Maya Jasanoff is the X.D. and Nancy Yang Professor of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Her latest book is The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World.
 (July 2020)


The Future Was His

H.G. Wells; engraving by Stefan Mrozewski, 1935

Inventing Tomorrow: H.G. Wells and the Twentieth Century

by Sarah Cole
Would anything about this strange moment have surprised H.G. Wells? He was called “the man who invented tomorrow” because he seemed to have the future figured out. From his pages tumbled forth ideas for the air conditioner, the television, and the Internet, for servantless households, for mixed hot-and-cold taps—and for …

Lost Calcutta

Calcutta, 1996

Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta

by Debjani Bhattacharyya

Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing the World

by Snigdha Poonam
The first visit I made to Calcutta that I can remember was over Christmas in 1981. I was seven. It had been exactly twenty-five years since my grandfather Sudhir had taken a job at the United Nations, moving my grandmother and their three children from India to New York. They had left India expecting to return, but now all five were non-resident Indians with American lives who emerged every few years onto the sweating tarmac of Calcutta’s Dum Dum Airport bearing duty-free chocolate and perfume.

The Great Trap for All Americans

The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

by Greg Grandin

New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America

by Wendy Warren
One hundred and fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, the nation’s first black president paid tribute to “a century and a half of freedom—not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.” It sounds innocuous enough till you start listening to the very different kinds of political rhetoric around us.

A Passage from Hong Kong

Edward Burtynsky: Container Port, Maasvlakte, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2011; from Burtynsky’s new collection of photographs, Water. The book includes essays by Wade Davis and Russell Lord and is published by Steidl. Burtynsky’s new documentary film, Watermark, codirected with Jennifer Baichwal, will be released in the US this April.

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate

by Rose George
Imagine the Empire State Building. Now imagine tipping it on its side, nudging it into the Hudson, and putting out to sea. That was the scale of thing I contemplated one day in late November, as I gaped at the immense navy hull of CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, one of the world’s largest container ships, which stretched above and out of sight on either side of me, on a quayside in Hong Kong. Nearly twelve hundred feet long, it’s bigger than an aircraft carrier and longer than the world’s largest cruise ships. On Christophe Colomb, all of that space goes to boxes.

Our Steamboat Imperialism

Slaves returning from a cotton field in the American South, early 1860s

River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

by Walter Johnson
Chugging against the current on a boxy steamer, the officer closely monitored the course of the Congo River. You’d think a river might be easier to navigate than the sea, since it flows in one direction and looks, more or less, like a line. You’d think it would be more …

We Are More English Than We Know

Benjamin West: The Cricketers (also known as Ralph Izard and His Friends), 1764

When London Was Capital of America

by Julie Flavell
In the Strand, in Georgian London, the big-haired prostitutes grind their hips and sing ditties about their trade. Young blades cram into the cockpit in St. James’s Park to bet on fighting roosters with silver spurs. Coffeehouses around the Bank and Royal Exchange resound with clinking cups, clacking dice, and …

The Unknown Women of India

Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India

by Margaret MacMillan

Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire

by Durba Ghosh
The baby arrived early one April morning, guided into the world by a Bengali midwife while the doctor waited in the next room. It was a boy: Sophia Elizabeth and Richard Plowden’s seventh child, born, like the others, in India. The infant drew his first milk from the breast of …