Some Reflections on the Nature of Global History

During the 1990s, when the term “global history” started becoming more popular within academic circles, quite a number of scholars expressed great reservations against this field. One of the most frequently articulated charges was that global history was destined to operate on a rather superficial level and would not be able to reach deeper than the realm of textbooks, trade books and introductory undergraduate courses. After all, many critics added, no serious scholar could possibly know a sufficient number of languages which would allow him or her to operate at a truly global level. Hence, the same logic went, global history could never evolve into a true research field which in the field of history, after all, is based on archival work and an intimate familiarity with primary sources on a distinct subject matter ((See for example O’Brien, Patrick K., “Historiographical Traditions and Modern Imperatives for the Restoration of Global History”, Journal of Global History, 1-1 (2006), pp. 3-39)).

In recent years, these debates have subsided, and the new great discussions on global history have moved on to different issues and themes. It is mainly distant outsiders remaining unfamiliar with the field’s most recent developments and trajectories who still pose the question whether global history can indeed evolve into an area of research. As a matter of fact, global history is being practiced by a growing, vibrant community of researchers. For them it is not primarily as a site of textbook production but rather an arena of genuine historical scholarship. This simple observation is evidenced by the sharply growing number of journal articles, research projects and monographs which in their title refer to “global history” or closely related terms ((See for example, Crossley, Pamela Kyle, What is Global History?, Cambridge: Polity, 2008)). In this context one may also refer to the founding of the Journal of Global History in 2006, and one may add that even earlier, in 1999, the American Historical Review introduced a review section focusing on “global and comparative” studies.

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Globalization: An Agenda

It is now widely recognized that ours is a global age. One of the first to perceive and then describe this “happening” was the sociologist Martin Albrow, in his book with the title The Global Age.Since its appearance, in 1996 numerous studies have been published. Indeed, a critical bibliography would be a valuable tool, pointing to further research. This might be the opening project in carrying out an agenda that I am about to describe.[1]

In undertaking such a task, it would be well to establish what I will call regional globalization studies. Do these regional arrangements facilitate globalization? Work against it and in what ways? Examples immediately spring to mind. A major one, of course, is Globalization and China, perhaps the greatest challenge of our epoch. No less important is Globalization and Islam.[2] Of equal importance is the European situation, in which pulls toward a European and a Global identity may be in conflict. Other regional studies—the USA, Latin America, etc.–would also be subjects for further study.

I will now divide my proposed agenda into two parts. The first will focus on research projects, including those mentioned in the first two paragraphs, that appear promising. The second will concentrate on what I consider a most important offshoot from the globalization process itself—the concept of Humanity.

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