Thinking globally about history
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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.

Read more about `Sandalwood Commonwealth? Traveling Across a Chinese-Australian Pacific with Sophie Loy-Wilson`
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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Unweaving Sven Beckert's "Empire of Cotton: A Global History"
Interviews | January 26, 2015

Unweaving Sven Beckert's "Empire of Cotton: A Global History"

A global history of cotton, Sven Beckert explains in Empire of Cotton, is enlightening for several reasons. Firstly, its spatial organization shifted radically during the last three hundred years. Due to the difficulties of growing cotton in cold, damp Europe, Eurasia or North America, it should come as no surprise that most cotton cultivation–and, for ages–production was confined to local industries in places like China and, above all, India. But by the 18th and 19th century, a radical shift was underway, as the finished production of cotton goods shifted towards what we now identify as the industrial heartlands of the North Atlantic economy: the textile mills of northern England and a panoply of mill towns in Continental Europe and North America.

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Of Nation-States and the United States: An Interview with Ryan Irwin
Interviews | January 20, 2015

Of Nation-States and the United States: An Interview with Ryan Irwin

Understanding the present and future of American internationalism requires understanding its past–not only through the lens of America, moreover, but understanding how the American project interacted with exogenous shifts and shocks to the international system, too–the ebb and flow of German, then Russian power, or decolonization, for example.

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Immigrants, Railroads, America, Germany: An Interview with Julío Robert Decker
Interviews | December 22, 2014

Immigrants, Railroads, America, Germany: An Interview with Julío Robert Decker

In his work to date, historian Robert Julio Decker, a scholar at the Technical University in Darmstadt, has explored the history of immigration regimes, while his future work promises to contribute the exploding literature on the history of capitalism. Speaking with him earlier this year during his tenure as a fellow at Harvard University, we discuss his path to global history, his early work, and his ongoing research on the global history of capitalism in the United States and the German Empire.

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Peace Without Victory: Adam Tooze on "The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order 1916-1931"
Interviews | November 29, 2014

Peace Without Victory: Adam Tooze on "The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order 1916-1931"

The American entrance into European and global affairs really took on full shape concomitant to the First World War–an insight that drives much of The Deluge, and which explains its temporal framing. 1916 was the year when American economic output exceeded that of the British Empire, 1931 the year of Herbert Hoover's moratorium on war debts. As commentators today question whether we might be entering a "post-American century," understanding how the American giant burst onto the global scene in the first place is all the more urgent. The Toynbee Prize Foundation had the opportunity to sit down with Adam Tooze recently to discuss his path to history, the book, and his future projects for this installment of Global History Forum.

Read more about `Peace Without Victory: Adam Tooze on "The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order 1916-1931"`
The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman
Interviews | November 17, 2014

The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman

The Sino-Soviet Split, as it is called in English and Russian ("Sino-Soviet Hostility" in Chinese – zhōng sū jiāo'è), had ramifications that went far beyond the oceans of red dye spilled by the Mercator projections. As country after country "the Third World" gained independence, the Soviets and the Chinese were among the few major powers that offered compelling developmental – and historical narratives – to fledgling nations. But what would the meaning of Revolution be in a decolonizing world? Was Revolution really about anti-capitalism, as the Soviets argued? Or was the real essence of Revolution opposition to empire, as their Chinese rivals put forward? How did the Chinese challenge affect the Soviet outreach to the Third World, and vice-versa? And what was the effect of the Sino-Soviet Split on the intellectual repertoire of a global Left?

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Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck
Interviews | October 19, 2014

Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck

Jenifer Van Vleck devoted years to scouring through the archives of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) and numerous government and Presidential Archives to tell the story of a corporation–and an industry–that reveals much about the shape of American corporate globalism and American empire. The Global History Forum was delighted to sit down with her this summer to discuss her intellectual journey, Empire of the Air, and her upcoming work in the history of technology and American foreign relations.

Read more about `Empire of the Air, Empire of the Earth: American History in a Global Context with Jenifer van Vleck`
Globalizing Time, Globalizing Capital: A Conversation with Vanessa Ogle
Interviews | October 12, 2014

Globalizing Time, Globalizing Capital: A Conversation with Vanessa Ogle

Until the late 19th century, as University of Pennsylvania professor and global historian Vanessa Ogle shows in her work, efforts towards a global standardization of time ranged from negligible to chaotic. The standardization of time that we have today, and the divisions that we use–Central European Time from Madrid to Montenegro, Greenwich Mean Time, and scientifically controlled Coordinated Universal Time to keep time zones themselves punctual–are all relatively recent inventions. Unpacking this story, and seeing how contentious the seemingly most universal thing in the world–time–could be are great themes for global history. That's why the Global History Forum was excited to sit down to interview Ogle, who is close to publishing her findings on the history of time standardization and well underway on a second project on the global history of "archipelago capitalism."

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Conquering Peace: Exploring European History with Stella Ghervas
Interviews | October 5, 2014

Conquering Peace: Exploring European History with Stella Ghervas

As pundits race to search for historical parallels–the Crimean War, the Sudetenland Crisis, even the rise of the Ottoman Empire–it's especially important for professional historians with an understanding of peace and the European political system, to share their findings with the public. The tortuous ways by which a warren of quarrelsome princedoms, duchies, and empires became a European Union by the late 20th century–a haven of peace and cooperation in a world too often scarred by conflict–demands explanation. It is also essential for the Europeans themselves to better understand how peace was accomplished, if they wish to better perceive the risks and opportunities that lie ahead with the Ukrainian crisis.

Read more about `Conquering Peace: Exploring European History with Stella Ghervas`
Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii
Interviews | September 28, 2014

Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

Read more about `Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii`
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