Category: Interviews

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.

Histories of the Big and Small: An Interview with Mark Mazower

Mark Mazower, Columbia University

As the discipline of history continues to expand beyond the powerful few, historians face the challenges that come with trying to uncover and illuminate the experiences of the powerless. The great upheavals of the twentieth century affected millions of people around the globe, but history’s traditional tools seem insufficient in the face of so many tangled stories. Addressing this problem requires a re-examination of the role of place, people, and power in the telling of history.

In What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home (New York: Other Press, 2017), Mark Mazower, Professor of History at Columbia University, delves into the history of his own family, exploring his father’s and grandfather’s paths through the turbulent twentieth century. In the course of this exploration, Mazower touches on questions of identity and place, expanding on similar themes developed in his work on the history of Greece, Europe, and the world in the twentieth century.

Here, Mark Mazower discusses the experience of telling a personal narrative in a historical context, the struggles and opportunities presented by writing history with a focus on nations and people outside of the immediate center of power, and the importance of revisiting early twentieth-century political discussions in our current moment.

Natalie Behrends (New York University)

The Age of Questions: An Interview with Holly Case

“The book’s cover is based loosely on a patch of wallpaper in a rented apartment. While thinking about the age of questions and staring at the wallpaper, the design began to suggest the book’s structure. As the several threads come together and push apart, sometimes the light makes the pattern they describe flash out all the more clearly. And how apt that it’s wallpaper, because the idea was to see the patterns that emerge after staring long and hard at something that otherwise appears only as background.” –Holly Case

In The Age of Questions (Princeton University Press, 2018), historian Holly Case (Brown University) presents seven interpretations of the many “questions” of the long nineteenth century—the Eastern, Social, Woman, American, Jewish, Polish, Bullion, and Tuberculosis Questions, among others.

Previous historians have questioned the reality of several such “x questions,” demonstrating, for example, how bourgeois nationalists sought to impose the categories of nation on people often unaccustomed or resistant to thinking in such terms. Holly Case sets herself a more ambitious task. She seeks to understand why nineteenth-century actors frequently framed political matters as “x questions”, what thinking in “x questions” served to do and collectively inclined toward, and how the many “x questions” were entangled across regions and domains of life.

Case’s work enables us to more forthrightly confront how current questions, scholarly and popular, are interpolated with the “x questions” of the long nineteenth century. In offering half a dozen distinct interpretations, internally coherent yet sometimes conflicting, she introduces a novel mode of writing history. It is a book ideally composed to provoke questions and invite common debate in today’s “age of fracture.”

Liat Spiro (Harvard University/College of the Holy Cross)

How Do We Teach Global History? A Toynbee Prize Conversation

In this new feature for the Toynbee Prize Blog, we’ve invited five academics, representing a variety of institutions around the world, to reflect upon their experiences in designing and delivering courses to undergraduate and graduate students in global history.

What are the current challenges for teaching global history? What materials or techniques have proven effective? What are the pedagogical implications of these approaches? These are just some of the issues we will explore in an open, frank exchange of ideas.

We hope reflecting upon the pedagogy of global history will prove of use to our wider readership as we consider how the subject may be taught going forward.

Process: We’ve asked respondents to answer five broad questions. Once all responses were received, the editor shared the responses amongst the participants, inviting comment and re-appraisal of responses. These further responses were then lightly copy-edited before publication.

Participants:

Dr Qiao Yu (Capital Normal University Beijing)

Dr Philippa Hetherington (University College London)

Dr João Júlio Gomes dos Santos Júnior (Universidade Estadual do Ceará)

Dr Steffen Rimner (Utrecht University)

Sean Phillips (University of Oxford)

Islam, Constitutionalism, and the Nation State in Afghanistan: An Interview with Faiz Ahmed

In January of 2004, following weeks of debate by a Loya Jirga, an Afghan variant of a national assembly, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan adopted a constitution. As boldly declared in its opening chapter, Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution pledged to create “a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, preservation of human dignity, protection of human rights, realization of democracy, attainment of national unity as well as equality between all peoples and tribes.” It also stipulated that no law would contravene the tenets and provisions of Islam. At the time, outside observers noted with great fanfare the avowed synthesis of republican and Islamic principles contained within the constitution, and its prescription of laws which melded Islam and democratic values.

Afghanistan Rising. Source: Harvard University Press

As Faiz Ahmed, Associate Professor of History at Brown University, shows in his book, Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires, the 2004 constitution was not the inception of Afghan constitutional history. Nor was the model of state-shariʿa interaction on display there the only one attested within this history. Ninety years before the adoption of the 2004 charter, a Loya Jirga had approved Afghanistan’s first written constitution, as well as scores of supplementary legal codes produced by a multinational drafting commission assembled by Amir Amanullah Khan, the king of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929, whose project of Islamic legal reform and creativity is at the heart of this book.

In order to understand Amanullah’s project of legal codification, Ahmed situates the history of modern Afghanistan in a context of trade, interimperial rivalry, and intellectual and cultural exchange prevailing between today’s Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East from the 17th-20th centuries. The book recounts the birth of the Afghan state out of the ashes of the Mughal and Safavid empires, and traces, from the mid-19th century, increasing official contacts between the Afghan leadership and the Ottoman Empire, which at this time embarked on an eastward diplomatic and economic push to counter the gains made by European trading companies and states and to strike its roots deeper into Central Asia.

At the center of this history are not militant adventures and jihads, but the networks and content of a broader series of crossborder associations and relationships he designates as “Islamic legal modernism” and “juridical Pan-Islamism.” Both processes are rooted in the publication and study of Islamic legal and administrative literature by Muslim scholars and lawyers from the Balkans to Bengal. Within this framework, Ahmed considers the Tanzimat reforms, the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, and the Ottoman Civil Code (also known as the Mecelle) as leading examples of state-directed projects of Islamic legal modernism in the Ottoman domains. Such projects had unexpected ramifications outside of Ottoman territories, sometimes traceable through the itineraries of representatives of the Ottoman state. The impact of these projects, along with a range of other Ottoman initiatives, was largely felt via the presence of Ottoman experts and experts from the British Indian domain, who had made their way to Kabul in search of employment over a period of about 40 years preceding the reign of Amanullah. These professionals constituted an Ottoman and Indian “rule of experts” in Kabul, assisting the three generations of Afghanistan’s Muhammadzai Amirate (1880-1929) analyzed in this book in their various projects of centralization and reform.

Combining episodes of elite diplomacy and royal family politics, the grassroots itineraries of pilgrims and students, and Afghan acclaim for the institution of the Ottoman caliphate, which mounted from the last quarter of the 19th century and peaked during World War I, the book converges upon the years following Afghan independence in 1919 and the legal reforms of King Amanullah Khan (1892-1960). The young scion of the Muhammadzai dynasty, after casting off the yoke of British protectorate status, launched immediately into a series of wide-ranging reforms. Among these was the drafting of the Nizamnama (translating as legal “protocols” or “codes” from Persian and Pashtu), which included over seventy originally-crafted statutes, manuals, and administrative regulations. At the heart of the Nizamnama was the Qanun-i Asasi (the “Basic Code”), Afghanistan’s first constitution. As Ahmed points out, the provisions in the Qanun-i Asasi calling for a rule by shariʿa were more than lip-service, or Islamic “window-dressing,” but actually contained legal precedent drawn from Islamic legal sources.

Afghanistan Rising tells a story of a modern Islamic project of statecraft and legal synthesis, undertaken against a background of broader regional connections. The early legal history of Afghanistan is an account of an Islamic politics that did not, as in contemporary cases, grasp for imported European legal codes. Nor did it constitute a case of Salafi or “Wahhabi” ideologies of Islamic reform. Rather, King Amanullah’s project emerged out of a rich history of what Ahmed calls “interislamic” cultural exchange and modern visions of politics, including a unique adaptation and application of the shariʿa to the form of the modern nation-state.

–Joshua Milstein