Category: Interviews

Unexpected Guests? The Soviet Union and the History of Global Capitalism: An Interview with Oscar Sanchez-Sibony

Capitalism versus Communism. To many, the latter half of the twentieth history was deeply shaped by the confrontation between these two ideological and socioeconomic systems. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, capitalism’s triumph was credited to its valorization of money and protection of markets, among other factors; and, as the story continues, Communists failed,…

Seleucid Global? Time and Empire in the Hellenistic Near East: An Interview with Paul J. Kosmin

In 311 BCE Seleucus Nicator staged a triumphal return to Babylon. Following the death of Alexander the Great, Seleucus had been one among the emperor’s many rival generals, family members, and friends fighting to gain control over the remnants of his empire. Expelled from his Babylonian satrapy in 316 BCE, Seleucus had spent the intervening…

‘It’s Not Rocket Science’: Nuclear Disasters in and beyond the Soviet Union—An Interview with Kate Brown

“About 50 deaths.” This was the long-standing consensus held by scientists and worldwide audiences on the death toll caused by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. “Was this really so?” asked Kate Brown, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as she started to investigate the oft-overlooked social and environmental hazards in the communities…

The Institution of International Order: An Interview with Simon Jackson and Alanna O’Malley

With some people becoming increasingly concerned about the attacks on the liberal international order and others questioning whether such a thing actually exists or has ever existed, the publication of The Institution of International Order: from the League of Nations to the United Nations in 2018 is a timely and welcome intervention. This edited volume…

Cossacks and Columbus: An Interview with Yaroslav Hrytsak

In 2018, German-Ukrainian Historical Commission organized a seminar in Nizhyn, Ukraine for young researchers. The topic was transnational and global perspectives of Ukrainian history from the early modern to contemporary times. One of the moderators of this seminar was Yaroslav Hrytsak, a professor at Ukrainian Catholic University (Lviv), editor-in-chief of Ukraina Moderna, and head of the Ukrainian section of the German-Ukrainian Historical Commission.

Yaroslav Hrytsak is one of the preeminent Ukrainian historians and public intellectuals, an expert in the modern history of Ukraine, as well as nationalism and nationhood in Eastern Europe more generally. Yehor Brailian spoke with him about global history, his upcoming book on short Ukrainian history and the next generation of historians in Ukraine. Prof. Hrytsak suggests global history may help to understand the nature of political and cultural encounters in the Ukrainian lands, beginning from the Cossack period (XVI-XVIII centuries).

Yehor Brailian (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

Yaroslav Hrytsak

Thinking Global in Turkey: An Interview with Trustee Selçuk Esenbel

Prof. Selçuk Esenbel is Emeritus Professor of Japanese and Asian History in the History Department of Bogazici University. She is also a Professor of History at 29 May University in Istanbul.

Looking at academic calls for papers and conference topics in recent years, there can be no doubt that global history is on the rise. However, despite calls to write “global history globally,” it is clear that global history has not risen in all countries simultaneously. Turkey, which has a long history of hosting many different civilizations has much potential for supporting work in global history. Although this potential is not yet reflected in academic studies relating to global history, international events such as the Global History Student Conference-Istanbul held recently in Istanbul Sehir University are an indicator that work in this field is accelerating.

Our most recent guest, Prof. Selçuk Esenbel is one of the trustees of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, and a leading historian in Turkey. Prof. Esenbel has contributed greatly to the development of global history in Turkey, specifically in relation to Japanese and wider Eurasian history. I got the chance to sit down with Esenbel in Istanbul to talk about the state of global history in Turkey today and her recent book, Japan on the Silk Road: Encounters and Perspectives of Politics and Culture in Eurasia (Brill’s Japanese Studies Library, 2017).

-Fatma Aladağ

From Istanbul to Tokyo: An Interview with Eric Tagliacozzo

Professor Tagliacozzo is Professor of Modern Southeast Asian History at Cornell University. Courtesy of Eric Tagliacozzo.

In 2018, over 2.3 million people went on hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that takes place during the final month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhu al-Hijjah. The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (alongside Shahadah, Salat, Zakat and Sawm) and is mandatory for all able-bodied Muslims financially capable of making the journey. Although Muslims make the journey every year from all around the world, the country with the highest percentage of hajjis per capita is not in northern Africa or the Middle East, considered by most to be the center of dar al-Islam (the Abode of Islam), but rather in Southeast Asia: Indonesia.

So observes Eric Tagliacozzo, Professor of Modern Southeast Asia at Cornell University, in his most recent monograph, The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford University Press, 2013). In examining the annual movement of pilgrims from the opposite ends of the Indian Ocean, Tagliacozzo taps in to a process that has been taking place for more than five hundred years: first by sail, then by steam, then by air. Connections between Southeast Asia and the Middle East do not center solely on Islam. They are part of a far more complex network of trade, movement, and cross-cultural exchange. These connections between Southeast Asia and the Middle East are part of a far wider set of connections between peoples along the entire Indian Ocean littoral from eastern Africa to the South China Sea.

As historians have turned to more transnational and global histories in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the field known as the “Indian Ocean world” has blossomed. Studies of the Indian Ocean world focus on the movement and settling of people from all around the Indian Ocean littoral and hinterland regions, which form a single interconnected arena. They examine how connections between peoples in the Indian Ocean world long pre-dated European colonialism. They explore how those connections persisted through the colonial period, both by using and subverting colonial networks. Together, they trace these movements from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial, demonstrating continuities over time that do not exist solely in reference to Europe.

Tagliacozzo himself has significantly contributed to this literature. His work has added enormously to historians’ knowledge of not just Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, and other parts of Southeast Asia–which was his original region of focus–but also the South China Sea, the Arabian Peninsula, and Southwest Asia (the Middle East) all the way to Istanbul. He has demonstrated the deep-seated connections between these regions and the peoples that inhabit them, thereby adding color, breadth, and depth to previously separated national and regional histories. Since the start of his career, Tagliacozzo has worked on these networks in monographs including Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) and The Longest Journey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

In this interview, we talked with Tagliacozzo about his previous works and his contributions to scholarship on the Indian Ocean world as well as transnational and global history. We spoke about his days as a 22-year old college student interviewing spice traders from Japan to East Africa. Our discussion ranged from illicit trade in rhinoceros horns to itinerant peoples’ methods of resistance to colonial rule. And we discussed how, often, those two things were one-and-the-same.

– Matthew Bowser

Elites Connecting Eastern and Western Europe: An Interview with Dina Gusejnova

Dina Gusejnova, lecturer in Modern history, University of Sheffield

The beginning of the twentieth century was a turbulent period for Europe as it emerged from the First World War, with a revolution in Russia, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, the abolition of many monarchies, and the rise of new nation-states. New actors and new ideas entered the political arena, radically changing the course of European history. How did the old imperial elites reflect on these changes, and how did they adapt to them?

Dina Gusejnova, a lecturer in Modern history at the University of Sheffield, looks into this unstable period through the eyes of German-speaking liberal intellectuals who belonged to the old and new nobility of Germany, Austria, and Russia. In her book, European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) she analyses how these German-speaking intellectuals used their old networks to call for a new Europe. This fascinating book provides a transnational history of the idea of Europe, linking histories of Germany and Russia, which are usually told separately, through the eyes of a cosmopolitan network of authors.

In our conversation, we discussed the place of the old nobility in the new world order. We also talked about transnational approaches to history and the importance of bridging isolated national historiographies, as well as the changing patterns of historical research in the last decade.

–Julia Klimova (University College London)

A Genealogy of a Non-Event: An Interview with Seth Anziska

Seth Anziska, Mohamed S. Farsi-Polonsky Lecturer in Jewish-Muslim Relations, University College London. Credit: Helen Murray.

In Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo (Princeton University Press, 2018), Seth Anziska throws new light on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the unfulfilled Palestinian quest for statehood. The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 has long been hailed as a diplomatic triumph that set the Middle East on a path toward peace. However, drawing on newly available sources in the United States and Israel, as well as international collections, Anziska argues that the Camp David Accords actually came at the expense of Palestinians. Refusing to recognize the Palestinians as a nation deserving of the right to collective self-determination, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin introduced the concept of limited “autonomy” for the “Arab inhabitants” of the West Bank and Gaza. Begin’s formulation flew in the face of the stated position of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. And yet both he and Carter accepted it for the sake of securing Israeli-Egyptian peace. As Anziska demonstrates, the autonomy model proffered by Begin at Camp David would cast a long shadow over future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, serving as the basis of the Oslo Accords negotiated in 1993 and continuing to inform the role of the Palestinian Authority today. Anziska documents this history of roads not taken, offering a “genealogy of a non-event”—the prevention of Palestinian sovereignty.

In the following interview, Anziska and I discuss a range of issues, from the current Israeli political climate and the future of the Palestinian national movement, to the methodological challenges confronting historians of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stakes of writing history that is informed by personal experience.

Daniel Chardell

Credit: Princeton University Press.