Samuel Moyn & Andrew Sartori on Global Intellectual History

Over at one of our favorite blogs, the Imperial and Global Forum run by the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the University of Exeter, Professors Samuel Moyn (Harvard) and Andrew Sartori (NYU) have authored a useful contribution to discussions about the future of global intellectual history. In their piece, “What is Global Intellectual History – And Should It Exist At All,” Moyn and Sartori partly respond to some of the charges levied against their recent volume, Global Intellectual History, by UCLA historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam in a review.

In response to the criticism, Moyn and Sartori argue that:

our volume on Global Intellectual History is as much devoted to whether there ought to be such a field as to what it should look like. Our goal is to slow down in the face of enthusiasm, not unthinkingly ride its wave, as otherwise seems so tempting given the proliferation of books, courses, even chairs in the subject.
Lurking in contemporary historical writing, for the most part below the level of explicit argument, are a series of provisional approaches to how we might understand the global scale of intellectual history. If we are to approach these questions about the global connectedness of ideas with any clarity and directness, we must begin by recognizing the differences between various approaches. Only then can we be confident that we are talking about the same sets of historical problems, and invoking coherent and compatible frameworks for analyzing them.
One influential conception of human history has been in terms of a gradual evolution from bad ideas to good ones. That history would then imply that the locations with the most developed and adequate ways of thinking would therefore be most likely to produce ideas that were increasingly unshackled from spatial limitations.
To take a classic example from the work of Berkeley Sinologist Joseph Levenson, when the West confronted China, the longstanding claims of Chinese scholars to the universal significance of their ideas was brought into crisis by the universal power of modern Western ideas. Mitchell gets at this one-way relationship in highlighting the enthusiasm with which the novel thinking of political economy was greeted in the east. From this perspective, the non-Western world is forever trapped in one of two roles: grateful recipient of Western truth, or irrational recalcitrant.

The point, they continue, is not only to investigate the reverse process (“the West” learning from its subalterns), nor only to place into question, as Subrahmanyam does, the value of a research agenda that places the diffusion or acceptance of Western ideas at the centerpiece of global intellectual history.  More than that, they argue for what one might dub a global topography of concepts, investigating how phenomena that have little to do with ideas per se – the divides between sedentary and nomadic societies, or the Iron Curtain, say – have had a profound effect on the contexts in which ideas could be received.

Such a research agenda – embracing the wide geographic and temporal bounds that Subrahmanyam pleads for – would not only hint at the non-intellectual reasons for the non-globalization of certain ideas; more than that, and perhaps more profoundly, it might suggest why certain ideas have found limited or unintended resonance even in settings where intellectual transfer did take place. As the pair conclude,

It might also soon turn out that those whom we (whoever “we” might be) want to listen have heard perfectly well. It might be that they articulate the same sets of concerns in terms we don’t readily recognize. Or it might be that, of the many things they hear from elsewhere, they have chosen to engage some ideas but not others. Or it might be that they have heard all too well, learning not only our meanings but also how to transform them to their ends. 

Readers can consult the full piece at Exeter’s blog. Alternatively – or additionally – Moyn and Sartori’s edited volume comes out in paperback this April.

Summer School in Comparative and Transnational History: Theories, Methodology and Case Studies (September 2015)

Our colleagues at the European University Institute in Florence have recently announced what looks to be an exciting summer school in Transnational and Comparative History. Taking place from September 14-17, 2015 and targeted at graduate students (up until their last year of enrollment), the Summer School pitches itself as a forum to participate in seminars with faculty from the European University Institute, visit the Library and Archives of the European Union and, of course, meet other practitioners. The announcement explains further:

Are you dissatisfied with the study of national history? Do you want to widen your historical horizons? If so the tenth EUI Summer School in Transnational and Comparative History is for you. It will take place in September 2015 in the historic Villa Schifanoia set in beautiful gardens overlooking Florence. Continue reading

Thinking Big … and Small About U.S. History in a Global Context with Daniel Immerwahr

Whether they know it or not, Americans are a people ruled by community organizers, indeed fascinated by them. Barack Obama, many will know, worked as a community organizer in Chicago for three years in the late 1980s, while former Secretary of State and 2016 Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton wrote her thesis on the community organizer Saul Alinsky. The current slate of potential Republican challengers may not boast quite the same communitarian credentials – Scott Walker was a Boy Scout and Bobby Jindal a volunteer at LSU football games – but the once-touted David Petraeus was, of course, famous as a master of counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, a man who (prior to his resignation as CIA Director) was famed to have mastered the community scale as the proper war against Iraqi rebels and the Taliban. Fittingly for a nation that supposedly bowls alone, Americans are obsessed with community – what it was, how to get it back, indeed, how to develop it.

Daniel Immerwahr, assistant professor of History at Northwestern University and our most recent guest to the Global History Forum
Daniel Immerwahr, assistant professor of History at Northwestern University and our most recent guest to the Global History Forum

As our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Daniel Immerwahr, shows, this American fascination with community is not some recent invention. Indeed, even as the scholarly literature on the United States in the world these days is in the midst of a focus on development in the Third World, typically the term (“development”) means heavy infrastructure. “Dams are the temples of modern India,” said post-independence Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru, and the same could be said of the 21st century historiography of the United States in a global context. Yet as Immerwahr, an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University, shows in his recent book Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development, this dream of large-scale development was always accompanied by a parallel drive to use the small scale – the group scale – of community development as a tool to guide Third World societies away from the temptations of Moscow and Beijing.

How did we forget this story? Given the prominence that the historiography today tends to assign to dams, power plants, and railroads, why did we lose the focus on community in America’s outreach to the world? Most importantly, given that community development’s accomplishments in both the Third World and in America itself are so ambiguous, why do Americans remained fascinated with it as a panacea for poverty? These are precisely the questions that were in our mind when we had the chance to speak with Professor Immerwahr about his latest work and his forthcoming projects on American international history. Continue reading

Call for Papers: “The Transformation of Global History, 1963-1975” (Princeton University, October 2015)

Here’s an intriguing call for papers for a conference on global history – on the history of the discipline rather than papers exhibiting global or transnational approaches per se – taking place at Princeton University this October 9-10, 2015.

Historical scholarship underwent a transformative period between 1963 and 1975. From insightful thinkers as William McNeillFernand BraudelImmanuel WallersteinAlfred CrosbySidney MintzNatalie Zemon DavisKenneth Clark, and Jacob Bronowski, history became more than a selective study of the Western nation-state. Their scholarship experimented with, contextualized, critiqued, and questioned existing narratives; significantly broadened history’s scholarly scope to incorporate anthropological, scientific, and geographical insights; analyzed networks and pushed boundaries. Their intended audiences, too, radically expanded out of the ‘Ivory Tower,’ into the living rooms of millions of families.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference at Princeton University, scheduled for October 9-10, 2015 will examine these groundbreaking figures and their research. Through an engaged, retrospective approach, we intend to answer important questions about this first wave’s continuing impact and legacy. While our panels will be centered on these eight scholars, individual papers can be about any aspect or effect of their work, can contextualize, clarify, and critique. We welcome a diversity of approaches. Through collaborations with the Princeton University Art Museum and the new Center for Digital Humanities, we will exhibit a host of visual artifacts and end with a roundtable discussing new methods that continue the vision of these early historians. Following the conference, a selection of work will be published as an anthology. We therefore invite proposals from scholars across disciplines and at all stages of their careeers. Innovative approaches will be our primary criteria in selection, and we are particularly encouraging of papers that engage with art history, digital humanities, and/or transnational history. 

The conference organizer, Benjamin Sachs, requests a 350-500 word abstract with title, author contact information, and presentation description (e.g., PowerPoint or other medium; it is to be sent to by March 30, 2015.

Down Under, Transnational, Global: Exploring Russian and Soviet History with Philippa Hetherington

The Black Sea is in the news for all of the wrong reasons these days. Whether it’s the Russian annexation of Crimea, uncertainty surrounding the outcome of parliamentary elections in Moldova, or the breakdown of Moscow’s plans to conduct a natural gas pipeline to Europe via the Balkans, these former Tsarist borderlands (and shores) have become an object of geopolitical intrigue that few would have predicted only a year or two ago.

Lost among fears of a revived Cold War is another ongoing crisis in the region: namely, sex trafficking, or what earlier generations would have known as “the traffic in women.” Even as countries like Russia are some of the largest destination for immigrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union, Moscow’s former western borderlands–Ukraine and especially Moldova–constitute some of the largest “exporters” of women into the international sex trade. Sold into criminal gangs as “white” women, women from these countries may find themselves trafficked to brothels in Russia, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, or other destinations. For countries like Ukraine and Moldova, where per-capita income is the same as in Sudan, human traffickers find ideal conditions, helping make human trafficking the third most lucrative criminal enterprise in the world, according to the United Nations.

The human trafficking crisis may be forgotten in the light of the region’s other ongoing problems, but like disputes over Ukraine’s place between Europe and Russia or the geopolitics of energy, it, too, has a history. Indeed, perhaps obviously more so than these other two regional problems, the history of “the traffic in women” has obviously global dimensions. Women kidnapped from Chisinau, Kiev, or Minsk may belong to individual nation-states, but the networks that disappear them–and the states and international agencies that sometimes seek to rescue them–are engaged in a battle that takes place above, over, and through the lines on a map. But more than simply reifying all-too-frequent panics over sex trafficking, global history scholarship on the history of sex trafficking must not ignore larger dimensions of racial hierarchy or global migration writ large.

Philippa Hetherington, our latest guest to the Global History Forum
Philippa Hetherington, our latest guest to the Global History Forum

Such nuances lie at the heart of the work of the latest guest to the Global History Forum, Philippa Hetherington. In her work, the recent Harvard PhD explores the emergence of “trafficking in women” as a specific crime in fin-de-siècle Russia, arguing that the legal battle against sex trafficking needs to be understood in terms of larger, global dynamics not unique to just Russia. Working at the intersections of Russian and global history, Philippa recently took time out from her current post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Sydney in her native Australia to speak about her work. Continue reading

Four Doctoral Scholarships in Trans-Cultural Studies (University of Heidelberg)

Our colleagues at the Excellence Cluster “Europe and Asia in Context,” a leader center for trans-cultural studies, have announced that they will be offering four doctoral scholarships for the coming winter semester of 2015-16. The scholarships, the announcement (here in German) notes, will consist of a monthly stipend of 1,200 Euros; two of the four scholarships are earmarked for young scholars coming from Asia.

Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany

This is a great opportunity for those interested in entering the field of global history, so check out the Excellence Cluster’s website and make sure to apply no later than March 15, 2015.

Peter J. Fraam Fellowship in Global Wellbeing (Merton College, Oxford)

Here’s a recent fellowship announcement that may be of interest to readers: Merton College, a constituent College at the University of Oxford,

proposes to elect a Peter J Braam Research Fellow in Global Wellbeing for three years commencing on 1 October 2015 or as soon as possible thereafter. This is a career development post which will provide a promising academic with opportunities to develop as researcher.
The main duty of the post will be to undertake independent research in a topic contributing to the solution of the most pressing global welfare problems facing the human race, such as research into the application of technology to development challenges including health, growing inequality and the lack of social cohesion, or instability in globalisation (cyber threats, collapsing financial structures).
The postholder will be eligible for election as a Fellow of the College. The Fellow will be entitled to free meals, medical insurance, research expenses and other benefits.

More information can be found at the Call for Particulars; applications are due via an online application form by March 9, 2015.

Unweaving Sven Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton: A Global History”

Pause for a moment while reading this review and check out the inside collar of your shirt or blouse. There’s a good chance that the garment you’re wearing is not only made out of cotton but was made in a country other than the one you’re living in: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, or somewhere else with appropriately low wages. Cotton, in short, is so much a part of our daily lives that its ubiquity as an industrial good and its central role in global trade are invisible. In an age of smart phones and Dreamliners, it’s easy to forget how humble cotton remains one of the most valuable and widely traded goods on the planet.

It’s easy, too, to forget that this plant has a history that is in large part the history of global capitalism–easy, that is, until the recent publication of Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, published in late 2014 by Random House. Beckert, originally from Germany and the co-director of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Initiative on Global History, was already well-known to many American colleagues as a historian of capitalism. His 2001 The Monied Metropolis was a key early work in a generation of scholarship that has transformed a subfield formerly thought of as dusty, if not dead, into one of historical academe’s growth areas. Indeed, Beckert was an early champion of the field at Harvard, founding a Program on the subject there, and has helped shaped many a dissertation project–Louis Hyman on debt in modern America, Vanessa Ogle on time synchronization, Ian Klaus on trust and capitalism–in a burgeoning literature. But with Empire of Cotton, Beckert takes an approach that is still often focused on Anglophone, if not just American capitalism, and seeks to apply it to one of the greatest global goods of all time.

Harvard Historian Sven Beckert, author of “Empire of Cotton: A Global History”

Continue reading

Book Launch: Leslie James, “George Padmore and Decolonization from Below”

Here’s an exciting event for readers located in London: on Tuesday, February 3, Dr.Leslie James, a Lecturer in World History at the University of Cambridge, will discuss her new book, George Padmore and Decolonisation from Below: Pan-Africanism, the Cold War, and the End of Empire, which appeared recently with Palgrave MacMillan.

Readers outside of the fields of British History, or studies of the Black Atlantic, might not have heard of Padmore’s name. But the London-based, Trinidad-born Marxist led a life that, as James’ book’s subtitle hints, ran through many of the major themes of the twentieth century. Whether one is interested in Padmore’s relationship with Pan-Africanist figures like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, or just interested in following a life that illuminates the twentieth century more broadly, George Padmore and Decolonisation from Below promises to be an illuminating read.

The event will be hosted by our friends at LSE Ideas, a unit of the London School of Economics. The event will take place from 6:30 PM to 8 PM in Room B.13 at 32 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and will be chaired by LSE’s Odd Arne Westad, with Professors Richard Drayton (King’s College London) and Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary University) appearing as discussants.

Assistant/Associate Professor in World and Global History, University of Macau

The University of Macau has advertised a tenure-track position for an Assistant or Associate Professor of World and Global History, expected to begin in August 2015. “Applicants,” the call explains,

Applicants should have a PhD in hand by the time of employment and some teaching experience, and should specialize in one or more of the following research and teaching areas: Ancient/Modern/Contemporary European-Asian Relations, and related areas of the History of Europe, South, Southeast or East Asia. The successful candidate may be required to teach General Education courses in Global Issues in History and Culture. Command of at least one European or Asian language (in addition to English), relevant to her/his area of specialization, may be considered an advantage.

Applicants are invited to visit the University’s vacancies site for more information; to apply online, they should use its job application portal. (The reference number for this position is: FSS/DHIST/WH/01/2015).

The review of applications will commence on March 1, 2015, so make sure to submit your application by then! Finalists will be invited for interviews. Hence, “applicants,” notes the posting, “may consider their applications not successful if they were not invited for an interview within 3 months of application.”