Global intellectual history

Featured Interviews

Seleucid Global? Time and Empire in the Hellenistic Near East: An Interview with Paul J. Kosmin
Interviews | December 9, 2019

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

Kosmin's work is part of a recent historiographical move to reevaluate the familiar narrative of the Seleucid Empire as a sprawling, dysfunctional, Oriental empire. His most recent book, Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire, explores the time of this empire, which he argues was radically new and can be characterized as linear, empty, and homogeneous. This new technology of time drew the empire's subjects into one commensurable temporal framework. Such commensurable time, in turn, provoked various rediscoveries of indigenous pasts within a new scheme of Seleucid time and historicality. This generated a sense of temporal incommensurability between Seleucid and indigenous times and between past, present, and future—and it played into and gave shape to an atmosphere of pan-imperial revolt.

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Islam, Constitutionalism, and the Nation State in Afghanistan: An Interview with Faiz Ahmed
Interviews | December 5, 2018

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

In his book, Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires, Faiz Ahmed, Associate Professor of History at Brown University, 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.

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Populism in History: An Interview with Federico Finchelstein
Interviews | July 24, 2018

Populism in History: An Interview with Federico Finchelstein

In his book, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017) Federico Finchelstein 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.

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Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner
Interviews | May 30, 2018

Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner

In Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual , Daniel Bessner tells the story of a previously little-known German sociologist who changed the way we think about the role of intellectuals in American public policy-making. Speier worked as a lecturer at the Hochschule für Politik, a college of worker's education. With the rise of Nazism, Speier's infatuation with Marxist theory, socialism, and the people waned. Democracy, after all, had put Hitler in charge. When Speier moved to America, he brought the trauma of the crisis of Weimar with him. This crisis was the result of excessive trust placed in an inherently untrustworthy demos. He consequently advocated expert governance as an alternative to broad-based popular rule. To defend democracy against both Nazis and Soviets, Speier argued, the United States had to become more authoritarian. His story traces the rise of the American "defense intellectual" as well as the emergence of what has come to be known as the U.S. "military-intellectual complex."

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The Arabic Freud: An Interview with Omnia El Shakry
Interviews | April 4, 2018

The Arabic Freud: An Interview with Omnia El Shakry

The Arabic Freud, then, explores the multivalent encounters between psychoanalysis and Islamic thought, turning and returning to the question of the unconscious and the modern subject. At once disruptive of the oppositions that drive narratives of incommensurability between psychoanalysis and Islam (i.e. attempts to "put Islam on the couch" and civilizing missions of psychoanalysis) and conductive of the epistemological resonances between discursive traditions, The Arabic Freud offers and inspires ethical possibility.

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Global Histories of Neoliberalism: An Interview with Quinn Slobodian
Interviews | March 21, 2018

Global Histories of Neoliberalism: An Interview with Quinn Slobodian

Quinn Slobodian reveals how neoliberal thinkers developed a vision of global free trade in goods and capital, though not necessarily people, during the crises of the 1930s and the era of decolonization. In his book, Globalists, he argues that neoliberal thinkers did not oppose the state and prize individualism, but rather sought to use rules to encase the market away from democratic governance. His discussion with us also presented a chance to explore neoliberals' interpretations of the nexus between law and economics as well as current debates over the significance of racism to neoliberal thought. Slobodian explained the role of Central Europe in the global history of neoliberalism and the legacy of the Habsburg Empire for neoliberals' understanding of political economy. Slobodian addressed the critical conflation of neoliberalism, economism, and pretensions to all-knowability in the recent historiography of the "invention of the economy."

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Revolution in Context: An Interview with Justin du Rivage
Interviews | February 21, 2018

Revolution in Context: An Interview with Justin du Rivage

The American Revolution is the keystone of the US national story and so its origins have garnered much attention from American historians. But to what extent were the Revolution's causes imperial, transnational, or even global in nature? Justin du Rivage's new book Revolution Against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence  makes a powerful argument that competing ideologies of sovereignty developed on both sides of the Atlantic. In this wider context, it becomes clear that 1776 did not erupt from a divide between "British" and "American", but from the clash between establishment, authoritarian, and radical ideologies of governance and reform.

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Protectionism and Empire: An Interview with Marc-William Palen
Interviews | January 10, 2018

Protectionism and Empire: An Interview with Marc-William Palen

In The 'Conspiracy' of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896, Marc-William Palen traces the roots of the trade liberalisation debate to the United States in the 1840s. There began a political and ideological battle between Victorian free trade cosmopolitanism and economic nationalism which lasted the remainder of the century and beyond. Talks about tariffs dominated American political life. Through them, Palen is able to tell a much broader story. The Republican and Democratic parties were transformed in the process. Debates about trade influenced the character of American imperial and commercial expansion, as well as the contours of the Anglo-American struggle for empire and globalisation. Palen's argument that economic nationalism dominated the period also forces us to rethink received notions of the US Gilded Age, which is usually portrayed as an era dominated by laissez-faire and free trade.

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Time and Space in the History of Globalism: An Interview with Or Rosenboim
Interviews | November 30, 2017

Time and Space in the History of Globalism: An Interview with Or Rosenboim

In December 1945, a group of intellectuals and academics met in Chicago to devise a world constitution. Just a few months earlier, the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the words of the group's convenor, global control over nuclear weaponry was imperative to prevent "world suicide." Over the course of the next two years, the group met monthly to hash out a plan for world government. But when the results of their deliberations were published as a world constitution in 1948, it was greeted mostly with skepticism and derision. Since the project had begun in 1945, the world had moved on—the bipolarity of the early Cold War had narrowed the possibilities for world cooperation and a whole new set of international institutions (most notably, the United Nations) had been created. This interview ranges from questions of temporality and spatiality to global intellectual histories of "minor thinkers" and the importance of the 1940s in the history of the state.

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How to Start an Empire: An Interview with Steven Press
Interviews | October 4, 2017

How to Start an Empire: An Interview with Steven Press

In Rogue Empires, Stephen Press offers a pre-history to current claims to sovereignty, taking his readers back to a time in the mid-nineteenth century when empires across South Asia and Africa were started and governed by companies and adventurers. Many of these individuals were what Press deems "disreputable types": men like James Brooke, a British East India Company veteran who, by agreement with the Sultan of Brunei, became rajah of Sarawak on the island of Borneo in 1841. In Press's telling, the ventures of private actors like Brooke culminated in the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, where Belgium's King Leopold and the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck extended the imprimatur of European legitimacy to these "rogue empires." The European powers would later rely on these private entities as precedents for establishing and extending colonies in Niger, South Africa, the Congo, Namibia, Cameroon, and beyond.

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A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi
Interviews | September 15, 2017

A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi

Seema Alavi's book Muslim Cosmopolitanism is a fundamentally revisionist text that works through the category of the individual and of the nation. She draws out the history of how a modern vision of Islamic universal selfhood was articulated in the mid-nineteenth century: the processes that connected Indic reformist strands in Islam with Hamidian notions of modernity centred on jurisprudence. In her account, cities such as Cairo thus appear as more than just a site that elucidated anti-British nationalism. Importantly, the book foregrounds how modern histories of South Asia limit key protagonists in this larger global story to the territorial bounds of modern India, even as the records of imperial Britain show how they negotiated trans-imperial identities across South Asia and the Ottoman empire.

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Human Rights and the Global South: A Conversation with Steven L. B. Jensen
Interviews | July 17, 2017

Human Rights and the Global South: A Conversation with Steven L. B. Jensen

Viewed from today's perspective, it might seem like it's only recently that the US has ceded global leadership on human rights. But, as Dr. Steven L. B. Jensen shows in his book The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values (2016), the history of human rights was never simply a story of American or Western hegemony. Moving the locus of study to Jamaica, Ghana, the Philippines, Liberia and beyond, Jensen argues that human rights were as shaped from within the Global South as they were from without. In Jensen's words, actors from the Global South "gave a master class in international human rights diplomacy to both the Eastern and the Western actors."

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The Other Intellectuals: A Conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Raymond Aron and International Order
Interviews | December 10, 2016

The Other Intellectuals: A Conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Raymond Aron and International Order

Raymond Aron represents one of the most important intellectuals to take stock of the global situation in the twentieth century. A frequent commentator to French debates through his position at the Sorbonne and Collège de France, and his long-time column at the newspaper Le Figaro (and, later, L'Express), he engaged in debates about the Algerian war of independence, the meaning of the 1968 student protests in France, and France's position in a world marked by the East-West conflict, decolonization, and economic reconstruction in Europe. There is another side to Aron that his current translation into the North American scene barely captures: namely, his engagement with American intellectual thought on themes like neoliberalism, modernization theory, and détente. Throughout his career, Aron debated and challenged Anglophone intellectuals like Edward Shils, Walt Rostow, Friedrich Hayek and others as intellectuals across the Atlantic found intellectual legitimizations for American hegemony. Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins's account also captures an Aron best understood not as a static "responsible" intellectual never changing, but rather as an evolving intellect who by the end of his life had arguably become a neoconservative. By the early 1980s, Aron was less committed to the kind of social democratic politics that marked his work from the 1940s and 1950s.

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Anti-Westernism in Question: An Interview with Cemil Aydin on Pan-Asianism, Pan-Islamism, and the Idea of the "Muslim World" in History
Interviews | October 12, 2016

Anti-Westernism in Question: An Interview with Cemil Aydin on Pan-Asianism, Pan-Islamism, and the Idea of the "Muslim World" in History

Non-Muslim communities and other religions have historically been disenchanted with European colonization and its claims that the white race and Christianity were somehow superior. This disenchantment makes us question whether anti-Westernism is a derivative of anti-colonial critiques or whether it represents a distinctively religious reaction to modernity. Such wider analysis is crucial in order to understand why anti-Western ideas persist in current times. Ottoman pan-Islamism and Japanese pan-Asianism play a vital role in deciphering the influence of anti-Western ideas on global history. Both Ottoman Turkey and Japan struggled with the ideas about Western "the standards of civilization" around the same time. Do the events and ideological currents in these two empires help us understand anti-Westernisms today?

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Featured Articles

The Philippine Revolution constructs ‘Asia’ and Civilization from the periphery
Article | June 12, 2020

The Philippine Revolution constructs ‘Asia’ and Civilization from the periphery

In tracing the intellectual genealogy of the Philippine nation, Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz excavated what turned out to be far more complex theoretical and historical bases to the construction not only of the Filipino, but also of Asia, race, and a concept of place that could challenge imperial claims of rightful sovereignty. Her book Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887-1912 investigates precisely what ground the Philippine nation built itself upon intellectually, excavating its neglected cosmopolitan and transnational Asian moorings in particular, in order to reconnect Philippine history to that of Southeast and East Asia. It also recovers the “periphery” of the discourse of Pan-Asianism, which was built on material aid and the fantasy and affect of transnational anti-colonial Asian solidarity. The book seeks to make that periphery legible to the center and to expand our discursive, East Asia-centric understanding of Pan-Asianism more generally.

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Featured Blog Posts

Featured Reading Lists

What We're Reading This Week
The Blog | March 12, 2020

What We're Reading This Week

The 1918–1919 "Spanish flu" pandemic resulted in dramatic mortality worldwide. Photo credit: Wikipedia. Kristie Flannery … Timothy Brook, "Blame China? Outbreak orientalism, from the plague to coronavirus", The Globe and Mail … Why has China been blamed as the wellspring of global pandemics?
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