SPECIAL ISSUE: NEW HISTORIES OF THE UNITED NATIONS
New Histories of the United Nations
Sunil Amrith and Glenda Sluga, p. 251
The United Nations has become the object of new and exciting historical research because of historians’ renewed interest in themes that have preoccupied the UN from the outset, including questions of race and racism, the global implications of anticolonial nationalism, the problem of development in relations between North and South, and the gendered nature of the postwar international order. In this article we survey the state of histories of the UN and reflect on some of the ways in which the history of the UN has a place in international as well as world history as a site of cultural contestation, influence, continuity, and change.
This article examines the first International Conference on Human Rights, held in Tehran in April and May 1968. At Tehran, a powerful bloc of Asian, African, and Arab states successfully asserted their control over the UN’s Human Rights Program. Their aggressive conference diplomacy was the culmination of a major transition in UN politics, with supposedly Western notions of individual freedom rejected in favor of an agenda that privileged economic modernization and the rights of peoples and nations. Twenty years after the iconic image of Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, the residual elements of the program she presided over were repudiated in a storm of insistent demands from the new anticolonial order.
After World War II, South Africa, swimming against the tide of history, attempted to annex the adjacent international mandate of South West Africa (present-day Namibia). Pretoria was confident of UN approval for such an unprecedented move—too confident, as it turned out. Into the reach—and into the United Nations—stepped an unlikely duo, the Reverend Michael Scott and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to stop the absorption of 350,000
Africans into a white-supremacist state. This seemingly odd couple—a maverick, communist-leaning Anglican minister and a staid, staunchly anti-communist bureaucratic organization—launched a skillful assault in the UN to strip the veneer of legitimacy away from South Africa’s annexationist scheme. Within the span of five years, the NAACP and Scott had carved out the political space and established the right of nongovernmental organizations and individual spokesmen to penetrate the boundaries of national sovereignty, speak before an international audience, and in the process
reshape the UN, despite its founders’ intentions, into an arena that could incorporate the voices of the stateless and the dispossessed.
Population, Geopolitics, and International Organizations in the Mid Twentieth Century
Alison Bashford, p. 327
In assessing population as an intergovernmental and world issue, historians have generally focused on the politics of sex, gender, and reproduction. To expect the history of population to be solely or even primarily about reproduction and individual health, however, is to miss entirely other lines of thought within which population, and in particular world population, came to be a problem for international organizations of the twentieth century. The problematization of population often raised questions about and plans for migration, colonial expansion of territory, and the properties of land and soil—in other words, geopolitics. This article shows how the population problem was precisely a geopolitical problem for the late League of Nations and the early United Nations. The article discusses two institutional occasions on which population as a spatial and security problem came onto the agenda of international organizations. The first case involved a series of meetings held by the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, resulting in the document Peaceful Change (1937). The second case arose in the early years of UNESCO when Julian Huxley and others attempted to raise population as a major world issue.
From 1957 to 1966, UNESCO engaged in a decade-long project aimed at improving cultural relations, a project that generated transnational discourse over representations of East and West. The international climate of this period was characterized not only by decolonization and Cold War tensions but also by activism that amplified diverse and increasingly strong Asian and Arab voices in intergovernmental fora. Composing nearly half of UNESCO’s membership by the mid 1950s, these states’ demands for greater agency in the international sphere garnered considerable attention following the Bandung Conference (1955), which rekindled longstanding fears of imminent if not perpetual East-West conflict and also precipitated the call for UNESCO to facilitate interchange around Eastern and Western cultural values. By examining UNESCO textbook exchanges, this article illustrates the regionally distinct representations of Asia and Europe that emerged in the postcolonial context. It reflects regional sensitivities as well as cooperative and sometimes startlingly optimistic positions, which are viewed from a perspective that prioritizes cultural relations as a distinctive framework of transnational analysis informed yet not determined by Cold War paradigms. Through this exploration of intergovernmental efforts to engage states in dialogue on cultural identities in the midst of redefinition and rising ambiguity about the meaning of East and West, this work contributes to a growing body of research on international cultural relations in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Archives of Universal History
Emma Rothschild, p. 375
This article looks at early proposals for an international archive, at the different respects in which archives are international or transnational, and at the development since 1946 of the archives of international organizations. It suggests that the history of the UN’s involvement with archives is itself a development of historical and even political interest.