading Group session is that Global History definitely has a fruitful future. It should function as a tool and a forum to discuss and interrogate not only the world’s current global predicament, but also the complexity and multiple trajectories of globalising processes, including those people and places excluded by them. However, in order to do so successfully, it will be essential for global historians to consider new ways of doing and writing global history. Its future might well lie in the plurality of global histories.

Dr Guido van Meersbergen is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow (2016-2019) at the University of Warwick. A historian of early modern cross-cultural encounters, he is currently completing his first book, Ethnography and Encounter: The Dutch and English East India Companies in South Asia (1600-1720), while working on a new research project entitled ‘Cross-Cultural Diplomacy Compared: European Diplomats in South Asia (1600-1750)’.

 Dr Guillemette Crouzet is a Newton International Postdoctoral Fellow (2017-2019) at the University of Warwick. A specialist of British Imperial History, she published in 2015 her first book, Genèses du Moyen-Orient. Le Golfe Persique à l’âge des imperialismes (c. 1800-1914) [The Genesis of the Middle East. The Persian Gulf in the Age of Empire (c. 1800-1914)], which was awarded two prizes by two leading cultural institutions in France. She is currently working on her new project entitled “Crude Empire. British Oil imperialism and the Making of the Middle East (c. 1890-1935)”.

[1] As recalled by Prof. Jeremy Adelman during his visit to the University of Warwick, 1 November 2017. Unless otherwise noted, all references are to: Jeremy Adelman, ‘What is Global History Now?’, Aeon, 2 March 2017:

[2] Adelman’s reference is to Martine van Ittersum and Jaap Jacobs, ‘Are We All Global Historians Now? An Interview with David Armitage’, Itinerario 36.2 (2012): 7-28, at 16.




Geoffrey Parker
Global Crisis revised edition (2017)

Global Crisis first edition (2013)

Little Ice Age

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Worlds Together, Worlds Apart