Thinking globally about history
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Global History as Past and Future: A Conversation with Sebastian Conrad on "What Is Global History?"
Interviews | March 7, 2016

Global History as Past and Future: A Conversation with Sebastian Conrad on "What Is Global History?"

It's a common question that teachers of global history face. We belong to one of the most quickly-moving, contested, and changing subfields within the historical profession, and the travel schedules on many of our dockets—Istanbul one week, Tokyo the next—make our colleagues who slave away in the same provincial state archive blush. The years spent learning foreign languages begin to pay off, as one can not only read the newspaper but also foreign colleagues' peer review comments on an article scheduled for publication in this or that journal. Life, it seems, is good. But when it comes time to teach global history as a field, one hesitates. For audiences of graduate students, of course, it's possible to follow the tactic of assigning a pile of monographs bringing global history perspectives to different regions of the planet: China the one week, the Gambia the next. But how to put it all together into one common language that speaks to the Americanists and the East Asianists in one seminar? Worse yet: how to teach this all to undergraduate audiences for whom the monograph approach would incite revolt?

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The Emancipators: A Conversation with Amalia Ribi Forclaz on The Politics of Anti-Slavery Movements and European International History
Interviews | February 1, 2016

The Emancipators: A Conversation with Amalia Ribi Forclaz on The Politics of Anti-Slavery Movements and European International History

Globally, the phenomenon of chattel slavery (humans-as-property) and related forms of exploitation, like sex trafficking or the trafficking of children of course persisted long after slavery was abolished in Britain and the United States. Slavery is today illegal in every country in the world, but modern anti-slavery organizations reckon that there are still at least 10 to 30 million people in the world who are owned by other humans, to say nothing of much larger numbers of persons de facto enslaved through some form of debt bondage (itself legally abolished in much of the world, but still present). We may regard slavery through black and white images of plantation labor, in short, but slavery remains a big business today, with estimated global activity amounting to $35 billion, more wealth than half of all countries existent today. Slavery must end—try finding someone who disagrees with this. But as Amalia Ribi Forclaz shows in her new book, Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Anti-Slavery Activism 1880-1940, the distance between ambition and reality, not to mention the thorny political questions that the move to eliminate slavery everywhere in the planet raises, is not new.

Read more about `The Emancipators: A Conversation with Amalia Ribi Forclaz on The Politics of Anti-Slavery Movements and European International History`
Putting the Margin in the Center: Discussing Transnational and Australian History with Professor Fiona Paisley
Interviews | January 22, 2016

Putting the Margin in the Center: Discussing Transnational and Australian History with Professor Fiona Paisley

Our latest guest to the Global History Forum, Fiona Paisley, specializes in international history. Her work is about internationalism, settler colonialism, gender and race in the first half of the twentieth century, from an Australian perspective.

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City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel
Interviews | October 7, 2015

City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel

Paris has long played host to a rather different cast of characters than the romantic writers of the 1920s, or the stick-figure models imagined to inhabit the city by so many Asian tourists. More compellingly, during the 1920s and 1930s, Paris played host to an astounding array of intellectuals who would go on to lead national liberation and Communist movements around the Global South in the decades to come. Some of them, like Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, are familiar to almost everyone; others, like George Padmore, César Vallejo, and Messali Hadj, perhaps less so, even if they, too, played a fundamental role in the making of African, Peruvian, and Algerian history. During the interwar years, Michael Goebel shows in his tightly argued book, published by the Global and International History Series of Cambridge University Press this fall, Paris became a crucial incubator for different models of anti-colonial confrontation that would reshape the world in decades to come.

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Chinese, Christian, Global: Discussing Chinese Popular Histories with Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye
Interviews | October 3, 2015

Chinese, Christian, Global: Discussing Chinese Popular Histories with Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye

Scholars often study Chinese church leaders, and their institutional structure, but we know little about Chinese Christians' life experience at an everyday level. That's where the research of our latest featured scholar on the Global History Forum comes in. Based at the University of Auckland, Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye seeks to enhance our understanding of social and cultural histories of China by studying Chinese ordinary people and in particular Chinese Christians in the first half of the twentieth century. Her research suggests that many Chinese Christians were increasingly aware of the global affairs and China's position in the world during this early twentieth century conjuncture. How, then, did Chinese converts view the place of the Chinese nation in the world? How did they perceive events like the Great War? Like the partial disintegration of European empires following that conflict? And how were the egalitarian ideals of Christianity reconcilable with a world that still spoke the language of "yellow perils" and which often limited the circulation of Chinese into the "white man's world" of European, North American, and Oceanian spaces?

Read more about `Chinese, Christian, Global: Discussing Chinese Popular Histories with Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye`
From Swadeshi to GDP: Discussing India's Paths to Development With Corinna Unger
Interviews | September 1, 2015

From Swadeshi to GDP: Discussing India's Paths to Development With Corinna Unger

As Cold War diplomatic archives have opened their doors only recently–and as historians have also only relatively recently recognized the quest for socioeconomic development as a legitimate object of study–our knowledge of how undeveloped nations became "developed," or "developed" themselves remains clouded. Until, that is, a book like Corinna Unger's Entwicklungspfade in Indien. Eine internationale Geschichte (Developmental Paths in India: An International History) appears. In her book, published this year with the Wallstein Verlag, Unger, a Professor of History at the Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, explores India's engagement of foreign expertise (especially that of the United States and West Germany) from 1947 to 1980.

Read more about `From Swadeshi to GDP: Discussing India's Paths to Development With Corinna Unger`
Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on the League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire
Interviews | August 10, 2015

Guarding Empire, Mandating Statehood: A Conversation with Susan Pedersen on the League of Nations, Internationalism, and the End of Empire

During our brief stroll around Geneva and the Palais des Nations, we find traces of two very different international systems of statehood–empires and nation-states–that nonetheless intersect at this particular piece of very pricey real estate above the waves of Lake Geneva. But how could one tell this story in a more specific way? What was the processual glue between the world of empires that the League of Nations belonged to, and the world of normative statehood, political decolonization, and nation-states that we inhabit today? More than that, to what extent was the League of Nations not only captive to, or affected by these shifts in international order, but actually facilitative of those shifts themselves? While most readers' perceptions of the League of Nations may still center around the presumptive "failure" of that international organization to prevent war in Europe, Susan Pedersen takes a different tack in The Guardians, focusing on the League of Nations mandates system and its effects on international order during the interwar period.

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A Global History Primer: Discussing "Thinking History Globally" with Diego Olstein
Interviews | July 18, 2015

A Global History Primer: Discussing "Thinking History Globally" with Diego Olstein

Diego Olstein, a specialist on medieval Spain and world history, outlines the many ways in which historians today compare, connect, conceptualize and contextualize their subjects beyond pre-existing boundaries of national communities, linguistic boundaries, or pre-defined regions. No mere encyclopedia of global history approaches–Olstein limits his bestiary to twelve kinds–Thinking History Globally also provides readers with applied examples of how these approaches and cognitive patterns might actually be applied to different subjects. More than an entertaining read, the book is thus of great use for the professor or TA confronted with the question of, for example, what it actually means to write the First World War "in a global context."

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Monoglot Empire: Tracing the Journey from Scientific Babel to Global English with Michael Gordin
Interviews | July 5, 2015

Monoglot Empire: Tracing the Journey from Scientific Babel to Global English with Michael Gordin

We have lived in a monoglot world before–one, however, dominated by Latin and not the West Germanic language so many of us now call our own. Not only that, the English that has succeeded as the uniform standard has, as any non-native speaker can tell you, plenty of confusing features: phonemic polyvocality ("stiff," "stuff," and "staff" denote very different things), and plenty of irregular verbs ("freeze" in the past is "froze," not "freezed," for example). So why didn't something more logical and, perhaps more importantly, not ethnic–something not already spoken by the English–win out? Why didn't a more accessible constructed language, like Esperanto, succeed? How did this tectonic shift happen? How did we move from linguistic chaos to seemingly greater uniformity?

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From the Banality of Evil to the Ambivalence of Good: Discussing the History of Human Rights in International Politics with Jan Eckel
Interviews | May 17, 2015

From the Banality of Evil to the Ambivalence of Good: Discussing the History of Human Rights in International Politics with Jan Eckel

When, this past summer, the Russian Federation began sending so-called "humanitarian convoys" into the militarily occupied People's Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, it was not clear whether the gesture marked the ultimate success or failure of humanitarianism and human rights as an international discourse. Half a century prior to the conflict, activists around the world despaired that both decolonization and East-West détente had created a world in which states, whether capitalist or socialist, colonial or post-, were free to abuse or murder their citizens at will without international protests.

Over the next three decades, however, the concept of human rights–long present but often impotent–enjoyed a soaring takeoff in prestige, and by the mid-1990s governments were quick to speak of "humanitarian interventions" or humanitarian bombing campaigns. Most spectacularly, the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has been bandied about as an international norm (if one rejected by China and Russia) to justify potential incursions into Libya or what remains of the Syrian state. In a world in which everything from familiar realpolitik clashes to debates over immigration policy (as many Kosovars seek asylum in Germany) expresses itself in a language of human rights, have only the costumes changed while the actors stay the same?

Read more about `From the Banality of Evil to the Ambivalence of Good: Discussing the History of Human Rights in International Politics with Jan Eckel`
Sandalwood Commonwealth? Traveling Across a Chinese-Australian Pacific with Sophie Loy-Wilson
Interviews | May 4, 2015

Sandalwood Commonwealth? Traveling Across a Chinese-Australian Pacific with Sophie Loy-Wilson

Scan the news these days for news from the western and southern Pacific, and it doesn't require too much reading for the outlines of a multipolar future to emerge. There are, of course, the obvious stories: competition between the United States and China; that relationship's reverberating effect on the Korea-Japan-China triangle; and the effect of a dynamic and rising Vietnam and Indonesia on what is likely to be the main engine of global economic growth in years to come. Sometimes obscured through a focus on the areas of Northeast and Southeast Asia, however, can be the important role that Australia plays in the broader region. While party to numerous strategic agreements with other Commonwealth countries and the United States, the world's twelfth largest economy plays a role as a key trading partner for China. Indeed, one of the major ongoing debates within Australian politics is how this former Dominion, so far from "old" British and former Imperial markets and so close to a region with a near-unlimited appetite for raw materials (plenty of those in Australia's arid interior) should balance between the Angloworld and the East, China in particular.

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Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler
Interviews | April 9, 2015

Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler

Even at a time of a supposed turn towards more global history, our perspectives of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remain dogged by an insistence on the inescapability of regional specificities. Not least among these are the names for these places themselves – Eastern Europe, itself a relatively recent moniker, cuts off places that once tallied among the richest in all of geographical Europe, like Prague, from a "real Europe" of Paris, London, and Rome, as if "Eastern Europe" itself has a specific, idiosyncratic but common character in a way not true of "Western Europe." Even if the process of EU expansion and economic integration has rendered formerly ridiculed "Polacks" into Europeans, the same courtesy is not always extended to Ukrainians or Belarusians. As recent Western discourse over the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine shows, commentators are eager to ethnicize and classify "Russian-speakers" from "Ukrainian-speakers," as if the place is explainable only through reference to ethnicity and identity.

Obviously, the experience of both the Cold War and, for countries further east, membership in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, matters greatly for the present and future of countries like Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and, not least, Russia. But to acknowledge the importance of local specifics or the Soviet heritage is not to admit to its monolithic mattering for the direction of those societies. Kiev and Warsaw as much as Singapore and London can be interrogated with the same array of questions, and with the same comparativist's gaze, that seemingly "more global" sites might invite.

Read more about `Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler`
Getting to (Global) Work with Andrea Komlosy: Discussing "Work: A Global History"
Interviews | March 19, 2015

Getting to (Global) Work with Andrea Komlosy: Discussing "Work: A Global History"

The vocabulary that we use to talk about work remains, in short, of massive political importance, but all too often, we don't scrutinize it very closely. Not, at least until Andrea Komlosy's 2014 book Arbeit: Eine globalhistorische Perspektive (Work: A Global History Perspective), published by Promedia Verlag. We recently had the chance to speak with Komlosy about her road to writing about social history and the history of work, as well as what it means to apply a global history perspective to a theme that necessarily stretches across hundreds of years. Let's get to work, then, and dive into a discussion about Work.

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Thinking Big ... and Small About U.S. History in a Global Context with Daniel Immerwahr
Interviews | February 23, 2015

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

As our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Daniel Immerwahr, shows, the American fascination with community is not some recent invention. 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.

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Down Under, Transnational, Global: Exploring Russian and Soviet History with Philippa Hetherington
Interviews | February 12, 2015

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

Philippa Hetherington 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.

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