The essays in this special issue focus on the complex relationship between regional expertise and global perspectives in historical writing. While early approaches to global history have been criticized often for presenting a regionally unbalanced and all too harmonious narrative of an ever more interconnected world, the traditional academic and historiographical distinction between different world regions has impeded more often than not comparative approaches and perspectives of entanglements that cross imagined spatial boundaries. Originating in several lectures organized by the Center of Global Studies of the University of Bern in 2015, the revised papers of four specialists on specific world regions (Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe) address the chances and challenges that global history approaches have brought to regional historical research. Further two contributions by colleagues working in the field of global history offer their reflections on how regional diversity can or should be reflected within global history approaches.
Global History and Area Histories
Vol. 29 No. 2 (2019)
published by Christian Büschges and Stefan Scheuzger
The article traces the relationship between Latin American history and global history and argues that both fields serve an important bridging function for each other. While Latin American history can help to overcome the opposition between global history and historical area studies, global history can contribute to reconciling Latin American history with the parent discipline by integrating Latin America as an integral part of a global historiography. Due to its interdependencies and hybrid history, already established in the early modern era, Latin America is especially fruitful for global historical questions.
Against the backdrop of the development of Africanist historiography over the last fifty years, this article asks whether global history could be seen as the latest turn in African history: To what extent does the emergent field of global history shape African history, and is shaped by it? This contribution refers to a long tradition of placing Africa in the long sweep of global history, as exemplified by W.E.B. Du Bois 1946 essay The World and Africa. On the other hand, it emphasizes, that to historians in Africa, global history appears to be yet another western imposition on the writing of history, that stresses Africa as a site of damage – because Africa is mainly prominent in global history writings through references to the slave trade – and it devalues local knowledge and sources.
After revisiting transnationally oriented historiography from within a regional South Asian ambit, this article makes a plea for a very specific take on global-history writing that promises to appeal especially to historians who have learned to value dense regional / cultural contextualisation through a training in “area studies”. The approach proposed here acknowledges the validity of micro-approaches in that it advocates the use of the focused analysis of individuals, organisations or institutions and an exploration of their multifarious entanglements and interactions. Yet, while the contextualisation in micro-spatial units is pivotal, a simultaneous awareness of broader contexts and connections as well as a consciousness of the existence and significance of wider analytical frames of analysis – such as the regional, the national or imperial and, of course, the global is equally important. In fact, it is precisely the ability to “zoom out,” to capture the influence of translocal factors on local processes that makes the proposed variety of “global micro-history” work. Potential and limits of the proposed approach are eventually illustrated with an example taken from the author’s work on village development programmes launched by the American YMCA in South Asia in the interwar period.
Elaborating on the history of nineteenth-century Russia, this article argues that world-regional histories and the global history approach benefit from each other. Global history has to be informed by source-based inquiries in spaces where the regional and the global meet. In the past three decades historians of nineteenth-century Russia and global historians have been affected by related imperatives: historians of Russia deconstructed a russocentric view of Russia’s past which veiled the diversity of a multiethnic empire while global historians reached out to deconstruct a eurocentric reading of world history. The article highlights case studies of Princess Olga Aleksandrovna Shcherbatova and Fedor Fedorovich Martens which shed light onto Russians‘ involvement in exploring and internationalizing the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The academic field of global history has recently started to enter into a phase of consolidation that necessitates us to rethink the scientific aims of the field, the questions it tackles as well as the instruments that it has at its disposal. In this regard, the article seeks to reconceptualize the notion of global connections that is so central to the field. It suggests to analytically focus on four aspects of global connections that have often been neglected: their role as mediators, their existence in the plural, their subtlety as well as their relation to other connections or disconnections.
The article identifies an imbalance in the attention given to global history’s two fundamental objectives, the focus hitherto having fallen more on the study of cross-border connections than on the vaunted decentring of historiographical perspective. The example of the modern history of the prison serves to illustrate some basic problems faced by efforts to identify cross-border transfers and assess their historical significance for local, national or regional developments. The need for a decentring of historiographical perspectives is illustrated firstly by reference to the fact that, contrary to the established narrative, the globalization of the prison was a process characterized by a multiplicity of shifting centres. To help grasp such global processes it proposes the concept of a multiple “frame of references”. Secondly, the article emphasizes the importance to global historical research, alongside attention to transfers, of the comparative approach. Deploying the distinction between “hard” and “soft” versions of global history, it finally distinguishes between polycentric global history and global history still written from the standpoint of area history, only the former properly engaging with the globality of historical phenomena.