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.
“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)
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.
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.
The movement of people across borders, seas and deserts saturate contemporary international news headlines. Refugees are often described in legalistic and sensationalistic terms: the assumption being that the search for refuge is an exceptional and out-of-character experience that should take place within the parameters of international law. Yet the language used to speak about the movement of people has as much to do with its historical context than the actual experiences of movement and migration. Indeed, the history of migration is an ancient one, while attempts to control and rationalize the movement of people only arose with the modern state.
In Elusive Refuge: Chinese Migrants in the Cold War (Harvard University Press, 2016) Laura Madokoro spotlights the history of migrants leaving the post-1949 People’s Republic of China for the then-British colony of Hong Kong and beyond. This movement—and the millions of people who fled China—was largely ignored, especially when compared to displaced peoples in Europe. In addition to recovering these stories, Dr. Madokoro argues that framed in the context of the Cold War they can tell us much about humanitarianism, geopolitics and the shadow of settler colonialism, from the Antipodes to North America and South Africa.
I recently met with Laura Madokoro in Montreal, where she works as a historian at McGill University. She discussed the politics of migration during the global Cold War, the revelatory nature of language when describing people in motion, and her current and future research plans. Elusive Refuge is her first book. You can follow her on twitter via @LauraMadokoro and keep an eye on the evolution of her current projects here.
David Engerman, Professor of History, Yale University
In The Price of Aid: The Economic Cold War in India (Harvard University Press, 2018), David Engerman, a leading historian of US and Soviet modernization ideology and expertise, extends his focus to the intricacy of Cold War competition in India. Through an adroit study of Indian, American, and Soviet domestic and international politics regarding aid for Indian development, he analyzes the complex dance behind how and why particular development projects were built. The debates that surrounded these projects attempted to shape, and were in turn shaped by Cold War conflict and the political maneuvering of the Indian state. Price of Aid deftly captures and articulates the contradiction at the heart of development assistance—that international aid for nation-building projects sought by post-colonial states came with consequences that constrained the very state sovereignty those projects aimed to serve.
Our conversation, at Intelligentsia Coffee in Watertown, MA this June, was wide-ranging—on the arc of Engerman’s remarkable intellectual career, the evolution of the historiography on development, the relationship between decolonization and the Cold War, and that of governmentality and geopolitics, to flag just a few themes that arise in the following interview.
Job Kozhamthadam at the University of Maryland in the 1980s
Few today acknowledge the role of religion in the development of modern science and technology. But scholars have shown that religion has actively contributed to the rise of modern science. Joseph Satish sat down to discuss this and other matters with the award-winning historian and philosopher of science, Job Kozhamthadam.
Kozhamthadam is one of a unique breed of scholars who specialize in the history and philosophy of science – unique, because he also happens to be a Catholic Jesuit priest. His journey from a young boy in a nondescript town in South India to being acclaimed as a pioneer in the history of science and religion in India is interesting and inspiring.
Kozhamthadam is a Professor of Science and Cosmology at Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, India. He was previously a Visiting Professor in the History and Philosophy of Science at Loyola University, Chicago. He completed his PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. His first book, The Discovery of Kepler’s Laws: The Interaction of Science, Philosophy, and Religion (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994) was named Outstanding Academic Book of the Year 1994 by Choice Magazine. His other books include East-West Interface Of Reality: A Scientific And Intuitive Inquiry Into The Nature Of Reality (2003), Science, Technology And Values: Science-Religion Dialogue In A Multi-Religious World (2003) and Science, Mysticism And East-West Dialogue (2016). He founded the Indian Institute of Science and Religion (IISR) in 1999.
Prof. Antoinette Burton, Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, UIUC
The British Empire, in its various guises, remains a rich historiographical field. Over the course of the past forty years, imperial history has undergone a series of changes stemming from the cultural turn, postmodernism, and postcolonial studies. A central element of this has been to break away from the male-dominated approaches to the ‘Official Mind’, and incorporating gender, race, and class into our understanding of Empire. Professor Antoinette Burton of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been at the forefront of this change, as part of a wider group of scholars breaking down the insular boundaries of the field. Prof. Burton is a historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain and its empire, with a specialty in colonial India and an ongoing interest in Australasia and Africa. She has written on topics ranging from feminism and colonialism to the relationship of empire to the nation and the world.
Throughout her career, Antoinette Burton has drawn our attention to the place of women in imperial movements in Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture 1865-1915 (UNC Press, 1994), the experiences of non-white subjects moving across the empire in At the Heart of Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (University of California Press, 1998), and the perpetual weakness of the empire itself in The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism (Oxford UP, 2015). These works, as well as her extensive list of further publications, have allowed us to understand the metropole and empire as co-constitutive, with bodies and ideas crossing imperial boundaries and breaking down previously held assumptions of insularity. Revealing the voices of marginalized groups has also stimulated a wide array of research into localized perceptions of empire.
In this interview, Burton discusses the origins of her interest in gender and the British Empire, and her transition to broader questions of British imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We also spoke about the pitfalls of studying the Empire in the current era of revisionism and imperial nostalgia, and how we as historians can combat the challenges raised by the amnesia surrounding colonial actions. Finally, we talked about how both collaborative projects and the field of World History can enrich our understanding of the British Empire, as well as the benefits of these approaches to early career researchers.
Federico Finchelstein, Del Fascismo al Populismo en la Historia (Taurus) and From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).
Academics and commentators across the world have diagnosed what seems to them a global crisis of liberal-democracy. Many of them have focused in on populism, forming what some have called a ‘populism industry’. Feeding a confused and worried public’s desire for a prognosis, they have crafted definitions of populism that can explain and connect the seemingly new tide of right-wing politics in many very different contexts around the world.
Federico Finchelstein, Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, argues that to understand our contemporary political predicament, we should instead start by contextualizing it by studying the actual historical experiences of populism within the long-term patterns of challenges to democracy. This, he insists, is preferable to theorizing perfect definitions of populism. Starting in 1945 in Latin America, where fascistic sentiments were reformulated for a post-war era and then brought into power through democratically elected governments, Finchelstein takes us around the world to see both patterns and divergences as this specific form of anti-democratic sentiment, populism, is expressed in various political contexts.
His book, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017) provides the reader with an understanding of many of the most important theories of populism and how these theories stack up in the face of the ‘messiness’ of the global historical record. This hybrid intellectual-political history demonstrates how fascism and populism are connected but not the same, and why this matters for understanding the world today. In doing so, Finchelstein shows why we cannot afford not to have historians engage in contemporary political conversations.
The Dutch in Japan have often been represented as a pragmatic company of merchants that prioritized the quiet progress of commerce over everything else. Not quite, says Adam Clulow, Associate Professor of history at Monash University and author of the acclaimed monograph The Company and the Shogun (Columbia University Press, 2013).
Clulow’s work on the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and its role in the turbulent political environment of East Asia challenges standard views of power relations in the diplomatic encounter between early modern Europe and East Asia. Looking at conflict and negotiation between a European overseas enterprise and a powerful military government in Japan, Clulow questions analytical categories such as state and company, piracy and privateering, diplomacy and violence. The VOC, he shows, was a master shapeshifter, altering its appearance whenever it needed to. When it came to Tokugawa Japan, the Company was in fact relatively small and weak. Clulow’s work challenges widespread notions about early modern relationships between Europe and East Asia, and the evolution of modern state institutions.