From the West’s decline to globalizing time, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
“So far, the 21st century has been a rotten one for the western model,” according to a new book, The Fourth Revolution, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. This seems an extraordinary admission from two editors of the Economist, the flag-bearer of English liberalism, which has long insisted that the non-west could only achieve prosperity and stability through western prescriptions. It almost obscures the fact that the 20th century was blighted by the same pathologies that today make the western model seem unworkable, and render its fervent advocates a bit lost. The most violent century in human history, it was hardly the best advertisement for the “bland fanatics of western civilisation”, as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them at the height of the cold war, “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence”.
Niebuhr was critiquing a fundamentalist creed that has coloured our view of the world for more than a century: that western institutions of the nation-state and liberal democracy will be gradually generalised around the world, and that the aspiring middle classes created by industrial capitalism will bring about accountable, representative and stable governments – that every society, in short, is destined to evolve just as the west did. [continue reading]
Global history is “the kind of idea that, once you have it, is impossible to go back from,” Beckert continues. “You can’t. It’s going to be with you forever because it’s just a different way of seeing history.” While it opens new questions, it “also opens up totally new understandings of particular historical problems such as the problem of slavery. You understand, on a global scale, that the global problem, from the perspective of European colonialists and European entrepreneurs, is really how to transform the countryside. The resulting transformation takes different forms in different parts of the world, but sometimes it’s also quite similar. After the Civil War, for example, sharecropping becomes dominant in the United States, but it’s also important in Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, and other parts of the world. People in these places learn from one another. They observe one another.” [continue reading]
A greater focus on western civilisation and Judeo-Christian values – these prescriptions from the Abbott government’s national school curriculum review are utterly unsurprising. The education minister, Christopher Pyne, put the education establishment and his parliamentary foes on notice a few weeks after the election. “Well, I don’t mind if the left want to have a fight with the Coalition about Australia’s history,” he said in an interview when I asked him what he thought of the term “history wars”. “But history is what it is. One can’t change it. And people need to understand that the government has changed in Canberra, that we’re not simply administering the previous government’s policies or views, and I know that the left will find that rather galling, and while we govern for everyone, there is a new management in town.” [continue reading]
A deadly illness took hold as WW1 ended and killed an estimated 50 million people globally. But the horror made the world aware of the need for collective action against infectious diseases, says Christian Tams, professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow. On Armistice Day, 1918, the world was already fighting another battle. It was in the grip of Spanish Influenza, which went on to kill almost three times more people than the 17 million soldiers and civilians killed during WW1. Dangerous diseases only reach the headlines if there is a risk of a pandemic, like the current Ebola outbreak. Other than that they are the largely ignored global killers, but every year they kill many more people than wars and military conflicts. In 1918 the world faced a pandemic. [continue reading]
Global History Forum
Toynbee Prize Foundation
It’s a familiar routine for scholars of global history. Having squeezed in a visit to an archive during a spring break or stretch of summer vacation, you get off the airplane in a foreign land, stretch your legs, and feel, in spite of the local caffeine injection, tired. You set your watch, several hours ahead if coming from the United States and several hours back if coming to Europe and try to make the best of the first day on foreign soil.
Soon, however, jet lag sets in. You either fall asleep in your dinner or wake up hours before the local bakers do. Exhausted, you read tips on how to beat the exhaustion, where you learn that the body needs an equivalent number of days to time zones crossed to beat off the exhaustion. The scholar coming from California to Moscow, for example, has eleven days of misery to endure before he or she is fully up to date with local time. You remain grateful for the chance to pursue your research, but, counting the time zones, groan at the routine. It’s a familiar routine for many, indeed, but not as old as one might think. [continue reading]