What is Global History?

Author:Martone, Eric
Position::Book review
 
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Conrad, Sebastian. What is Global History? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016. viii + 299 pages. Paperback, $22.95.

Over the past few decades, much ado has been made over the "global turn" in historical scholarship. In What is Global History?, Sebastian Conrad--looking at the past, present, and future--maps the development of the field, identifies what makes it distinct, and charts a course for its future to make sense of and help shape this diverse, evolving field.

Chapter one provides an introduction to the book's themes. It surveys global history's development and increase in popularity, particularly in the Anglophone world, Western Europe, and East Asia. Conrad perceives global history as developing from earlier world history; while the two terms are often used interchangeably, the former is distinct from the latter. He perceives world history as typically employing a methodology that combines comparisons of separate civilizations with a search for links between them, the latter explained by processes of diffusion. In contrast, global history, defined as "a form of historical analysis in which phenomena, events, and processes are placed in global contexts," is both a distinct methodology and subject of study (p.5, 11-14). He traces a growing interest in global processes following the Cold War's demise, the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, on the United States, and an ongoing communication revolution, which collectively convinced many that the tools historians had been using to make sense of the past, like the nation-state paradigm, were insufficient. Conrad examines approaches--like comparative and transnational history, world and big history, postcolonial studies, and the history of globalization--that had pioneering global methods and how they set the foundations for a distinct global history. He then outlines broad approaches in global history, including equating it with the history of everything (often tracing an idea or historical formation throughout the ages and globe), a focus on exchange and connections, and reflecting on forms of global integration.

In chapter two, Conrad traces the history of thinking globally. Ideas about the world have changed over time to address particularities regarding present-day conceptions of the global. He argues that a genuine global consciousness formulated in discrete Eurasian regions during the early modern period. During the age of European hegemony, a common narrative of...

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