This course is devoted to reading, discussion, and analysis of classic and recent works on global, or world, history. Two decades ago, professional historians rarely used the term “global history.” History has traditionally – and to a significant degree, remains – an “area studies” discipline that trains students in the history, culture, and language(s) of a specific geographic region. For pre-modern historians, the focus has generally been on empires. For modern historians, the focus has traditionally been on nation-states. Indeed, history as an academic discipline emerged – by no means coincidentally – in the nineteenth century, the age of nationalism and the construction of nation-states.
Much has changed since the 1980s. Due to myriad factors – e.g., the end of the Cold War; the emergence of a multipolar world as a result of the rise of China, Brazil, India, Turkey, and Russia and the relative decline in U.S. economic and political influence; the “contraction” of the planet as a result of the opening of borders and breakthroughs in technology; the emergence of an interconnected global, consumer-oriented, capitalist economy dominated by transnational industrial and media corporations – historians have begun to think and, to a limited extent, train students in global history. The term itself is not without ambiguity. Generally, it signifies an approach to the human past that focuses on patterns and themes that transcend geographic, political, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. Themes that have been a focus of global history include the rise and fall of “civilizations” and “world systems”; exchange in its myriad forms (e.g., biological, cultural, technological, and material); and the origins and arrival of “modernity.”
In addition to reading important scholarly monographs on global history and, more broadly, analyzing themes and methodologies in this rapidly developing subfield, students will be urged to focus throughout the course on a number of questions. What issues have global historians focused on in their work? What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking about the past in terms of themes that transcend boundaries and borders? Does the local and particular – traditionally a focus of historians – get lost in the practice of global history? Conversely, does a thematic approach to the past enable historians to identify patterns that tend to be overlooked by those restricting their field of view to a particular region? No less important, is it possible to practice global history without undermining the discipline’s traditional strength – viz., its capacity to train specialists in the diverse regions, cultures, and languages of the human past?
Another question that permeates the course arises from the fact, by no means coincidental, that the first practitioners of global history emphasized European exceptionalism. Is the Eurocentric approach to global history dead, or have recent works revived Eurocentrism, at least with regard to critical issues such as the origins and arrival of modernity?
The course has no prerequisites, is open to undergraduates and graduate students, and fulfills the College's Second Writing Requirement. Requirements include 200-300 pages of reading per week, thoughtful participation in class discussions, two five-page analytical book reviews, and a fifteen-page historiographical review essay. There are no exams.