10. Diminishing Returns of the Global Turn

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10. Diminishing Returns of the Global Turn

david avrom bellDavid A. Bell
Lapidus Professor of History, Princeton University
Contributing Editor, The New Republic

I am grateful to Marc-William  Palen for his smart, sharp comments on my New Republic essay, and also for his generous offer to let me respond to them on this blog.

Palen calls my essay ‘provocative’ and ‘eloquent’, but also ‘unfair’. I certainly prefer this judgment to ‘balanced, but dull and inarticulate’, but the adjective ‘unfair’ still rankles a little. In particular, Palen charges me with confusing page counts and criticism; with mixing up Atlantic history and global history; and with ‘expect[ing] the impossible’ from the volume that I was reviewing.

Of these charges, it is the third that really gets to the substantive differences between us.

My use of page — and reference — counts in the review was simply a convenient shorthand, of the sort that is necessary in short essays, to give readers a quick sense of what a book under review does, and does not emphasize. Of course, historians can often ‘transmit an impressive amount of information and analysis’ in a small number of pages, as Palen says, but the overall allocation of space still has more than a little to tell us. The fact that A World Connecting allocated just three sentences (out of 1,168 pages) to the First and Second Socialist Internationales suggests pretty strongly, however crude the measurement, that the authors did not consider the Internationales an important subject. [continue reading]