Living in the Age of the Storyteller: Global History and the Politics of Narrative


Lori Lee Oates
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @LoriLeeOates

In late June, I had the honour of hearing Professor David A. Bell speak at the Society for the Study of French History conference at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The theme of the conference was Turning Points in French History and he spoke on the period between 1715 to 1815. Professor Bell went on to discuss ‘the global turn’. He noted that a significant percentage of current history Ph.D. students are using global analysis as the main methodology for their thesis. He then discussed the limits of this methodology, particularly as a largely structural analysis. He argued that the methodologies of ‘the linguistic turn’ might actually be more helpful to us in analyzing the process of why change continues after these same global structures break down. Linguistic analysis largely views language as a structure that is culturally inherited and something that limits our ability to comprehend society beyond those concepts that are available to us in our immediate environment.

As one of many Ph.D. students who have turned toward using global and imperial methodology, I was intrigued. Professor Bell’s talk also reminded me of sitting in an Ex Historia seminar on global and imperial history in 2013 and posing the question of whether this was just another passing academic fad. Like others I had been advised to do a thesis that is an analysis of the effects of globalization and the inherent influence of imperialism on that process. In many ways this is a good approach as a number of new academic positions are being created in the field of global and imperial history on both sides of the Atlantic. However, given the academic hype regarding globalization in recent years, I had honestly been wondering for some time when somebody was going to start questioning the efficacy of the methodology. Continue reading “Living in the Age of the Storyteller: Global History and the Politics of Narrative”