Sleuthing the Origins of “Global History”

History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.

—Max Beerbohm, 1896.

Historians are often charged — sometimes correctly — with precipitously proclaiming a “new” field of study: a field that, upon further investigation, is shown to be remarkably similar to earlier turns in the historiographical timeline. The post-colonial and subaltern “turns” of the 1980s are cases in point, as they, however unwittingly, tended to ignore the prodigious and overlapping work within Area Studies that had appeared in preceding decades. I duly began to wonder if the term “global history” might prove to be yet another illustrative example.

Indeed, in recent months, historiographical debates have arisen at the New Global History Forum, the Imperial & Global Forum, and the New Republic, among others, over the promises and perils of the growing field of global history. Despite our disagreements, there was common consensus that “global history” was a relatively new historiographical phenomenon that arose in the 1990s — and one that rose in popularity in the early 2000s.[1]

But is “global history” really so new?

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The Contexts of Global History

Historians care about context. When setting out to explore any historical question, professional historians want some familiarity with the customs, institutions, social structure, economic system, and ideas prominent in the relevant place and time. Indeed, much of the training for a career in historical research aims to provide a broad understanding of the region and era expected to be the context of future research. But does global history have a context?

It does, because global history, however uncommon it may be, is methodologically unexceptional. Even the most ambitious global histories operate within limitations, letting principal topic and central method set standards of relevance that allow limits, including chronological and geographical ones. Like all historical work, global histories establish their own rules of relevance. The more imaginative and original the work, the more likely it is to delineate its context from a cluster of questions that constitute historical problems. These, however, are then addressed with arguments based on kinds of evidence and methods of analysis familiar in historical research. Distinguished by its conceptual scale and sometimes by the historical problems it addresses, global history proceeds in normal fashion to establish the context it must engage.

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Workshop: Exploring Traditions: Sources for a Global History of Science, Cambridge, 30 November 2013

Exploring Traditions: Sources for a Global History of Science

University of Cambridge 30 November 2013

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT – SG1&2

This workshop is the second in a series that continues an important set of debates and reflexions on the interaction between histories of the sciences and models of global history. These debates ask fundamental questions about what science has meant on the global stage and how sciences have come to take form through global confrontations, connections and politics. The first workshop marked the visit to Cambridge of two scholars from South Africa and India: Prof. Keith Breckenridge (Witwatersrand) and Prof. Irfan S. Habib (Delhi). The keynote speakers at the second workshop will be Dr. Lauren Minsky (NYU, Abu Dhabi) and Dr. David Lambert (Warwick). An aim of these workshops is to link UK-based scholars with those working elsewhere in the world on questions of the sciences’ past. The network is also connected with the Centres of South Asian Studies and African Studies and the Faculty of History and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the University of Cambridge. Papers will be presented by post-graduate students and by post-doctoral scholars. Lambert will discuss his new book from Chicago University Press. We hope that students and scholars engaging with histories of science from different vantage points and at different stages will attend.

Read full post here. (Originally posted 7 November 2013)

AHA Annual Meeting Affiliated Society Session, Toynbee Prize Foundation

The Intersections of Global and Diplomatic History

Toynbee Prize Foundation
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Chair: David Ekbladh, Tufts University

H-Net Review Publication: Wu on Gabaccia, 'Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective'

Donna R. Gabaccia. Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. 288 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-13419-2.

Reviewed by Judy T. Wu (Ohio State University)

Published on H-Diplo (October, 2013)

Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Immigrant Foreign Relations

In Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective, Donna R. Gabaccia offers a bold new interpretation that brings diplomatic history into conversation with U.S. immigration history. While the former has traditionally focused on the actions of elite state actors, the latter has tended to offer social histories of immigrants, their families, and communities. Gabaccia examines instead the “intersection of transnational linkages created ‘from below’ by immigrants,” or what she describes as “immigrant foreign relations,” with “American international or foreign policies, created ‘from above’ by the federal government.” The result is a sweeping rereading of American history that emphasizes the need to understand immigration and the United States in global perspectives. As Gabaccia states, “Immigrants, much like diplomats and State Department officials in Washington, are deeply concerned with the world beyond U.S. borders” (p. 1). In addition, “no one understands better than immigrants the continuing power of national governments to draw borders and to set rules for crossing them. Immigrants experience the power of nation states in an extremely intimate fashion, sometimes on a daily basis” (pp. 2-3).

Gabaccia offers several intriguing insights in her study of American immigration and foreign relations. First, she expands the chronological timeline of most immigration histories. Instead of beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of the “first wave” of immigrants from western and northern Europe as well as Asia, Gabaccia starts with the colonial and early Republic periods to emphasize the ongoing connections that “Americans” had with the world. Her biographical account of Crevecoeur, author of the famous Letters from an American Farmer, reveals how his own life was at odds with the proclamation that the American is a “new man … who leaves behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners” (p. 28). Instead, Crevecoeur, like many other Americans of the early Republic period, lived in multiple countries, held multiple citizenships, and had kinship and economic ties across various borders. Although Crevecoeur helped to articulate an ideology of American exceptionalism and American isolationism, his life experiences, Gabaccia argues, is more representative of American immigrant experiences. Crevecoeur’s letters reveal how transnational “Americans” were from the beginning of the nation’s history.

Read full post here. (Originally posted October 28, 2013)

Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war

Computer simulation shows that conflict fueled political consolidation in ancient and medieval history.

War drove the formation of complex social institutions such as religions and bureaucracies, a study suggests. The institutions would have helped to maintain stability in large and ethnically diverse early societies. The study authors, who tested their theories in simulations and compared the results with historical data, found that empires arise in response to the pressure of warfare between small states.

Peter Turchin, a population dynamicist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and his colleagues set out to understand why social institutions came about when they were costly for individuals to build and maintain. “Our model says they spread because they helped societies compete against each other,” says Turchin. The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.

The team looked at a part of world history in which competition was fierce: Africa and Eurasia between 1500 bc and ad 1500. In the first millennium bc, nomads on the Eurasian steppe invented mounted archery, the most effective projectile weaponry technique until gunpowder. As that technology spread, evolving into chariot and cavalry warfare, conflict intensified.

The researchers developed a model in which Africa and Eurasia were divided into a grid of cells 100 kilometres on a side. Each cell was characterized according to the kind of landscape, its elevation about sea level and whether or not it had agriculture — because the first nations were agricultural societies. At the start of the simulation, each agricultural cell was inhabited by an independent state, and states on the border between agrarian societies and the steppe were seeded with military technology. The team simulated the diffusion of that technology and looked for effects on the intensity of warfare and the development of social institutions.

Read full post at (originally posted on September 23, 2013)

Visiting Scholar in World History at Pitt, 2014-2014

Visiting Scholar, 2014-2015. The World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh (<>) solicits applications for the position of Visiting Scholar with PhD for the academic year 2014-2015. The successful applicant will spend up to four months in residence at the World History Center and will receive up to US$ 12,000 of support, as research expenses. Applications should include a proposal for significant research or writing of world-historical interest, and may include collaboration with activities and programs of the World History Center. Applicants may wish to link their proposed position of Visiting Scholar at the World History Center to other proposals for research funding or academic leave.

The applications—to include a letter of application describing the research project, a CV, and one letter of reference—are due by November 8, 2013 for the 2014-2015 appointment.  All three application documents are to be submitted electronically to Katie Jones (<>), Administrator of the World History Center. Questions can go to the same address.

The World History Center Advisory Board will review the applications and select the Visiting Scholar for the academic year 2014-2015. The appointment will be announced early in December 2013. The World History Center director and staff will complete the logistical and fiscal arrangements with the appointee.

The successful candidate will present one lecture during his or her visit, with the opportunity to meet with faculty members, graduate students, undergraduate students, and teachers if they wish.

Previous holders of this Visiting Scholar position:

2008-2009: Shingo Minamizuka, Hosei University, Tokyo

2009-2010: Diego Olstein, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

2010-2011: no appointee

2011-2012: Pedro Machado, Indiana University, Bloomington

2012-2013: Gerard McCann, University of York

2013-2014: Monica Green, Arizona State University

Forum: Globalizing Early Modern German History

Driven by a leitmotif of our own times, globalization, historians are increasingly conducting their research under the aegis of ‘global’ or ‘world’ history. This history no longer seeks merely to explain the origins of the global world in which we now live, or to destabilize a traditional, Eurocentric view of the path to modernity. Instead, it asks us to reconceptualize the ways in which we write history, paying proper attention to transnational connections and to the comparative study of territories. Although it is intuitively plausible to assume that scholars of modern German history have reflected upon the implications of this and integrated it into their approaches to a greater extent than their pre-modernist colleagues, this is by no means uniformly the case; indeed, pre-nineteenth-century experts are arguably particularly well positioned to contribute to the field. Those familiar with the complexities of the history of the Holy Roman Empire work unencumbered by the dominating principle of the rise of the nation state and the associated telos that still implicitly structures much writing on the modern era, for example. In their studies of political, social, cultural and economic history, early modern Germanists frequently write history that crosses borders, both territorial and confessional. Also within the regional framework of the Empire, comparative history is well established. To reflect on the ways in which early modern scholars might therefore not only respond to but also drive forward the narratives and curricula of global history, the editors invitedRenate Dürr (Tübingen), Ronnie Hsia (Penn State), Carina Johnson (Pitzer College), Ulrike Strasser (University of California, San Diego) and Merry Wiesner-Hanks (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) to take part in a forum. The questions were posed by Bridget Heal.

Read full post here. (Originally posted September 2013)

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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Announcing ‘The Great War and Global History’ conference, Oxford 9-10 January 2014

‘The Great War and Global History’ conference

9-10 January 2014

Maison Française, Oxford

A two-day conference hosted by the Oxford Centre for Global History, Changing Character of War programme and Maison Française d’Oxford.  Convenors: Hew Strachan, James Belich, John Darwin



Patrick O’Brien (LSE)

‘Warfare with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and the Consolidation of British Industrial Supremacy’

Georges-Henri Soutou (Paris)

‘They Marched Singing into Bankruptcy: Finance in the First World War’



Dominic Lieven (Cambridge)

‘Imperialism, War and Revolution: a Russian Angle’

Hans van de Ven (Cambridge)

Title TBC



Hervé Drévillon (Paris)

‘Identities and Otherness as Agents of Globalization in Early Modern Wars‘

Tamara Scheer ((Ludwig Boltzmann-Institute for Social Science History, Vienna)

‘Habsburg Empire’s National Identities during World War One’



Jos Gommans (Leiden)

‘Fair Play in Early Modern Warfare’

Douglas Porch (California)

‘From Carnot to Reynaud: The Ascent and Disintegration of the French Nation in Arms, 1793-1940’



Margaret MacMillan (Oxford)

Title TBC

Sudhir Hazareesingh (Oxford)

Title TBC



Tonio Andrade (Atlanta)

‘The Global Military Balance: A Long View, 900-1918’

Naoko Shimazu (Birkbeck)

Title TBC



Martin Ceadel (Oxford)

Title TBC

Karen Hagemann (UNC)

‘Women, War and the Nation: Gendering the History of the Wars Against Napoleon’

To register contact
For further information see:

Read full post here. (Originally posted July 23, 2013)